Football Manager 2007 PC Review

The old expression “It’s tough at the top” has never been more true. Only a few years ago, Championship Manager was doing the rounds as the yearly fix of management sim goodness. Times change and after an exodus by development team Sports Interactive, who took the code and database with them – Sega sneaked up with a publishing deal and signed up to release Football Manager, and in doing so, knocked the old classic from its throne. Now in its third year, Football Manager finds itself as the most complete management experience money can buy, but is it on target to do the treble, or will it get caught up in a series of scandalous bung allegations and be given the chop?

Sports titles have a hard time of it when it comes to updates. They need to be issued yearly, due to the constantly changing nature of the game yet need to offer something more than just a new set of names. Throughout gaming history, this has caused everything from radical new updates to horrible gimmickry in an attempt to stand out from the very packed crowd. FM2007 waltzes in this year with a much, much slicker and user-friendly interface and a few more subtle options that make the game so different to 2006, but in a wonderfully intangible way that makes reviewing the game a difficult task, but also makes the £35 worth paying for those who have forked out for last years offering.

First of all, the level of interaction you have as a manager is now simply unparalleled. No other management sim lets you handle your club with this level of detail, but at the same time, remains completely accessible to even the newest of budding Mourhino’s. Everything is available to you at the click of a button, and for those rare times that it isn’t, the introduction of hints and tips appearing whilst processing fixtures is welcome, even teaching a veteran of the series a few new tricks.

The match engine remains unchanged, and whilst it appears inferior to other titles’ swanky 3D views, it is just as effective, if not more. Its simplicity allows for quick loading and performance, yet still captures the ebb and flow of the sport perfectly. Seeing Manchester United’s circle with ’11’ numbered upon it move inches across the pitch flash up images of Ryan Giggs skimming past defenders in the shadow of a packed Old Trafford. It is simple, but it is incredibly effective. Everything runs faster than before, with the processing of fixtures and transfers refined even further. During these loads, much like other titles you can still browse the various menus whilst the matches are played, but now there is a handy box that appears called “Football Manager Live”, which shows all of the scores, scorers and other match details within the loading graphic. You can also set up bookmarks to certain menus and change what ‘homepage’ you visit at the start of each new day, allowing you to shape the game to fit your needs.

It is so simple, convenient and brilliant, it’s puzzling that other management games don’t feature this level of simplicity, convenience and brilliance.

The main new feature, building off the inter-manager interaction added with the 2006 version, is that you can now have direct relations with every player in the game, from singing the praises of a superstar you are sweetening before a transfer to giving your under performing left-back a boot up the proverbial. Using a well timed comment can make or break a team under pressure. Team talks are now possible before a match, as well as at half and full time, allowing you to motivate your squad or tell them they were embarrassing, affecting their morale and overall performance. This is a deviously brilliant addition to this year’s game, making you more in touch with your team than ever before, and expanding on the mind games the manager interaction provided. It can work both ways too, players can get very upset with your comments and demand to leave whilst rival managers can mock you in the press and unsettle your players by declaring them to be second rate and have no chance of winning a thing, then offering them a lucrative contract.

This focus on the player/manager interaction is continued with a nicely tweaked ‘Scout’ system. You can now see the area of expertise each scout has and get them to look for players appropriately, allowing you a greater degree of control over the kind of talent you will be looking to bring in to your squad. Unknown players will need researching at a number of games to bring back an accurate report, but finding that one diamond – that next Wayne Rooney – is a rich reward.

Another new feature is the inclusion of feeder clubs. If you are one of the larger clubs, you can finance a smaller club as a kind of training ground for new players. As a smaller club, you can actually become one of these feeder clubs, which although means financial security and a good relation when it comes to gaining new players, don’t start crying when your wonder-striker gets taken away by the parent club in charge – it’s all part of the deal.

Of course, you can manage this all yourself, but for the sake of simplicity, hiring decent coaches, an Assistant Manager and the various scouts will only make your job easier – a very good thing, as life as a top flight football manager is unbelievably stressful.

Watching your team flounder in the mid-table, beating the top teams but then being trounced by a weak side in the relegation zone is one of the most frustrating gaming experiences this side of a dodgy camera system. That one sweet victory though, is gaming bliss. Making a substitution with 10 minutes to go and watching him turn the tide of the match is an experience unbeaten in most games. Football Manager 2007 is the total management experience – it isn’t just a series of random stats that most simply dismiss as a “spreadsheet”, the old joke that some hilarious hater of the genre will no doubt crack at some point – these are your ‘lads’. You become attached to them and you want them to succeed. The overall enjoyment of the game fluctuates wildly depending on how well your team is performing.

Criticisms aimed at FM2007 are very minor. The graphics, although all that is needed to do the job, haven’t really been upped too much from last year. The odd menu bug also crops up now and then (a notable one being hints for the 360 version appearing during the loading screens, instructing me to “hold A and use the left stick” etc.) and the sound, well, outside of the familiar buzz of the stadiums that plays during a match, it is almost non-existent. Honestly, the only thing that would spoil any enjoyment of this game is if you absolutely detested football; but even then, you are missing out on an excellent, addictive title.

Football Manager 2007 is the only choice when it comes to management games this Christmas. Again, Sports Interactive prove themselves to be far and away the ones to beat when it comes to this genre. It is at this point I could use a whole host of footballing terms to describe this game – ‘Top of the League’, ‘The Cup Holders’, ‘England 1966 World Cup Winning Squad’ all spring to mind, but FM2007 can be described a lot simpler than that.

‘The Best’

Sports Interactive could even teach Chelsea a thing or two about being good. Near flawless.

8.5 out of 10