Football Manager 2017 Review – Simulating The Beautiful Game

Chris Wray
Posted Nov 26, 2016
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GAME INFO

Football Manager 2017

3rd November, 2016
Platform PC
Publisher SEGA
Developer Sports Interactive

Football is the game of the people. If it wasn’t, the number of games, films, shows and promotions around it wouldn’t be as popular as they are. Transfers, tactics, the players and especially the thrill of the match. Every facet of the beautiful game has been realized through FIFA, Football Manager and more.

The challenge of every annual franchise is doing enough to even justify a new iteration. Dig deeper into Football Manager 2017 and you’ll see one huge change, but also a lot of minor ones. Sports Interactive have always tried to make each yearly update feel worthwhile. Sometimes, they’ve been less successful. Others, like here with FM 2017, feature marked changes and improvements.

The playoffs are an incredibly tense time and promotion from them is a huge time for any championship team. Football Manager just managed this after a few years of iterations that just didn’t hit the mark. Now, it’s time for you to take your place, make your mark and lead your team to victory.

Football Manager has struggled for a long time with one major thing; the match engine. It often felt like SI were willing to ignore this for changes and improvements on the rest of the game. They’ve always been aware of the issues with the in-match engine and its multitude of flaws, always having to fix it with repeated patches in the previous releases. 2012 and 2014 were the last two that improved the match engine, but never as much as they have now.

Players will use the ball more realistically, spending more time with it and simply being much more sensible. They’ll play the ball forward from defense instead of hoofing it up the field. Chances in front of the goal will be dealt with more sensibly, squaring the ball instead of making a pointless shot from an impossible angle. Passing, positioning, everything has made that much more of an improvement.

However, it’s far from perfect and still has its problems. Despite instructions, my defense has still been booting the ball from the back when a striker was nearby. A few too many goals have come from crosses and headers and every now and then the defenders will just seem like they’ve fallen asleep both on and off of the ball. I’ve seen passes attempted that would logically be impossible to make and others that went wildly astray.

Of course, it’s impossible to not realize that the majority of these problems come from the stats that the game runs on. As I always do, I took control of a team from the lowest division of the English football league. AFC Telford were never going to play the perfect passing game from day one. The players aren’t the most adaptable, not the best under pressure and of course not always the best at staying focused under pressure. The AI has dramatically improved and it’s very noticeable.

With the heightened attention to detail placed on the match engine, you’d expect other areas to show the negligence. Sadly areas like the media interviews and conversations with your players and boardroom haven’t changed, remaining rigid with little nuance. There’s never any reason, other than personal gratification, to move away from the polite and calm answers. Also stuck in the same way as before are the team talks before, during and after the matches. You can always rely on the same comments to either encourage or cheer up your team.

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A similar stagnation can be found on the tactical side of the game. The sliders that were brought in years ago are still here and, unlike the last few releases, no noticeable new positions have been added – though I honestly can’t think of any that are missing, beyond maybe throwing in a ‘free roam’ in there somewhere. The problem still is that you can’t really be sure what to change, tactically, to fix whatever defensive or offensive problems you have.

For example, in both my Telford and Man Utd games I play my custom-made 4-3-3 Tiki Taka formation inspired by Barcelona. In both games, but particularly the Telford game, I’m leaking goals like a sieve. Advice by my assistant manager is about as useful as asking a stray dog about astrophysics and the only way to improve my defense so far has been to move to the contain strategy, which effectively stops my team from scoring.

It’s something I’ll be working on figuring out through the use of Football Manager 2017’s many improvements in highlighting the many different figures and elements found in the game and football. New heat maps to show how focused you were in particular areas of the pitch, indicating how wide you play. The squad depth screen is invaluable in spotting weak areas of your squad, particularly as you can remove names and see exactly how badly hit you’ll be with an injury.

Even the scouting reports and other advice from your staff have been improved. Every single screen features a button right at the top which, if your staff have anything to say, will make itself noticeable. Click on that, a little pop-up with the advice by staff is there for you to see and put into action, or ignore. This is where Football Manager 2017 has seen the greatest improvement outside of the match engine. Data, the use of it and the graphs and tables that come from this data is fantastic.

What I find strange then is the brand new staff positions; Data Analyst and Sports Scientist. I know what they do, the Data Analyst giving you a report before and after each match giving you the data you may need, and as the job indicates, analysis on it. The Sports Scientist, on the other hand, is there to assist your Physio’s and boost your general team fitness. It’s strange then, that unlike every other job role there’s no indication on which stats are actually useful. You can make logical assumptions, but you’ll never be absolutely certain.

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Possibly the best part of Football Manager 2017 is just how much more realistic it is. Interactions with the fans have been made a little more transparent through the new social media screen. This is far from perfect, eventually repeating itself and also featuring a number of questionable aspects. Examples being the absolute slating of a decent performance from a brand new call up to the main team.

It’s the mixture of this and the AI that makes one of the most engaging new aspects of the series. It’s not just the match engine that has better AI, the game as a whole does. The way this is done is through the inclusion of realistic errors of judgment. You can follow the chaos of the transfer window as a new big name makes it famous. See the figures skyrocket as big teams vie to outdo each other for the ‘next big thing’. Then, just a few months later you see him flop while somebody you bought at a fraction of the price plays fantastically.

Even the purchase of a player that is quite frankly useless is a feature of the opposition. We’ve all done it. You see a huge name, you want that name so you fork over the cash you’ve been given to spend on transfers. He joins, then the problems hit. You only play with two centre backs, you already have five, now you’ve bought one who expects to play constantly. What do you do? Maybe you’ve just bought a player who simply doesn’t play your style of football. There’s a lot of re-training to be done now, or some tactical decisions or transfers to be done.

The inclusion of these errors makes the game that much more realistic and much more like the real game. Following on with the mantra of realism is the inclusion of Brexit, the world cup hosting locations and other real world political decisions and the ramifications they have on the beautiful game.

It’s a shame that Sports Interactive and SEGA have decided to spin off the touch version of Football Manager and make it a separate purchase. At the same time, it’s understandable and not exactly prohibitive in price if you’re wanting to buy it for the simplicity of that game mode. In reality, you’ve got so many options in the main game to move it closer to the touch version that you needn’t really splash out and buy it.

Football Manager 2017 is the best iteration of the series in quite a few years. It’s far from sexy to reveal a sleek new UI. The average gamer will shudder at the thought of more graphs, tables and collections of figures. However, this is Football Manager and it’s a game that revolves around two things: the love of football and just how engrossing these graphs, tables and names are. Football Manager 2017 is the closest and most realized way to play as a manager and features everything you could want and need it to.

Copy provided by publisher.

8.5

Football Manager 2017 isn't a revolutionary update to the series, but it's the best in a good number of years. The new match engine is such a huge improvement and the AI enhancements add to the overall feeling that this is the most realized football management game yet, feeling more realistic than ever before.

Pros

  • Vastly improved match engine
  • Incredibly sleek UI with a better use of graphs, tables and more to highlight different aspects
  • Improved AI that makes the game feel more realistic than ever

Cons

  • As with every other game, very difficult for new people to get into
  • Other new features are insubstantial at best (social media) or outright not explained (Data analyst and Sports Scientist
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