Football Manager 2018 Review – McCarthy or Mourinho?
Football Manager 20189th November, 2017
It's November. For a huge number of people, it means its Call of Duty month. For others, like me, it's Simulation-games Christmas, its Football Manager month. Sports Interactive have been making the series for thirteen years now following their split with Eidos and the Championship Manager series. More than ever, the game is about the personalities than the strategies.
Last year I reviewed Football Manager 2017. Much like then, I have to point out the problems with an annual release of any game. How can Sports Interactive justify the new yearly release of Football Manager beyond updating squads and player stats? As mentioned, over the past number of iterations it's been about the role-playing than the strategy. It's less Jose Mourinho than it is Mick McCarthy. That's to say it's all about the personality.
I've had a ritual with Football Manager for the past seven years. I pick up a club from the very bottom of the English professional league. As with last year, 2018 features the rise of AFC Telford from the depths of Vanarama National League North to the slightly lower depths of Vanarama National League. Even higher, should the players stop whining and start playing.
When they actually start playing is when one of the best new features of Football Manager 2018 shows up. Much like last year’s iteration, 2018 has seen an improvement in the match engine. Frankly, the match engine is the best it's ever been. All too often the older games have got things wrong with huge mistakes happening all too frequently. Defenders way out of position or simply ignoring the ball. Strikers lingering so far offside they may as well be attempting to replace the opposition goalkeeper. Of course, the infamously terrible keepers which would let in shots that were more difficult to let in than save.
The vast majority of this seems to have been remedied with the inclusion of a new match-day engine. DirectX 11 is now supported, which has improved the visual fidelity of match-day greatly. In addition to this, Sports Interactive have worked with another SEGA studio, Creative Assembly, to improve the animations of players as well as the variety of stadiums, the pitch and the differences between players.
Players now move more accurately both on and off the ball. This isn't to say issues aren't still visible. I've still seen, though on fewer occasions, issues. Defenders outright ignoring a loose ball that they were closer to. Keepers letting in shots that have no right to be goals. Some mistakes can be accepted, such is the real game, but they can seem to happen at least a little too frequently - or at least too much in the same position, despite the player.
It combines well with the tactical options available. You can actually see the players following your tactical setup. Strikers will sit just off of defenders and make runs to beat the offside trap. The keeper will actually follow instructions, for once, to do short passes. Players will make use of space more efficiently, pass frequently if that's the style of play you want. It all adds to the level of realism that the game offers and makes the tactical options even more worthwhile.
One thing that Sports Interactive have been doing is making the options at your hands easier to use. Rather, every single part of the game is made easier due to more charts, graphs and a more user-friendly user interface. Team and match analysis breaks down the squad into their strengths and weaknesses. From your partnerships on the pitch to their aptitude with your tactics, it's all made visible.
What I can't attest to are the pre-match tactics. The day before any match you chat with your team and give them an overview of how you want to play the match. I'm not completely sure on how useful it actually is. The marking of specific players is still there and still works as before. I just can't attest to players actually paying attention to you when you tell them to pass short and build up from the back in the upcoming game. Players rarely seem to react whether you're giving sound instructions or completely changing everything.
Visibility is a key element of the game in general. In line with this Football Manager 2018 has made large changes to injuries, scouting and the players themselves. One of the biggest features in Football Manager 2018, possibly in the last few years, is the Dynamics system. If you follow football at all, you know that players can very easily bring down a manager. Look at Jose Mourino's second stint at Chelsea. This is what Dynamics is all about.
Your squad is divided into a hierarchy and also into social groups. This is all about the emotional side of football, the personalities, and the players. With the inclusion of dynamics, every conversation and complaint by a player is brought into a new light. If a senior and influential player has a complaint, you will seriously need to pay attention. Losing a key player can quickly lose the dressing room. Losing the dressing room can cost you your job.
What also makes the Dynamics system so interesting is how it influences other core aspects of the game. Dipping your toes into the transfer market is part and parcel of being a manager. Now you have more than just the position and attributes of a player to think about. What is the player's playing style? How influential is the player? Making too many changes or too big of a change has a huge effect on your team. As the team gels together, cohesiveness increases which improves performances on the pitch.
Without a doubt, this is one of the biggest inclusions to come to the series in the past few years. It adds yet another core pillar to add to your purview as a manager.
Looking after your players has always been a core aspect of the series and it's never been this easy. With the new medical centre, you can keep track of player injuries in a vastly improved way. Using the medical centre will help you actually learn and understand why players are getting injured. More than this, using it and the advice given to you can actually help to prevent injuries. It's actually given a bit of use to the Sports Scientist that I had issues with last year.
The reports you're given help break down the team into how at risk they are of injury and why. Too much game time? Training just too intensive? Of course, there are some always at risk for one reason or another. I imagine Gareth Bale should feature in every single medical report ever, but it allows you to at least try and keep your players healthy.
Scouting and transfers have also increased in depth with the new release. I can't particularly say I like the new method of paying for scouting packages. What I don't like is how limited they are in scope, making finding people quite difficult unless you really go digging yourself. Fortunately, the results of scouting are considerably cleaner and more informative, that is a certainty. Paying for larger packages increases your scouting range but, of course, increases the running costs. Much like the medical centre, scouting now acts more like a separate entity and is backed up by Data Analysts, who, like Sports Scientists, now have a use.
What is good about the scouting system is the data you receive and how it's presented. The major thing is when you scout a player, and it takes a while, you slowly build up a picture. It's this picture and an overall rating out of 100 that shows whether your scouting team thinks a player is worth buying or not. The one problem with the scouting system is that it quite disconnected. The length of time to scout a player is understandable, as is the fact you get reports in stages. I'd just like the ability to not have to keep jumping back in to continue scouting a player.
Even though finding a player can be difficult, buying or selling players is more intuitive. I can't attest to the AI side of this in the long-term because I haven't covered enough years yet. What I can say is that the AI seems to be smarter in both buying and keeping hold of players at the time. Transfer fees have skyrocketed. Players want wages that even five years ago would get them thrown out of any contract negotiations. The thing is, this is modern football.
What I can say is that Football Manager 2018 has found itself with more of my time than the last few releases. It's sleeker, easier to navigate and more engrossing than ever before. While it is engrossing, particularly when man management is concerned, there are issues. Like all new features that the series brings in, dynamics and the player personalities are rusty. It's lacking the subtlety that comes with real conversations and human interactions. It is, however, still a set in the right direction.
The inevitable question for any yearly iteration is a simple one: "Is it worth it?". The answer is a resounding yes. The new features have brought Football Manager that bit closer to the beautiful game. Realism and increased control, as well as an increased propensity for emergent storytelling, make Football Manager well worth picking up for the old guard, as well as the new.
Copy provided by the publisher.
New features have brought Football Manager 2018 closer to the beautiful game than ever before. Personalities, the hierarchy and social groups all play a part in the way you interact with the players. The system is rusty but still revolutionary for the series as it brings an ever more emergent way of telling stories. In addition to this are improvements throughout the game in how data is viewed and represented.
- Improved and sleeker UI which is easier to manage
- AI improvements make transfers more complicated and realistic
- The match engine is the best it's ever been
- New dynamics, coaching and medical centre systems bring the game ever closer to the real thing
- However, the Dynamics system is somewhat shallow and lacks the subtlety you'd find in real social situations
- Finding new players can be difficult due to the scouting packages system
- The steep learning curve is still steep, though easing slightly