Despite consistently being the best in breed when it comes to football management simulation games, the Football Manager franchise continues grows from strength to strength, year on year. In many ways it points to the strengths of Sports Interactive, a development studio who are driven by their desire to be as close to the beautiful game as possible. And with Football Manager 2014, the lines become even more blurry.
Although it's not always obvious, as many changes aren't front and centre, every iteration of Football Manager sees hundreds of changes being implemented. Football Manager 2014 is no different.
These changes range from simple consistency changes, such as revamps to how the MLS transfer systems operate, to changes which the developers hope you probably won't notice, such as fans having more realistic reactions to results. This point in particular is quite interesting and it does make the experience more pleasing. As fans, you can easily tell which results you'd be happy with and why, but in previous instalments, it was always a bit confusing. Now, if you're managing England and score a 1-1 draw away to Spain, the fans will treat it as positive result, as opposed to a mixed/negative one.
Softer changes also come in the form of your interactions with journalists. This whole approach has been streamlined, to the point where it's no longer tedious to attend press conferences. In Football Manager 2013 you would be inundated with the same questions in every pre-match press conference, but now they are more specific to what's going on. It's also pleasing to see that they're more realistic too, even if sometimes it feels unintentional. Going back to the England scenario, you will consistently be quizzed about picking someone like Frank Lampard, who despite being in strong form, will be considered too old for a World Cup squad. Then, if you don't pick him, those same journalists will question why you aren't picking someone who's in good form. It makes you appreciate a bit more what someone like Roy Hodgson has to deal with "“ damned if you do, damned if you don't.
You'll also see boards being perhaps softer about how they deal with managers at specific clubs. In previous games, there was no way Man Utd would retain a manager who finished 5th in their second season and were struggling in 7th during their second one.
Finesse would perhaps be the best word to describe all of these changes. Very few will leap out, as they did with last year's Football Manager experience, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sports Interactive has created a formula that works, but the key here is that they are always looking to improve it. Sometimes developers run the risk of slowing things down because they are at the top of the pile, but it opens the door for someone else "“ just look at the FIFA vs Pro Evolution Soccer situation. If anything, this makes Football Manager 2014 even more impressive, because without any discernible competition on the market, Sports Interactive are still pushing, and you can see them continuing to push just as hard, even if someone never comes along to make a serious challenge.
We've said before in previous reviews, that sometimes the realism of Football Manager is to its detriment and to solve this, Sports Interactive created the Football Manager Classic mode. This acts as a streamlined experience and was introduced in last year's game. In Football Manager 2014, this mode is still present, as well as the specific Challenges, which will now have their difficulty tailored depending on which team you choose. This was something that was very much needed, as it was much harder to survive a relegation dogfight scenario as someone like Reading than Man City.
That's not to say the game isn't without faults "“ it can always be made more realistic. For example, everyone knows that English players almost refuse to play abroad. Yet in Football Manager, this still happens on a regular basis. In one season, Chris Smalling moved to Bayer Leverkusen, Jermaine Defoe moved to CSKA Moscow, Jack Rodwell moved to Bayern Munich and Phil Jones moved to PSG. On a similar note, while you can see all transfer that happened per season, you can only see managerial movements that have happened in the current season.
While we're on the subject of nit-picks, it would also be great to see qualification places highlighted when you're in the top division. This would make coefficient changes more obvious and it could be updated to cater for the Europa League as things change throughout the season. Tactics also don't feel as smooth as previous installments, but it's hard to pin point exactly why this is.
When it comes to the visuals, the UI is as slick as ever. It's also good to see some changes to the 3D match engine. This has always been a bit hit and miss in the past, but with Football Manager 2014 the various movements seem much more plausible. You will even get to see some saucy back heels thrown in, which makes for some genuinely exciting goals.
Football Manager 2014 again raises the bar for sports simulators, with Sports Interactive not resting on their laurels at all. There are again a plethora of changes, some smaller than others, but the main thing here is softer changes to make the game more realistic in terms of the day-to-day. This relates to how journalists interact with you, how patient boards are and even how fans react to results. Simply put, Football Manager 2014 is still the definite football management experience.
|Soft changes make a world of difference.|
|3D match engine has seen some positive improvements.|
|Boards seem to have more patience.|
|English players still transfer abroad.|
|It can always be more realistic.|
|Tactics don't seem implemented as well as the previous year.|