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In Review: Football Manager 2006

Filed: Thursday, 3rd November 2005
By: Matthew O'Greel

Sports Interactive (Sega)
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Last year game developer Sports Interactive parted company with long term associates Eidos in order to sign a new distribution deal with game giants Sega.

Part of that deal was the relaunch of their football management simulator as Football Manager - the second incarnation of which - FM06 - has just hit the streets.

Those a little long in the tooth like me will no doubt remember the original Football Manager simulation which first appeared on the good old ZX81 back in 1981 courtesy of Kevin Toms. Despite being limited in the extreme it was a great way to spend a few lazy hours (or until the computer crashed, that is).

More than 20 years on and here we are with SI's FM06 - a far more complex affair. Rather than simply select 11 fit players there are a multitude of options and factors to consider before selecting your team.

Is your player fully fit? Is he happy? Is he settled at the club? Does he have any issues with team mates? All these things and much more have to be taken into account when selecting your best possible team for the next game.

Although that may seem a little complicated, it's really not. No, the complication arrives when deciding on formation and tactics, a part of the game necessary to conquer thanks to SI's recent introduction of the birds eye '2D' view which allows you to see exactly how your team is playing.

The basic premise is that you set your instructions and sit back and watch your team adhere to those as best they can (or that their ability will allow). But there's a bit of a problem. More often than not they just don't.

Recent versions of CM/FM have seen the introduction of more and more in-depth features. Within the tactics section, each player has a multitude of options and sliders; amongst other things you can give your player directions on aspects such as closing down, creativity, marking, passing, tempo ... the list goes on (and on).

All of which is well and good but as mentioned before, the tactics you set rarely appear to be borne out in the game. Defenders ordered to pass short distances will still hoof the ball up to your strikers, whilst midfielders will inexplicable kick the ball into touch for no apparent reason. These are just two of a number of complaints that have been registered on the developer's website at sigames.com since the game was launched. There are many, many more.

But even if you manage to come up with a winning formation from the hundreds of thousands of possible combinations, worse is to follow. And it's all due to SI's insistence that morale should be rated as important a factor in getting a result as the standard of the players in your team, or the tactics you employ.

Basically, if your team has a poor run you will find it extremely difficult to turn your form around. To illustrate, I played as manager of West Ham for three seasons. By Christmas I was in the top three of the Premiership each season (step aside Alan Pardew). However each Xmas period was followed by the kind of form that would have seen me relegated has I not amassed enough points prior to the festive season (come back Pards, all is forgiven).

In season one I dropped from 1st to 10th come May; season two, from 3rd to 8th; season three, 4th to 8th (although I didn't actually complete this season as I'd given up the ghost by that point).

I tried everything; reducing my training levels (more on that later), resting players with low morale, praising my players in the media and dressing room - nothing worked. And at this point I was beginning to wonder where the fun in the 'game' was supposed to be.

What was extremely irritating however was my team's ability to beat the best (beating Arsenal 5-3 with only 10 men for 89 minutes was unusual, unlikely but yet rather sweet) whilst falling apart against the bottom teams in the league, who had a propensity to allow me a two or three goal lead before blitzing my side with a string of '5 minute double-salvo's'. Quite clearly the game is weighted too far in favour of the underdog (which is best illustrated by looking at the league table at the end of the season).

But it's not all bad; whilst the match engine itself may be fatally flawed the game does offer some excellent improvements on its predecessor - the most notable being the revamped training module. Now it's much easier to set programs for your players and assign coaches to those programmes. Player development is well illustrated and it's easy to chart progress over the course of a season.

Also enhanced is the media module; now you will regularly find yourself being asked questions about your players and opponents, whilst the reports on forthcoming matches and post-match comments are also much improved.

The transfer market is also more 'realistic'; now if a Club doesn't want to let a player go you can't just steamroller them into parting company (well, unless you have the financial muscle of the likes of Chelsea, that is ). As West Ham manager this will lead you to scouring the world for bargains (much as it is 'IRL', in fact).

But sadly, all these improvements are undone by the poor match engine which has been the cause of much criticism by players (real ones like you and me, that is) since the game was launched last month. Unfortunately this seems to follow a pattern in recent SI CM/FM releases, where the initial 'out of the box' game has required a series of patches before being fully playable.

If you haven't already purchased the game, I would strongly recommend holding fire until a patch to solve the major issues has been released (this is likely to be within the next few weeks). Although the definition between game and simulation is being further blurred with each subsequent release of CM/FM, there is little doubt that the fun aspect of the game has been reduced to a minimum in FM06 - bugs or otherwise.

The only positive aspect here is that previous flawed box versions of the game have been saved by patches. In the meantime, my version of FM06 is currently back on the shelf awaiting it.

Now, where exactly did I put that old ZX81 ...

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