For the armchair manager in all of us, but without being restricted to the chair.
Whatever the football season throws at you, there are times when you find yourself questioning many aspects of your lifelong club of choice. Why did the manager buy those players? Why that formation, or the high line against quick players? Or why would you sell your best player? Every year?
We always think that we know better, knowing that it’s extremely unlikely that we would ever be put into that position. What would you do differently, and how? Thankfully, for those of us with a PlayStation Vita we now have opportunity to put our money where our mouths are thanks to the release of Football Manager Classic 2014 arriving. Announced in Cologne at Gamescom 2013, the PC and Mobile versions saw a release in late October 2013, so it’s taken a while to get here. Has it been worth the wait and is it worth not only your money, but buying a Vita for?
Football management simulations are very much an acquired taste, but they do sell incredibly well, especially on the PC. I myself have dabbled in various versions over the years, with Championship Manager, Premier Manager and even LMA Manager taking up many hours of my time over the years before I tried to get into Football Manager on my iPhone a couple of years back. Despite being playable anywhere, it wasn’t to my liking due to the cut back nature and un-inspired experience. It was clear to me that a more comprehensive version would be ideal, which brings us nicely to this version.
The one thing you have to prepare yourself for with this type of title is how much time you are going to need to invest into it, and to truly get the most out of it you will be playing it for hundreds of hours. And then some. It’s not like the management modes on EA’s FIFA series, where you choose the best team, buy all of the 90+ rated players and simulate the season as that just isn’t going to cut the mustard here. Players and finances are only part of the package; and not a given. You will need to use your brain. And take some chances. You are going to manage. Trying to explain the title without making it seem incredibly tedious will be quite difficult, this is a game series you will either love or hate. The game is essentially one of two halves, in more ways than one.
Outside of what actually happens on match day you have to do all of the preparation work, and identifying suitable players to fit into your team becomes much more difficult when you are working within the constraints of a budget. With myself starting at the lower echelons of the football league, I had no transfer funds available. Having to source players, either on free transfers, or convincing players to join me on loan for their first team experience just to get me out of the league I was in was difficult, but when it all came together on the pitch it was very satisfying, but I had to tinker with my team every match. You will be given scouting reports from your backroom staff before every fixture, both on your opponents and on your own players efforts in training. Sticking with the same formation and starting eleven will not get you anywhere, as your players will tire and opposing teams will suss you out. Acting on the information prior to the game is essential but you then have more decisions to make. This all happens through many screens, with a lot of text and numbers. The more in depth you get with this, the better your overall experience will be with your team.
Once your players are on the pitch, you will need to watch the action and act accordingly. If you are dominating, then continue to do so. Exploit the weaknesses and become ruthless. If you are being over-run then change your tactics to ensure that you get back into the game. This all happens in front of you, using the 3D match engine that PC users have become accustomed to. Highlights and key moments are panned out as if in a real time situation, and how effective you are will influence your team’s performance. Just being able to watch it makes the game that much more enjoyable. Your assistant manager will give you pointers during the game and it’s up to you how you respond to the advice. It’s also worth mentioning that during my extensive play through so far, I have yet to see the same sequence of events. Every single match so far has seemed unique and unscripted.
Football Manager Classic is one of those games that may be initially daunting with the level of depth and patience required, but the learning curve is very minimal. You will pick it up very quickly and the controls soon become second nature. As you would expect, everything can be controlled by the touch screen, but the game does also make use of the physical controls for commands too, which is very useful. On occasion it is possible to press the wrong button or tab, but you will get used to how it works. It will require a lot mentally from you though, as there is a lot of screen watching and reading involved between matches and as I alluded to earlier, you will find this title eating up tremendous amounts of your time. Being portable makes it that much more viable.
The game isn’t going to top EA’s FIFA series in terms of looks, nor licences – the Barclay’s Premier League is the most notable absence – but Sports Interactive have done a great job with almost everything else – and aside from branded kits and player likenesses the team/player names are present. Match days have a great tension and atmosphere, and you do start to get caught up in the emotion with it. It certainly feels like you are managing these clubs. It gets personal, and you will begin to learn a great deal. Well, if you want to succeed that is! Every point becomes important and you may well find yourself taking advantage of all of the tactical options available if things start going wrong…
There are options within the game to make your experiences run a little smoother, some of these – such as a magic sponge to instantly heal an injured player or the options to build a bigger stadium- can be unlocked by purchasing them through the store, whilst others can be unlocked by meeting certain criteria. You can also you your hard earned real life money to give your team a virtual cash injections should you wish. This is all optional, and they will cost between 65p and £4.99. The game is fully playable without them, but it is worth noting. In addition, Sports Interactive have told me that with the exception of any virtual currency purchased, once your Steam and PSN accounts are linked, these purchases are available on both versions.
In addition to the career mode, there is also a challenge mode with specific scenarios to manage or replicate. Keeping a team up against the odds (Fulham fans may know all about this) or emulating Arsenal’s 2004 invincibles season. Many more are here to give you something a little different if you get bored of just doing what you want. The title also has a total of 62 trophies – including a platinum – and these trophies will keep you busy for a long time. Taking teams from lower divisions to the summit from a multitude of European nations is sure to keep you busy as well eventually going on to international management and everything involved there. This is not going to be a title for easy trophy collecting, but they will certainly feel earned when you get them.
Not everything is good news with the title, however. When starting your career you are limited to six divisions over three countries, which does impact your player sourcing opportunities. This is bound to cause disappointment for some as the PC version does not have this restriction, and Sports Interactive told me that in order to have your PC file cross-save compatible with the Vita version you will need enforce the same there otherwise you cannot share between the two. The game is also single player only, so you will not be able to play against other Vita owners. Also be prepared for looking at a lot of loading screens, although aside from your initial save creation these are thankfully not that lengthy. The touch screen can sometimes be unresponsive and it can be fiddly to access the right button, but you do get used to it. And finally, there are also no plans at present to update the title for the 2014/2015 summer transfer window, so the squads will effectively be out of date when September comes and the new season has started. But in a game where you are simulating events and creating your own version of footballing events, is this that important? You will be playing this way into future seasons on your save file.
Aside from these minor niggles, I cannot recommend Football Manager Classic enough. It has great depth, immersive gameplay and is insanely addictive – during the course of this review it has been the only title I have played n my Vita and I have ploughed over 40 hours into it already, with limited silverware to show for it. Rather than putting me off, it is enticing me to play even more. The fact that it is portable makes it that much more attractive, potentially even more so if you also own the PC version. It’s not as complete as that is, but it comes quite close. If you own a Vita and love this type of title then you simply have to buy it. Is it worth buying a Vita for? I guess that comes down to how much you love Football Manager.