Sports Interactive's ever popular Football Manager is back on the shelves with a number of changes which suggests a successful summer transfer window for the makers.
Instead of investing heavily in making modifications like your average modern Manchester City manager, SI has chosen to keep the backbone of the game with a few exciting additions, instead of a complete overhaul.
Although not containing as many changes as the previous year's edition had, from the start the signs of the small adjustments are apparent. When entering manager data at the start, there is the option of linking twitter and facebook accounts to the game in order to tell your friends if you take the likes Rushden and Diamonds to the Champions League.
Like in every new Football Manager game, increased interaction with the board, players and the media make the game all the more realistic. A significant change is the ability to negotiate contracts with players' agents. Managers are given a proposal by the agents which users can manipulate according to their needs. Each agent has their own personal characteristics for example willingness and patience which determine how difficult the negotiation process can be. Some agents are more than willing to lower the initial salary request, but some will break down negotiations if the haggling is prolonged for too long.
More evidence of the increased amount of interaction in the game can be seen with the interaction with a team's players. If a player is concerned or generally unhappy, he will speak out and managers are expected to find a solution to the problem to avoid dressing room issues. A common reaction of players is the unhappiness when managers publicly criticise a player's performance. There seems to be two common outcomes, depending on the mentality of the player. A player such as the Brazilian Adriano may leave the virtual conversation announcing it's better if he leaves the club. More humble players such as Ryan Giggs will apologise for the overreaction.
Communication with the board also has some noteworthy new features. Managers can ask the board to allow the amount of coaches and physiotherapists at the club, while also being able to choose - with a limit - a club's transfer budget. Users can, for example, increase the transfer budget which in turn reduces a club's wage budget. This allows gamers to do transfers dealings in the way Sam Allardyce did at Bolton by keeping transfer expenditure low, but giving high wages to attract players in their twilight years. Or, managers can hope that a high bid will result in the player's agents asking for a salary.
The new match preparation features adds to the increased realism of a game which never ends its desire to become a carbon copy of real life football management. The Jose Mourinho wannabes out there can prepare up to three tactics to practice before games while also choosing how hard the players must work in training. If a team has been performing poorly in a particular area, managers can tell the team to focus on areas such as defensive positioning, team blend and attacking set pieces.
Although there are clear improvement in the world's most popular football management game, users should be aware that buying players seems to have become more difficult. The £16M quoted by Fulham for a 33 year old Brede Hangeland suggests that a Harry Redknapp style bargain may be hard to find. Despite this, when we were trying the game out Edin Dzeko signed for Birmingham on a free transfer after three seasons. Oh how Manchester City will be wishing that they also paid nothing for the Bosnian striker in the real world.
Another frustrating feature of the game is the prolonged transfer embargos which are placed when a team is in the midst of a takeover. At one point during testing Leeds United were given a transfer embargo at the beginning of July - just after numerous players were released - which was not lifted until way after the transfer window closed. It's fair to say the reserve and youth players did not help the Yorkshire side's push for promotion.
Something else which the makers failed to improve from the previous edition is the pre and post match press conference. Questions are rather repetitive once again and users should expect to answer the same questions over and over again. The regular questions about which player will mark the opposing team's star player and if a team will survive without their substitute left-back need to be expanded upon.
The 3-D match engine which has never received too many superlatives since its creation has improved just slightly. Around 100 new animations have been introduced, but it does not make it any more useful than in Football Manager 2010.
Users will not be blamed for thinking they are playing last year's edition of the game due to the few changes in the interface, but the new contract negotiation and interaction features make the game a worthy purchase, despite the small amount of apparent flaws in the latest edition of the well-admired Football Manager series.