Football Manager 2014 - the monotonous bugfest is back, yawn
Sports Interactive and their relentless PR captain Miles Jacobson are back with yet another instalment of Football Manager, aiming to frustrate users in a quest to exploit their unchallenged market dominance for as long as people still accept their shoddy work as a finished product. Again it's 3D graphics more fitting for the late 90s and hundreds of fluff features to cover up the thousands of bugs that have plagued this series for more than a decade.
The problem isn't in the idea of the game, but rather the execution of the amateurish development plan. The game is still infested with legacy code, half-measures and graphical techniques more suited for Nintendo 64 than a modern computer. It's also filled to the brim with bugs - issues Sports Interactive hope you report through "public beta" (essentially they lure you to pre-order the game so you can play an early beta version and do their work for them). Genius.
It's almost 2014 and we're also still stuck on Steam - an embarrassingly poor platform built by industry hacks Valve that SI chose not because it made it easier for their customers to enjoy the game, but because it means they can add another layer of complexity on top of an already outdated piece of software and then push all problems to a third party. Again, genius.
The strength of Football Manager
Football Manager's strength lies in its player database and long-term appeal, this is what separates it from arcade-like titles like FIFA or even FIFA Manager. But the truth is that Football Manager has an inflated perception of being good because it simply has no competitor. It's not that the gameplay is excellent, the match engine impressive or the tactical system well executed (neither is true, more about that later), but because it offers such detail about the players.
Some titles have tried to take the throne from FM, but they have all made the same mistake of trying to cover a mediocre database in shiny nonsense features, something that eliminates long-term play and therefore renders a simulator pointless.
To play Football Manager I have to do several things. I have to start Steam, which, on Mac at least, is not a pleasant experience. I then usually have to log in, select my library of games (all Football Manager by the way - it's the only title in my collection of games that forces me to have Steam installed), select Football Manager and then click 'play'. Not until then the actual game starts to load.
Sports Interactive have admitted that going over to Steam was a counter-piracy bid, as if the people pirating FM would now suddenly start paying £50/year for a squad update and new press conference answers. Instead of hindering privacy they have made it more frustrating for paying customers to enjoy the game. Just searching for Steam issues on Sports Interactive's hostile discussion boards gives you hundreds of examples of people having issues. These people are often asked to contact Steam support - one of the most hated support desks in the world of gaming.
PR machine primed and ready
If you're looking to play Miles Jacobson Bingo it would be a short game. As usual, bromide buzz phrases like "improved match engine", "improved 3D graphics", "enhanced user interface", etc, are being thrown around as if SEGA and SI are proud of their 22-minute meeting where they decided on the marketing campaign for this clusterfuck of a coding atrocity.
Having an "improved match engine" isn't as impressive as players still only being able to run in straight lines. I'm not asking for FIFA14 level physics here (good luck attempting that, SI), but could we at least aim for FIFA03 level? It's amazing to me that such a "successful" company as SI can't hire proper 3D programmers to bring them into modern times.
The tactical system
This has been a major issue for years. When FM was CM the issue was overshadowed by the fact that all games were fairly basic and computers not very powerful. But for every year that passes the typical FM tactics are exposed as being more and more outdated.
The problem I have is that football doesn't work the way SI wants football to work. A manager doesn't use formations as SI does at its core. In real life football formation and shapes are constructed from individual player behaviour; AKA personality. In FM all players have the same personality, and they behave as the blueprint of their position dictates.
SI has attempted to solve this in many ways in the past. They've tried adding preferred moves, tactical roles and other superficial solutions to an integral problem. What SI should have done instead was shifting focus from formation to individual personality and team strategy. Have the player's personalities form team shape and have a go at them at half-time if they're not positioning themselves correctly.
Make it possible for me to experiment with putting a powerful full-back as a striker based on his personality, not based on his pre-determined blueprint of being a full-back. I heard it worked wonders with that flop down in Madrid. Allow me to make the judgement where a player is best positioned, and let me build my team shape based on that.
The match engine
Ah, my favourite scam. When I was a beta tester for Football Manager 2012 the big secret was that the "new" match engine wasn't new at all. The beta testers discussed thoroughly on how to best avoid this issue in the general discussion section on Sports Interactive's forum, or even outright lie about it.
The excuse from the developers was that in order to make a new match engine it had to skip an iteration, but if they announced publicly that the match engine was the same as FM2011 sales would inevitably drop. So we were all looking forward to FM2013 and the new match engine...that never showed. Yes, you heard me right: the match engine in FM13 was the exact same match engine as in FM11 (with a few tweaks to improve stats and fix emergency bugs over the years - the infamous corner bug was one of them for example).
I'm no longer involved in beta so I don't know, but apparently the match engine for FM14 is the new one that customers have been promised for years. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's still the same ME that we had in FM11.
Awful. I still play it though, so giving it three Ray Parlours out of ten. I imagine this is what it feels like to be addicted to black tar heroin.