Considering that the veterans of Sports Interactive’s football management games – the recent Football Managers and the early Championship Managers – will dive straight in with little instruction required, it’s perhaps understandable that Football Manager 2008′s focus has shifted a little towards the less experienced player.
The game is still, at heart, a stats-driven, primarily text-based football management game. But to help you work your way through the multitude of menus and the thousands of nuances to the game, there’s regular on-screen help now, and for many that’ll come as quite a blessing. In fact the whole interface has been tidied up, and while there’s no reduction in the wealth of stats, it does all look that little bit cleaner.
Under the surface the game engine feels as good as identical to last year’s version, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. It does become clear quite quickly, as is the established norm with games on an annual release cycle, that there’s no dramatic risk here, just a series of slow and generally appreciated improvements.
Cushioning the matches themselves, for instance, is a roster of small changes. You can now give specific instructions on how to handle certain members of the opposition team, and the full gamut of pre-, mid- and post-match talks are in place. During the game itself, you can also duck into the tactics screen without stopping the match; it simply plays out in a small corner of the screen while you dabble away. It’s a neat touch and helps remove the occasional stop-start frustration of the matches themselves.
Those matches still give you an option: there’s the take-it-or-leave-it overhead two dimensional view of key action (although how much action you choose to watch is scalable), or there’s the hardened-traditionalist’s text-only approach. The choice is very much yours, although to get a better feel for how your tactics are paying off, the visual representation – even though it’s not devastatingly beautiful on the eye – remains the way to go.
Further changes? Well, international management has been given some welcome sparkle. It still doesn’t fully get away from the tacked-on feel of old – Football Manager 08 still works better as a club management game for our money – but it does now feel more rounded, with separate international morale attributes, a broader media experience and a bit more involvement with the players. Nothing major, but it all helps.
Media too has been brushed up, although this is an area that Football Manager was covering well anyway. As is the norm there are a few additions here and there, and a bit more depth has been added. That, factored in to the slightly more sensitive player feedback and confidence (and they’re not a shy lot in telling you their feelings) does help to further substantiate an already-meaty strategy game.
It’s traditional to say at this point that Football Manager 2008 isn’t likely to win over new converts to the cause. Much though Football Manager is life-sapping for those who get into it (to the point of months and months being devoted to it), there’s always been a you’re-in-or-you’re-not feel to it. But the work that’s gone into making the game that bit friendlier has helped, and may yet encourage new devotees to the Football Manager fold.
Because, when all’s said and done, this is still a desperately addictive game with no equal on the planet. Sure, we’re a little frustrated that more doesn’t change year-in-year-out, but we’ve yet to hear many complaints about how much value your annual investment gets you. A superb game, a small improvement, and now that little bit more welcoming of outsiders.