At face value, when you’ve got a franchise that’s been winning the plaudits in one form or another for a long time, it’s quite hard to bring anything fresh to a game that has to hit a regular annual deadline.
Yet looking back at Football Manager from a few years ago and comparing it with now does demonstrate that the franchise has moved forward far more than you might give it credit for. And with Football Manager 2010, developer Sports Interactive has pushed things forward in a far more overt way.
One of the cornerstones of whatever tinkering has been done under the bonnet in recent times has been the user interface, which has been tidied up but structurally hasn’t altered a great deal. At least not until this year, as Football Manager 2010 introduces the biggest visual overhaul the game has had in some time.
When you arrive at the central screen for the first time, particularly if you’re a Football Manager veteran, you need to be prepared to be disorientated for a little while. Big changes have been made: things have been moved around and there’s a little bit of unlearning what you knew required in order to intuitively make your way around it. Inevitably, though, within an hour you’ll be clicking away merrily as if it was second nature, and the structure of the menu screen does make sense, too. It’s a solid improvement, even if you might not think so at first.
It also allows you to keep on top of the plethora of added features that the game has thrown in. There’s a lot more help this time around, particularly if your assistants and coaches are any good, as they have far more to say about your team and potential additions to it. It’s take it or leave it, of course, but we found the extra input very welcome. The game’s database of players is so sizeable, the tactical permeations so variable, that it brought across a virtual ‘all hands on deck’ approach that we warmed to immensely.
Given how far Championship Manager had moved on in its latest incarnation, we were intrigued to see what Sports Interactive had done with the match day screen, and it proved just as interesting and addictive as ever. You can hurl tactical advice from the bench now if you want to, and thanks to the visual representation on offer (which is more functional than spectacular) you can genuinely see tactics having some kind of real game world impact. Traditionalists, meanwhile, can still go with the commentary if they want to.
The core of the game, of course, remains effectively the same Football Manager that we’ve come to know and be glued to over the past years. Football Manager 2010 sees Sports Interactive taking one or two risks this time around, and for our money they’ve paid off handsomely. Still a sizeable distance ahead of the competition, and running at a speed that makes it very playable indeed, Football Manager 2010 is, again, a triumph.
It’s not, as you might expect, an essential upgrade if you bought last year’s game. But it is a very good and rewarding one.