Football ay? mmm marvellous isn’t it? Small boys in the park, jumpers for goal posts and so on. There is however one thing that is missing from park football, the presence of a manager.
Ah football managers, those chaps that you claim you could do a better job than if you had the opportunity. Well now with FIFA Manager 2009 (FM09) you have the chance to prove this, unfortunately without the large pay cheque the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez earn every week.
What is also unfortunate is the fact you won’t be able to pit your wits against the computer generated versions of real managers minds. The game doesn’t contain the names of real world managers so when playing Arsenal I was against ‘Danny Glynn’ rather than Arsene Wenger. Further examination of the FM09 database revealed that the game doesn’t contain any real staff be it managers, coaches or chairmen. This is disappointing for a game that advertises realism on the back of the box. Fortunately FM09 contains a huge database of real world players that goes all the way down to some of the lowest divisions. (And on cue, the fanatical support given to this game delivers us Update 4. Thats right, it includes every manager, chairman and various other staff members of the first five English leagues and the first Scotish league. DL it for free here. ed)
The main aim of the game is to manage one of these teams, so how does this work in FM09? In a word? It’s ‘complicated’. There is a lot to do in this game and not all of it is actually based around the football, which can get frustrating. For example, when creating my in-game moniker I had the opportunity to give myself a wife or girlfriend (or even a civil partner!) along with kids, in order to set up my manager’s personal life. The idea behind this is to actually give you something to spend your virtual pay cheque on. It is an interesting touch for a football management game but if the player really wanted to spend virtual money and manage relationships inside their computer they would play The Sims - also made by EA.
Now it’s probably a good idea to go on and talk about the actual main point of FM09, the art that is football management. The player can choose to manage any team they want. A nice touch is how the budding FIFA manager can set their own objectives at the start of the season. You could even go all out and give yourself outlandish goals in order to secure more spending money, but then risk being sacked if you fail to meet these goals. On the other hand you can have minimalist goals, which won’t yield you much in the way of return money but it’ll be easier to keep your job. This is probably a good thing because the management aspect is tough - especially when the game can be prone to over-complication.
It was tough even without managing a national team on top of my chosen club. For some reason the game offered me three positions in international management - a choice of Armenia, Montenegro, or Venezuela - before I’d even played a friendly match with my club. I appreciate EA want to give the player as much choice as possible, but being offered a position by three national teams for no reason - especially when I had nothing to do with any of them - was a bit strange.
It was when it came to playing matches that things really got confusing. I had to use the live text mode and it didn’t feel involving at all. It was like watching the live updates that appear on the BBC website during matches. Whether my team was winning or losing I just didn’t feel as if my tactical choices were having much impact on the match. If I could have seen what was going on, say through a 2D match engine, I would have felt much more involved. I must point out that there is a 3D match engine, however my laptop just couldn’t support it and this is why my end score is a point shy.
Perhaps EA could include a 2D engine in a future patch. This isn’t some outlandish request as they are on update 4 and still seem to be backing this game 6 months after its release. They have already included a number of improvements such as revised databases and new training tactics. It’s a shame my computer couldn’t support it as I feel I would have enjoyed the game a lot more - as much as I enjoy FIFA 09 on my PS3!
That said, if there is one area where I think FM09 excels beyond its peers it is in the area of deciding player formations. The FIFA manager has complete freedom of choice as to where they want to place their players on the pitch. A manager could spend hours tweaking player positions in order to get the best out of them and this feels really authentic. The manager doesn’t just have to crowbar their players into a generic pre generated formation.
There were moments within my managers social diary which required a little too much attention for my liking. One example was that I got a message telling me ‘fans were unhappy I didn’t attend an open day’ it would have been easy enough to go along if I had been reminded beforehand, but I wasn’t. Other areas that are arguably confusing include talking to players - they get unhappy if you don’t talk to them enough or if you say the ‘wrong thing’ - for example one of my players got annoyed when I asked how his family was.
As I mentioned earlier, I can see why EA included the personal relations aspect of the game, but it doesn’t quite work yet. With a bit of refining, who knows? I saw this with a number of different aspects throughout the game, which was a bit disappointing as I really wanted to enjoy the game. The potential however is definitely there - like Tottenham Hotspur there are a lot of good things in this package but they just don’t quite seem to have come together. Perhaps - they need Old Uncle Harry to lend a hand and put them in a good position for next season.
So in short, would I recommend this game? Well, its a game of two halves. On the one hand it tries to provide a real sense of depth to a genre of spreadsheets, but on the other hand it doesn't quite get the footballers wives right this time around.
That said, I will be first in the queue for FM10 should they streamline some of these bugbears.