PC Review

Football Manager 2012

It's more than a game of two halves...

Start playing Football Manager 2012 and odds-on 90 minutes will not be enough. On the face of it, Football Manager series is the most unlikely sort of game to cause just-one-more-game syndrome but after spending the length of a match with Football Manager 2012, learning the ins and outs of the latest entry in Sports Interactive's carefully-honed football management series and you will be hooked. In fact, Football Manager 2012 is the video game equivalent of crack for sheer addictiveness.

Football Manager 2012 is the biggest, most deeply involving game in the series. This year the series sees over 850 improvements in all areas of the beautiful game from live match viewing to contract negotiations and, for the most part, these improvements work together for the better.

Much of the improvements centre around introducing much more realistic human interactions between managers, players, agents and even the press. A lot of effort has been put into widening the choices available in team talks, player chats, press conferences and contract negotiations adding a much more authentic edge to the experience.

With the team talks comments are now split up into emotional bands like aggressive, cautious, passionate and reluctant. You can also set an overall team talk and then address your players individually or choose to speak to the defence, midfield and forwards in their own groups. The result is a new team talk system that allows you to be as hands-on or hands-off as you want to be. You can even assign your coaches to deal with the team talks if you want to find a different approach.

The same emotional bandings appear when you enter into private chats with players and even press conferences. Again, these allow you to vary your approach getting fans an players on side with your own wit and charm alongside your passion for putting together a winning team. Alternatively you could pull off a Brian Clough at Leeds United-style situation prompting you to invent new swear words but, hey, that's football.

Of course, winning over the players and fans is only part of the battles that successful managers face. The contract negotiations have been reworked too allowing you to lock out clauses that you will not be moved on. This can cause a contract negotiation to collapse pretty quickly but it also means that you won't be pushed over your wage budget too easily.

Come match time and there are yet more improvements. The most notable one is the introduction of new pitchside tactical shouts giving you a chance to tailor your tactics as the flow of the match develops. There is a slight delay in the match as your touchline instruction takes effect but each shout does have a noticeable effect, be it good or bad, on the way that your team are playing. The actual match engine itself has been refined now too making the matches smoother and more entertaining to watch neatly emulating the experience of watching a football match on TV.

Given the complexity of Football Manager 2012 looking at each new or improved feature individually really doesn't given a sense of how the game actually feels to play. The important thing, especially in a game as heavily driven by statistics as Football Manager, is how well all the features work together. In that respect Sports Interactive have had a ridiculous amount of practice in balancing a game that hinges on a phenomenal amount of statistics.

Believe it or not, inventing new swear words is actually a reaction that Football Manager 2012 can engender. It's hard for strategy games overall to built an gaming environment that really engages players on a higher level than a simple desire to win. The ability to shape the future of your favourite team does play a big role in Football Manager's emotive charm but there is more to it that that.

Sports Interactive have managed to take the endless statistical number crunching that lies beneath FM 2012's hood and form it into a game that allows players to live their dreams of taking MK Dons to the Champion's League or guiding the Faroe Islands to be one of the few teams to both the European and World Cups at the same time.

Achieving mighty results like this doesn't depend on the luck of a digital dice roll though. Success in Football Manager 2012 comes with some careful balancing and the search for the right players and backroom staff. Exploration a risk-taking is every much a part of Football Manager 2012 as it is in the latest adventure or racing titles and they actually form the backbone of the series' charm.

Football Manager 2012 is a superb step forward for the series. It really matches the tension and passion of sitting on the touchline calling play and adjusting team strategy with the added advantage of not having to sit out in the rain and the cold or endure the humiliation of getting fired publicly if it all goes wrong. There is a real joy in your achievements though. The thrill of taking an underdog team like Birmingham all the way to the League Cup final is every bit as rewarding in Football Manager as it is in real life and that is really what the beautiful game is all about.

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