Football Manager 2019 Review

December 24, 2018

I have an apology to make. This review is later than I’d hoped. My excuse is better than just telling you my dog ate drafts one to thirty-three, but perhaps not any less cliched. You see, I actually got lost in the world of Football Manager 2019, trying to achieve what I hope Jürgen Klopp will, what Alex Ferguson did and what Pep Guardiola is now. You see, as has always been the case and always will be, Football Manager is an absolute timesink of an addiction. As soon as you get going in it, ridding yourself of its horrible goodness is really damned difficult. None of this is really news. None of this will surprise anyone. Football Manager 2019 is a brilliant game in absentia, but when compared to its ancestors, however, it suffers in comparison for a variety of reasons.

Praise your team if they do well. Or don't, and be a hard-ass.

Firstly, and most obvious, is the new look and feel of the user interface. It is utter ugliness. I mean, the colours are garish, the contrasts harsh and for the life of me I cannot understand why the UX designers at Sports Interactive decided this was the way to go. It makes the game pretty painful to play, at least until you habituate to what your eyes are seeing and your brain is shouting “no!” at. Did the design suffer from the annual cycle, with little to no user testing, or peer review? Maybe I’m being harsh — and I’m not a designer by any stretch of the imagination — but I cannot believe this is the right, or best, option. Expect changes to come in the next game, and in the meantime get ready to apply alternative themes and skins to better meet what you need.

It makes it hard to navigate and find the right areas you require, and information you want, too. Part of that is exacerbated by the bloat of features over the past years, all of which add value to some people but should be easily accessible to all — and aren’t. Having come to this game after Football Manager 18, and not having played for a while, it was really hard work finding things. It still is hard, in fact. Sports Interactive and Sega need to justify their annual releases of this game. To that end Sports Interactive will have a product backlog of thousands of features and year on year they add a number of the smaller items and one or two of the bigger ones. This year, training gets a massive overhaul and is the lead new feature. It allows unbelievable power in managing your team’s, your squad’s, your unit’s and your player’s training programmes. You can build a schedule and have focus on one part of the game, with multiple sessions as per real life. You can get the team doing the same thing, or have your goalkeeping unit head off to do something just for them. You can focus on a tactic, or flick through multiple. You get feedback regularly on everyone’s progress — be it good, bad, or indifferent. This is with regards to how they’re physically doing too, something so important nowadays with sports science front and centre of everything Guardiola, Klopp and Sam Allardyce do.

I'm not sure I can live on 43k a week, to be honest.

As with all big features in the game though you need time to really understand it and data to analyse if what you’re doing is good or bad. When I was young I had all the time to play it. For people in that situation this will be mana, but for a large proportion of the game’s playing population, it will be something they simply cannot penetrate, or can only do so with the support of the (admittedly superb) community. This isn’t a criticism, just an observational fact. The criticism is that you don’t need to use, play with, or understand the new training module to win and achieve. You can totally ignore it, or set your assistant and coaches up to do something with it different to the default, and win the league, or win the European Cup. For different teams over twenty-plus seasons.

With all the features in the game today, which have been added in to give further realism and match up to what we see in reality now (VAR is introduced this season for example), the opportunity to do everything almost exactly as your favourite real manager is there. Somewhere along this line of inexorable progress a little heart has been lost, though. The sheer fun and joy the game can bring. The moment those dots celebrate a goal, or the commentary goes wild or your wiggly lines on the tactic board deliver some cracking trequartista play and a goal; it’s just not quite the same. The game is too real, too powerful, too mechanical to love like it’s the best thing ever, as it once was. It’s an outstanding simulation, but not quite the game it used to be.

Watford — in a league of their own.

There are things which have been lost in the maelstrom of feature lists which were fabulous, and others which in time are learnt and lose their wholesomeness. For instance, in the past you could draw arrows dictating the kinds of runs your players would make. You can create team and individual tactics which hopefully result in this today, but come the seventy-fourth minute when I need a goal, I miss being able to take my number eight and stick him in a random position on the pitch doing all the mad things with his running, and getting that organic equaliser, or winner, which fuelled the burning happiness in my heart. Now, I get to set my team up and change things there, tweak them here and hope all my calculations have worked out right. I say again, it’s a wonderful simulation but not the fun game it once was.

All of which is to say that this review and commentary on Football Manager is rather Jekyll and Hyde. It’s brilliant, but it’s different. It’s a comprehensive football management sim which we can all see the brilliance of, but it’s not that fun game we yearn for. It will absorb hours of your life but it will not fuel those hours itself. It’s a scientific experiment rather than that which the Collyer brothers first envisioned all those years ago. It’s your Pep Guardiola to another’s Jürgen Klopp. Undeniably brilliant — the best there is — but you can’t help but love the other one more.

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A fabulous demonstration of what football management is really like, of which there is no peer. But impenetrable to many and less fun for all, it makes you think of the past too often to ignore.
Luciano Howard

I've been gaming for 30+ years on the Commodore VIC-20 to the Nintendo Switch and most things in-between. I enjoy all kinds of games but if I had to pick a couple right now, I'd say I adore Mario and love Dark Souls. I can talk about either ad infinitum...