Football Manager 2023 - Console Review
Today I learned that the idiom ‘nothing in this world can said to be certain, except death and taxes’ is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. If I were to write that today though, I would add that, for a football fan at least, that nothing is certain except death, taxes and Football Manager. Since its emergence on the gaming scene in the early nineties on the venerable Amiga platform as Championship Manager, Sports Interactive has released thirty main franchise titles, eighteen of which form the Football Manager series. I turn forty this year and there has only been nine years of my life which didn’t feature one of their games. Moreover, I have played every single one of them.
Despite this, I have never played the series on console, making this year’s entry my first introduction to Football Manager’s more streamlined iteration. First impressions, then, are rather important and it all feels very familiar. A few menus are hidden behind the triggers and touchpad, but navigating the various menus wasn’t quite as awkward as I had envisaged. I quite liked having some frequently used selections mapped to controller buttons. It took some getting used to and, occasionally, I found myself confused as to how I was meant to select a certain option but eventually, I got the hang of it. Now that I had a handle on how to get around, my first port of call was my team sheet, quickly followed by the tactics screen. Time to see what I had to work with.
It’s great to see that tactics here will translate if you decide to play the fuller version on PC or are playing on both platforms just because you can. It gives you the chance to get the nuts and bolts of how Football Manager works on the pitch without having all the additional micro-management that surrounds the full-fat version. The first UI tweak becomes apparent when working here and you’ll meet your new best friend, the radial options menu. Holding down X and using the left thumbstick, you choose what you want to do and then, for certain options, the D-pad is used to move things around. This is also used when making in-depth tactical changes in a game and having to hold, select and then release takes some getting used to but it works and is the logical way to work around the lack of a mouse for input. However, designing the UI around a joypad does lead to a few quirks.
Getting around the various menus and items within the UI is generally straightforward. Use the left joystick to find the block you want to interact with, use the D-pad to navigate within it and X to make your choices. However, sometimes, the order of items that you navigate through doesn’t always make sense. Thankfully, though, you can switch to a mouse-like pointer, using the left joystick to move the cursor and press X, again, to make your choice. I found I’d flip between the two where needed, but mostly used the block selecting method as I felt it was quicker overall. It’s also great to see such good use of screen real estate, not too crowded but with enough information on hand in each area. Being able to kick back on the sofa and crank through a few games was revelatory which nearly made up for the amount of penalties I was giving away.
Better still, I never had to navigate through a press conference which is easily one of my least favourite areas when playing on the PC version. Whilst I’ll never hand the responsibility over, they’ve always lacked any sort of feeling to them, with my attendance purely maintained so I can try to get the appropriate reaction for players from my words. Team talks are still included, so should you find yourself 2-0 down at half-time you can try to spur your team to turn the game around. You can’t quite go as nuanced as you can on PC but even a general team talk can be enough to give your players the kick they need to go back out and perform. You can even yell at them from the sidelines too as the matchday experience is very similar and, interestingly, I found the match engine much more pleasant to look at — though this could be just down to the fact my TV is OLED and my monitor isn’t.
That said, I did encounter some interesting quirks whilst watching games. One rather weird issue had to do with crowd sounds quieting or disappearing entirely if you call a touch line shout after a goal. Another, more frustrating one, was being bumped to the 3D match engine after making two changes via the match hub screen between highlights with the game paused. To workaround this I started using the full tactics and subs screen which, to be fair, allowed me to get suggestions from my assistant on who to bring on, but it was awkward all the same. There have been a couple post-launch patches already but these two quirks weren’t fixed at the time of writing.
The console version of Football Manager is a competent and thoughtfully cut-down version of its legendary big brother. It keeps the important core of what makes Football Manager what it is whilst making it much more suited to the platform that it’s on. If you have a Game Pass Ultimate subscription you can play this on both Xbox and PC and continue your save on both platforms. Equally, I would be confident in saying that it’s the perfect version for newcomers to Football Manager to cut their teeth on before making the leap to the full-fat version. It affords you the opportunity to learn without overburdening you with tasks and requirements.
Some Football Manager die-hards may find the console edition lightweight when compared to the PC version, but then, I don’t think this is for them. This is for the old school players, like myself, who don’t have the time to work out meticulous training schedules or pore over set pieces to make their own. It’s for those who played when arrows were the only instruction you could set on the tactics screen, even if you had no idea what they did. It’s also for those players who’ve tried but been put off by the seemingly insurmountable amount of data and options open to them. This version feels quieter, more reserved, affording you the time and space to live out your football management dreams.
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