Football Manager is going through something of a transition at the moment. After years of exceeding expectations on a consistent basis, with useful changes and innovations in the genre, last year's instalment had feeling of stagnation about it. There were the typical changes, but many of the more long-term gripes failed to be fixed and it meant the core experience remained pretty much the same had it had been for years, warts and all. With Football Manager 2016 the team at Sports Interactive have attempted to rectify this and there are certainly some positive signs with new features that look to push Football Manager even further, but those same core issues still rear their ugly head.
One of my personal gripes over the past few years is that the game had become far too realistic in some aspects, taking the fun out of a management simulator where fantasy should have been a big part of the equation. Part of the joy of older games was that you could take over a money-rich club and construct your dream team without too much trouble. However, with the addition of a more stringent contract situation and personal traits that might make it impossible for certain players to even entertain certain transfers, it made that a rather tricky scenario to act out. Football Manager Create-a-Club looks to scratch that itch and it's a rather welcome addition.
The mode has been set up to emulate those "what if" scenarios, allowing you take over an existing club and work within their limitations to create something amazing. You can keep everything the same if you wish, but you can also start from scratch with a club (excluding finances), with the game allowing you to change everything about the club, from the name, all the way through to kit colours and affiliations.
What's special about this mode, is that the possibilities are near endless. And you can go through it all without having to worry about playing around in the Editor (for the most part). You are able to choose to take over any club and the only thing that constricts you is their financial situation. Each team has a specific budget assigned for building a squad and players are assigned "values" based on their wages and their relevant transfer fees. It means, for example, that if you take over Nottingham Forest, you won't be able to add Messi or Ronaldo to your ranks as they would see you exceed the squad budget. However, it's not so restrictive that you wouldn't be able to cheekily add Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Manuel Neuer into the squad if you want to skimp on other areas. It's like managing a Fantasy Football team.
Some other scenarios I trialled were building a team that consists solely of the current England National Team to see how they would fair or building a team in League Two that consists of older players who could still be world beaters. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if a League Two team could sign up talent like Adebayor, Anelka and Ronaldinho? Well, now you can make that happen with relative ease.
Another addition comes with Football Manager Touch. The desktop version of the game can now be synced up with the mobile version of the game, allowing you to pick up where you left off. That's pretty cool. Fantasy Draft, likewise, offers you the chance to go online and create a fantasy tournament where everyone starts from scratch.
These new modes help to add some freshness to the game that has been missing in recent years. They expand the core offering, allowing the game to be enjoyed in different ways and they do so in a manner that's far more expansive than Football Manager Classic (now Touch) did when it was introduced.
Inside the actual game, there have been some other overhauls. However, the most useful one comes with the tactics screen. Football Manager 2015's tactics screen was often something of a hindrance and it's pleasing to see that it has been refined to allow for a much more fluid experience. You will now feel more confident about selecting different tactics and employing players in ways that they are comfortable with. By placing a player in a position, you can easily see what their preferred role within that position is. For example, a centre forward may be more adept as a target man than as a deep lying forward and even within these roles, they may be more suited to playing as a support player, as opposed to an attacking player. You now have the ability to see this level of depth and it makes this interface much more user friendly.
It is important to note, however, that the tactics menu will only show you where a player is comfortable. It won't show you their ability, so a lowly youth player might get a superb rating in a particular position, as he's suited to playing there, but he might still be a terrible player in the grand scheme of things. Just bear that in mind before you select a full team of players who are suitable for certain roles and see lots of green everywhere "“ that doesn't mean they are necessarily good players.
Prozone has also now been integrated into the experience, offering more detailed statistics for competitions and matches. It's interesting to see this level of depth, but the interface could do with much more refinement. The colours are garish on the overview and when you want to drill down within the detailed section, everything blends together and can be overwhelming. It's also disappointing to see that these stats aren't used all that often in the general playing experience. You will get little insights on short loading screens about a league that you aren't taking part in or get asked the same-old questions in interviews relating to stats that happened, something that happened anyway in previous games.
At which point, it's perhaps a good time to go onto the not so good. Interviews are as bland as they have always been and it seems as though no attempt whatsoever has been made to spruce this part of the game up. You will be asked the same questions you've been asked for years, repeatedly and it's just getting tiresome at this point. I'm still none the wiser what difference the way I respond makes and the game wasn't any different (apart from being less monotonous) when I finally got fed-up and started sending my assistant instead.
It's also been said that more emphasis has been placed on rivalries this time around. That's perhaps true in some instances, but it manifests itself in ways that can only be described as baffling. I'm not a Liverpool fan, but if they had the chance to buy Asmir Begovic for £2 million right now, I very much doubt they'd be angry about it just because he signed from Chelsea. If such systems are put in effect, more thought needs to be placed around how they are going to work.
Transfers are also something that continue to frustrate, if only due to how random everything is. The AI has very set thresholds for what they will and won't do, but they are pretty extreme. This was tested by reloading the game at pre-negotiation phases to see what happens and you will quite often end up with the following scenario because you have no real clue what a player is worth in the eyes of the AI. For example, if you are trying to sell a player valued at £12 million for £15 million, a club might offer that straight up if you offer him at that price. If they do, that often means you could get more from them as no club ever offers exactly what you want if it's beyond their means (they would try to negotiate). You should therefore look to squeeze what you can out of them, but if you pass a certain threshold in your negotiations (i.e. you systematically work them up to accepting £17.25 million, but then offer £17.5 million), the club will come back with a ludicrously low offer instead, like £7 million.
Due to these extreme deviations, it can make selling players or loaning them out a very frustrating part of the experience because if you don't try to exploit the systems in place, you will consistent get shafted by the AI. Negotiating is often a fruitless exercise due to how fickle they will be. The loaning system is even worse "“ offer anything remotely different to what the club approaches you with and they just back out instantly, it's hardly a negotiation process when it's just a straight demand (even though no demands are set). There should be some kind of anti-scouting system whereby your staff will tell you how much they believe you can sell a player for. Either that, or the Director of Football should give you potential outcomes for a sale that he knows he can get, as opposed to the rather useless options of "sell for value" or "sell for half value".
One final gripe comes with the addition of "manager on the touchline", which to be honest, is one of the most half-baked additions in recent years. The options available are presented in such poor fashion that it's hard to create someone that doesn't look like a gormless idiot. It sounds harsh, but your "profile picture" will never look anything like your touchline version and it's difficult to understand why more care wasn't put into this option if it's so front and centre when you start a new game.
Despite "manager on the touchline" being a big disappointment, the engine is refined in a noticeable way this time around. Player animations are much smoother and the whole engine feels more natural. It was a big task to get everything modified for last season's version, but seeing how its morphed into the current iteration makes last year's janky visuals seem worth it.
Sorry, one more gripe. Board Confidence. It's been expanded somewhat, but it's still a bit confusing. One board gave me the objective of "signing young players for the first team". I signed five based on my scouts' recommendations that they would help to fulfil this objective. However, board confidence is only at 35 percent. Likewise, another was to "give youth a chance". In that season, I gave 10 players from the U21/U18 teams debuts (which apparently delighted the fans) and made 2 of them consistent first teamers to placate my board. Yet after an entire season the board as still "reserving judgement".
In truth, the Board Confidence system might be better off treated much like the "Promises" feature. It's perhaps one of the better implemented features, where you will be set an objective by the player, and you will know what you need to do to fulfil it. Even if you fail to do so, players will often understand and won't begrudge you as long as they see you tried to make it happen. With Board Confidence, it's more black and white. If you've been given the objective of reaching the 4th round in a cup as a Championship team, but lose away to a Premier League heavyweight in a thrilling encounter, they will still be disappointed and it's frustrating as a player.
In some respects, Football Manager 2016 is a return to the form for the series. The new game modes help to freshen up the experience and offer a new way to play without having to delve into the editor and there are positive additions in-game in the form of the tactics menu and match engine. However, some of the older gripes do still exist and their persistence is starting to grate. Hopefully, now that these new modes have been implemented, SI can start looking at how to fix up some of the more mundane elements, like interviews, to make things more enjoyable.
|New modes add freshness to the game.|
|New UI for the Tactics screen is a positive improvement.|
|Improvements to the match engine look solid.|
|Interview process is still monotonous despite being a core part of the modern game.|
|Implementation of Manager on the Touchline feature is pretty embarrassing|
|Selling/loaning process needs better direction|