It would be harsh to criticise Sports Interactive for not releasing a Football Manager game this year that feels as progressive as previous titles in the long-running series. Football Manager 2014 is more new flavour than new product itself, boasting welcome new tweaks to the ever-expanding formula but playing host to little in the way of outstanding innovation.
Yet we’re now at the point where the series feels like it has reached its peak – though I’m sure Sports Interactive will have ideas going forward – and Football Manager 2014 is the height of football simulation that will prove difficult to top through substantial change.
Should we continually expect innovation from a series that by now feels close to its very best? There’s no question that this is the best football management simulation game to date, but there is a more simple question that lingers over the whole experience this time around: where to next? Developer Sports Interactive, year after year, tout dozens, if not hundreds, of new additions and changes to the series which every year seek to enhance the overall experience, yet this year’s crop of changes seem to focus more on stability and core improvement.
“Control as much or as little as you see fit, but your career is truly in your hands.”
The enhancements are undeniably appreciable, yet subtle. The general structure and flow of the game feels more streamlined than ever. Linux support is a very welcome addition, as is the new cloud save functionality. The home menu has been ‘de-cluttered’ to separate offline and online modes; the Classic mode introduced last year has had its three nation limit restriction removed, allowing for a larger database side, while the Challenge mode comes with over twice as many to choose from. Classic eases the burden of succumbing to overlooking the tiny details, but it’s a deeper experience now; Steam Workshop integration means (you’d hope) in the near future there will be even more Challenge mode content to contend with.
Enter a career, and you can now establish early your managerial philosophies to boards, either current or prospective. There are also more ways to incorporate your assistant manager into the day-to-day operations of the club outside of matchdays. Want them to take over handling the press or agent offers? Let them. You can handle the training if you’d like, or the team talks and match preparation. Intensive managers will favour full control, but those who enjoy some parts of management more than others can let the game step in.
FM 2014’s inner workings are both unsurprisingly and undeniably intricate. The full Career mode is ever richer, the wide array of options expanded further to allow managers to spend even more time between matchdays tweaking tactics and deliberating. The time between games has grown further, now that players are now more inclined to want to talk to you directly, and the game caters to you should you wish to talk back in-depth. Transfer negotiations showcase perhaps the starkest changes: to put it simply, players want and cost more, and you need to micro-manage your finances from day one.
Sports Interactive have clearly focused on improving the element of realism contained within Football Manager. Players and agents alike are more impertinent than before, with swift retribution against the unruly in turn now more frequently available to you. You can interrupt fellow managers to criticise them for not keeping to loan player terms, or praise players who work hard to get picked for their international sides. Agents – and ironically the media too – have personalities which you can interact with to curry favour or alienate if frustrated. Balancing personal relationships is a near-constant lingering side project.
All the meticulous man/world management points towards matchdays, and this is perhaps where the game lets itself down slightly. While the match engine will no doubt get necessary fixes post-launch with fervent community support in tow, in its current build the current setup is more infuriating than before. Advice is flung at you incessantly throughout, with instructions seeming to hit and miss with your team; defensive errors are on the increase with rage-inducing moments coming in far too often to simply lay blame on a ‘nearly there’ match engine.
The best of Football Manager 2014 then – and indeed the series as a whole – can be found in the control provided to the manager. Control as much or as little as you see fit, but your career is truly in your hands. The enjoyment factor comes from your hard work paying off, and this year’s Football Manager iteration makes you work harder than ever for success. Where to next for the series? I can’t say for sure, but for now at least, Sports Interactive have produced the best football management simulation to date and should ultimately be commended for achieving that.