james debate
james debate

Friday 21 November 2008

For any football fan out there, no year is complete without this game. Millions of lives are consumed and torn apart by its deceptively basic spreadsheet charm and statistics-based allure, countless man hours of work are lost and God knows how much money it ends up costing. But yet, back for another round is the legendary, epic, and uncontrollably addictive Football Manager series.

football manager 2009

You all know the score by now, Football Manager is a game where you take control of a football club at any level in any country, and endeavor to lead it on to glory and success. You control the business side of things, you become involved in the man management and training regimes, you sign players and build the football team of your dreams, you can become as involved in the nitty gritty as you like or leave that up to your hand picked assistants. Football Manager has always been glorious for its ability to emulate an endlessly detailed and indefinitely continuing game world, where you can spend decades building your legacy at the football club of your dreams and even take charge of the national team for glory on the world stage.

Year after year this game is the cream of the crop, the big daddy when it comes to football management games, and so when the newest iteration, Football Manager 2009, is released, it goes without saying that we don't expect any less.

Sadly all good things come to an end. I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, or out of my typing fingers as the case may be, but I find myself disappointed this year. Sports Interactive, the game's developers, have let me down and I find myself shocked and dismayed at an uncharacteristically shoddy product from a company that until now has had the midas touch.

Let me backtrack just a little bit before I say something I'm going to regret about one of my all time favorite games series. This game is still a great management game, it is still so addictive, and you can still do all the wonderful things you could do on previous titles, plus enjoy a host of new features such as press conferences, a completely overhauled transfer system, assistant feedback and the biggest move of all, a 3d match engine.

Now so far this all sounds good, and in previous years I've been more than satisfied just to get the same game year after year with only a few minor refinements and additions, and I would have been pleased with that again this year, especially with the one big addition of a 3d match engine, sadly this is where it all starts to go so wrong.

First of all the 3d engine is kind of cute, but not really all that good at the end of the day, and it works like a real dog on lesser computers, even on low settings. On top of this there are a good deal more glitches than normal, results changing between full time and the game loading the next screen, more than 11 players appearing on your tactics screen, cloned players, and serious crashes all over the place. This is in addition to a lot of people for whom the 3d engine simply doesn't run, even on powerful computers. On top of which the engine itself just isn't all that good this year. There seems to be a far greater tendency for players to do really stupid slapstick type stuff, like miss the ball when trying to clear it off the line, or passing the ball back 40 yards into their own goal, or just standing still with the ball an inch away from you like a moron while the other team run 30 yards and pick it up. This is not what has incited my ire to such an extent though.

First of all this game has been the longest in development of any Football Manager game, it wasn't until the end of October that we even got a demo and not much earlier that we even heard any details about what was coming in the new game. With such an extended development time you would have expected the game to be polished to the extreme and as I mentioned, it clearly is not.

And it's even worse for any mac user, especially if you have an intel mac. In fact when the demo came out I would even have gone so far to say that the developer's claim that the game is 'mac compatible' is simply not true. The game crashed continually, the mouse would lock up whenever you tried to right click anywhere and the 3d engine simply would not run, to complete the picture the demo eventually just stopped running, crashing on startup after a day or two. There is also a general shoddiness with presentation throughout, with unresponsive buttons and not automatically switching to the pitch view when watching a match. I would have hoped that in the month since the demo was released they would try to fix these problems but having spent a good deal of time playing the final version it is clear that nothing at all has changed since then, aside from that now the 3d engine runs like crap, as opposed to not at all, and it only lets me select 'low' detail, despite me having an absurdly overpowered computer.

As a mac user this just pisses me off, if you're going to market your product as a mac game then you have to actually put some effort into it and do some game testing, which clearly wasn't done if they couldn't spot a problem that any mac user would have noticed after about three minutes of play.

They had a patch available shortly after launch, but only for PC users and I had to wait a further two weeks through a series of comically mishandled delays before they eventually released it for us mac users, not doing much to reassure me that the company gives a crap about mac users.

I think for next year's version they might have to lay off any new features and just polish up what they currently have, otherwise it could get a bit ridiculous. But in the end, if i get all this working though i'm sure it'll still be fun to play, so I won't score this game too lowly.

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