There’s little point, as Sports Interactive well knows, in fiddling too much with such a well-oiled engine as the one that powers the Football Manager games. In recent years, we’ve seen an interface overhaul and a fresh look for the match day screen, but there’s only so far such areas can be pushed. And sooner or later, the rate of progress will inevitably slow.
And that, to a degree, is what’s happened with Football Manager 2011. It’s almost inevitable to say that if you go into the game expecting any kind of radical overhaul, you’re going to come out disappointed. Yet in its own way, this is as interesting an evolution to the game as we’ve seen in recent years, with sensible tweaks applied and unfussy new features added, to generally excellent effect.
So what improvements are there? Well, the transfer market and contract negotiations feel a lot smoother and a bit more realistic, and the same too can be said of press conferences. Integrating realistic-feeling media intrusion into a game is a hard trick to pull off, but Football Manager 2011 has done strong work on that front. There’s also greatly improved player interaction, and a real sense that little personal details can have more of an impact.
Yet Football Manager has always been a game about the subtleties, and it’s no change here. With the interface as clean and helpful as it’s ever been, you really can go into the depths of creating individual set pieces and tactics, or you can drag along your assistant to handle lots of the hard work. Either way, there’s an utterly compelling game to enjoy, and one that works on whatever level you want to play it.
Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the match day screen itself. The 3D highlights engine that Football Manager now enjoys is really quite impressive, but crucially, it lends you tactical clues, if you take the time to spot them. Furthermore, if you tinker around with your formations, and the roles of individual players, you can get a useful gauge of just how successful that’s been.
In days of old, the visual highlights section of football management games was more a novelty than anything you could rely on. Not here. Add to that the fact that the games are usually quite interesting to watch, and it’s hard to see how Sports Interactive could have done much better in this department.
But crucially, it’s all scaleable. You can run with textual commentary, like the old days, if that’s what you want. Or you can select to watch games in full. With an abundance of choices in between, too, Football Manager 2011 is flexible enough to be enjoyed however you like. That’s to its credit.
And so, while it’s certainly not a radical revolution we’re getting this time around, we do nonetheless have a mature, engrossing and terrific value for money strategy game here. It’s also, comfortably, the best football management game on the planet.