This is my favourite time of the year. It easily bests Christmas, which for me passed away quietly many years ago when we were last blessed with the December heavens opening up on the 25th of each year and gently weeping white fluffy tears, covering the land knee-deep in crunchy snow. Sorry Santa, but the only bearer of gifts I'm interested in is the Sports Interactive crew over at Sega and a certain snazzy looking database with an in-built glossy spreadsheet that makes me go all weak at the knees.
I'm quite obviously a Football Manager fanboy and on the 30th of this month I will be sacrificing what you minions to the rat race call 'life outside' by plugging myself into the next instalment of the greatest computer game of all time: Football Manager 2010.
Now, if you happen to frequent the official SI forums you'll know that this time of year is a rather busy one for the SI lads as they traditionally do battle with knee-jerking of epic proportions, relating to bugs and issues that have managed to creep into the release of the demo (which comes out a couple of weeks before the full release). Complaints usually range from too many in-game injuries to unnatural 3D action and various other mishaps, some quite obviously serious others not so and the rest subjective and ambiguous. FM'ers go into complete melt-down, almost like a bug in the game is a spit in their face. It can get messy. We are dealing with people’s religion here so a game that isn't completley sublime is like a Bible missing important pages. It still works but you don't quite get the full picture.
Keano from the spot. Easy peasy.
By the time the full game is released there's already a first-day patch available to fix all the major quirks and by Xmas/Jan/Feb a second patch to further tidy up anything else (basically anything that is not a show-stopper). Patches also include data updates with the latest transfers and fixes to any mishaps with spelling. The patches always fix the problems (almost always) and in addition we get the added bonus of other improvements. Most pc software needs patching. It's a recognised necessity. Its just the way it is. Personally the way SI work, many of them frequent the official forums, with regards to the online community that feedback on the game, is second to none.
But this time, things haven't gone down the same road as last year (when FM2009 got slated).
What FM2010 has appeared to do this time round is rock the 'complaints' boat without making anyone sick. Mainly because there is hardly anyone on said boat to throw-up over the side. No show-stopping bugs. Perhaps one annoying glitch relating to substituting players (it appears their condition - subbing a player early means they get a bit of an extra rest - remains low and players who complete a full game end up in better shape). And another minor one concerning stats reports on the amount of tackles made by players in matches. Other than that, nothing in 3 demo games I've played (the season only lasts till Jan) has caused me to scream out in furious anger and pray that the Eidos management rival sim destroys them in the best-seller charts.
There you go Hammers. You're just an 'other' to us...
Even the SI community forum melters have appeared to remain silent, failing to find anything to post about (so we've been spared the usual dozen and a half threads all with the same subject being posted every 5 minutes by people demanding an explanation and how they do not intend to buy the game). Instead they are probably sat in the corner of their bedroom, shaking uncontrollable as they struggle to come to terms with a game that is fairly near perfection. Nearly. Not quite (nothing ever is).
Questions are still asked about why the training element hasn't evolved and whether re-generated players (for those who enjoy a long-serving game) are to be more refined than previous years. There are other bits and pieces that have all been highlighted and those deemed to require further investigation will be looked at. How can you not love those SI boys and girls?
Much like anything else, we FM faithful are passionate and systematically anal about the games details. There is almost a demand for it be perfect and that SI have a duty to obey every request and if not 'how very dare they'. It's a bit mental. Hungarian second division player has his in-game name spelt incorrectly? Oh noes! The game is therefore deemed unplayable for some. Ok, slight exaggeration, but its not far off the truth. Others pass on data errors or discussions about transfers that would never occur in real life (it’s a game – it’s a simulation so allow for the odd one or two off key transfers). But this time round there appears to be little in the way of a massive brick wall that stops you from playing it.
There is no competition for SI (sorry Eidos) but still they aim high. And we all know it's better to fail aiming high than succeed aiming low and the boys at SI have set their sights very high and they pretty much nail it every time. I guess there is always a decent balance of evolution mixed in with revolution. This game is a progression - far more of one - than say FM2008 to FM2009 was. And what's important, that with all the changes and new implementations, is it manages to retain flair and fluidity.
As per usual, its up to you how to play it. You can immerse yourself and really get into the whole scouting element of the game and building up your yoof team. There's plenty to do with the backroom staff, asking first team players to tutor a promising youngster, re-training players in new positions and asking them to try (for example) to place a shot rather than strike it with venom. Nothing new here, and as ever there are so many things to do day-to-day - but you don’t need to do half of them if you don't want to. Which is what's so great about FM. Micro-management is up to you.
Also - there are plenty of lickle gems all over the shop. Player bio's for example. That's a new addition. And other news related items which are subtle yet very much appreciated.
Palacios passing game. Hardly a foot wrong.
3D match engine is the best it's ever been with loads of new animations including the net which ripples when your striker smacks the ball into the back of the net and there's also stadiums/crowds and new 3D views to watch the match from. You'll need a fairly decent PC and avoidance of any graphic card driver issues to make the most of it. Watching the away end erupt to a goal is a great touch. But more importantly, watching the match engines ability to play out a game of football that looks like a game of football is what makes this so great.
The new tactics creator (classic is still available if you prefer accessing the sliders) is superb and allows you to create your own footballing philosophy and assign roles and duties to players. Now you might think this is the casual way of creating a tactic, but it seems far more natural. You can still change the individual sliders for players and the team if you want but considering you input the style, match strategy and formation and then assign the players and roles for each position (including whether you wish them to defend, support or attack) and add touchline shouts (where you tell the players during the match to control the game or counter or exploit the flanks etc) then you have endless combinations and possibilities.
To me this feels right. Managers, man-manage and it's up to the players to perform. If the managers instructions are beyond the ability of his team, then it will fail.
It's now far easier to manage your team as a unit and do so with an air of realism. I know some will disagree and I also know that some people are already arguing you can't quite control the side and the movement as well as the 'classic' method allows you. Way I see it is, you have a player - you instruct him. The new way allows you to do so and the player will try to fulfil the instruction.
The old way required plenty of experimentation that sometimes felt like you were trying to 'crack' the games AI. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit - you can choose the new creator or the classic one.
Other improvements and features? Press conferences (far better than FM2009) have been given a new look and structure and you also get to unveil a new signing if you so wish. Match analysis and stats includes some nice cute surprises for all the stattos. The user interface might take a little getting use to but skins will no doubt be available for purists who hamper for something old skool. It does seem cluttered though. Also the full released version will come with an editor (as per usual) but one that now allows you to re-structure leagues and add new divisions to existing ones. Not something I will personally bother with until I've exhausted several save games. There's also customised player searches and scout reports and a general improvement of processing speed. The UI is what everyone is divided on at the moment.
So, FM2010 gets a sparkling 9.8723 out of 10. If it gets a release day patch which fixes one or two of the minor blips and tweaks the game further, then the score will get pushed up to around the 9.9889 mark.
I'm easier than Danielle Lloyd.
So it's now cold turkey until the 30th October when I pick this up at my local HMV and I'll be keeping an eye out for the latest unofficial/fan face packs, kits and logos that the FM community birth all year round (as the game doesn't include a complete range of all the club badges and players due to license regulations).
Most polished FM yet. This fanboy is positively twitching in anticipation for some Lilywhite empire building. Tottenham. Quadruple winners within 5 seasons IMO. Oh yes, hall of fame here I come.