FIFA Manager 09
The new footie season is well and truly upon us, full of the usual fun and games with players misbehaving, referees failing, clubs going out of business, and other clubs getting ridiculous sums of money. Who'd be a manager at this time, eh?
Well if you're interested in this game, apparently you would - and the game does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to be a manager in any of FIFA's leagues around the world, including, of course, the English Premier League (I'm sure some of the leagues available must never get played, but it gives completeness).
When starting the game, you actually get a choice of how many leagues you want to involve, along with an estimate of how well your computer can cope - in the end I went for all the English leagues, with a smattering of the top Continental leagues, for European competitions. I was told that my computer would "struggle" with this many leagues, but it didn't, so don't pay too much attention to that warning.
With that, you can then choose your profile - your age, favourite team, favourite player, foreign languages you speak, upload a real photo of yourself to display - even customise your family and upload photos of them (real or otherwise). Then it is on to choosing which club you want to play.
Of course, there are a number of ways to play any football management sim - take one of the top clubs and duke it out for the title, take a club from the bottom of the league and take them to the top, or choose a club you actually support and see how you would do in their manager's shoes. It depends on what you want out of the game really, but the experience is little different from any similar game.
You then choose what you actually want to be responsible for. There are a few pre-set options you can take - if you are the manager, you sort out tactics, who plays, etc, but transfer and finance is out of your hands (controversial these days of course). Or you can be the manager and Director - in this case you run literally everything, from negotiating sponsors to building additions to the club's facilities. Of course, no one person could seriously manage all that in real life, but it is fun to try. You can then customise your role, by ticking or unticking boxes next to what you want to do. It depends on how much time you want to sink into the game.
Once you've chosen all that, it's time to dive into some football! Well, not quite. The game starts you off at the start of July - right at the end of the previous season - and each day you have important decisions to make. You need to sort your transfers out, train your team up for the coming season (but not too hard), send them on training camps, hire the right staff to have around you, chat to the press, promise and/or threaten your players, promise and/or threaten your board, promise and/or threaten opposing managers (not really)... the list goes on. It's all key to the coming season. Each day can easily take a fair few minutes, more if you want to really think about what you're doing - before too long an hour has passed and you're not even into pre-season friendlies yet. But at least this lull gives you time to practice your golf and your sailing (yes, really).
Your first match, once you get there, will be quite exciting. The game shows off in glorious 3D, and you get to watch your players run around kicking the ball and the opposing team. The graphical simulation is hardly FIFA 09 or PES standard, but it is passable, and the players are recognisable, if a bit jerky in their movements - more like one of the FIFA games from the late '90s if anything. But if you zoom out you can get a feel for how your tactics are going, which is useful information to take with you into the half-time talk.
However, after a few of these games the novelty starts to wear off watching each match, and you start skipping through a few. But then the worry comes that you aren't giving the team the attention it needs by seeing how your tactics are working and seeing where extra training is required. And the full season has barely started! Also, your significant other starts sending you emails about how you never spend any time together any more, and there seems to be no way to make her happy (yes this is, believe it or not, all in the game). I couldn't find a way to placate my girlfriend unfortunately, and in the end I dumped her before she could dump me. Luckily there weren't any kids to argue over.
Anyway, back on the pitch my team was making a good start to the season (as I had chosen a high-quality club for my first attempt) and all was well. Sweeping all before me, I finished the season with a fair amount of silverware. So I tried a slightly worse club in the Premiership, and started the whole process again...
Before long, the game unfortunately turns into a bit of a slog through all the decisions you have to make. You can change your responsibilities on the fly, but there's then a niggling feeling that you aren't making the most of the game and are missing out somehow. There is the new possibility of founding your own club in the lower leagues, but at the end of the day it is just the same game but without the recognisable names to be in charge of. It is fun being the national team manager, but I would have liked the option to do this without being a club manager as well - this is unfortunately not possible.
The rest of the game is a bit gimmicky - there is the option to be a player-manager but it is just a poor imitation of FIFA 09, and if you are in a bad team you won't be able to win your matches single-handedly. Also, and this is a gripe with football games in general, the game is released too far into the season, and already has all of the transfers at the start of the season programmed in - but then makes you start in July, when these transfers had not yet occurred. It just isn't correct, and detracted from the experience for me. Of course November/December is the prime time to be releasing any game, but in this case it makes the game a little bit less relevant.
In a sense, it seems that FIFA Manager 09 is more a lifestyle than a game - to get the most out of it you need to put in some real time. A season, if played thoroughly, will take as long as most full games these days. This makes it an absolutely incredible management simulation, but simply too much for all but the biggest fans. If you love football, purchase the game by all means, but be prepared to lose a lot of your life...