“WHY IS HE PLAYING? WHY ON EARTH DID [Insert manager’s name] START [Insert player who is the target of all the vitriol]? I CAN DO BETTER THAN [Insert manager’s name]!” Said every football fan ever. And while I’m referring to soccer and not American football, you will find that this sort of frustration and thought pattern exists in all sports fandoms. However, while American football fans only have the Madden series and its, frankly, wholly unrealistic gameplay in which they get the chance to “out-coach” (it is arguable how much of this you really do, especially if you rely on gameflow) the management of their favorite teams, soccer fans have Football Manager 2015.
For those of you who don’t know what the Football Manager series is all about, Football Manager is a different kind of sports game then the FIFAs, NBA 2Ks and Maddens of the world. You don’t play as the players, like in all those other games, but, instead, you play as the manager. The boss. The gaffer. In the same way that Louis van Gaal can’t stop Chris Smalling from being stupid when he gets on the pitch, neither will you have direct control over your players and instead have indirect control through your instructions, tactics, preparations and planning.
Now that we’re most likely left with all the readers who are genuinely interested in Football Manager 2015, let’s just set some quick ground rules for this review. I’m going to stop calling football “soccer.” It’s going to be football from here on out, the way it was meant to be called. I’m also not just going to spew at you a list of what all the changes are from previous versions, because we already have an article for that. Instead, this review is going to cover how the major changes affect the way you will play the game and whether the experience is a positive one or a negative one. You know, how reviews are supposed to be. Now that we are all on the same page, let’s get started.
The first thing you will notice when you start up a game in Football Manager 2015 is that the UI has had a massive face lift. Everything has that clean flat look, that Apple is all about, and just generally looks very different. It looks, honestly, quite cool. Unfortunately, looking good doesn’t always mean it is easier to use and as a Football Manager veteran myself, it wasn’t particularly easy to find all the information I was looking for. It didn’t help matters that Sports Interactive had decided to turn the taskbar into a sidebar, in addition to moving around a lot of the menus. Without a shadow of a doubt, your first half-hour to hour of playing the game will largely be orienting yourself around the interface, figuring out where everything is.
Once you’ve gotten yourself situated, veteran players will be able to jump right into it with relative ease. Newcomers or players who haven’t played in a while, and are a bit rusty, might get a bit overwhelmed. While Football Manager 2015 doesn’t have a dedicated tutorial, it does have an advanced tooltips system, which you can see in the above image, that appears as yellow circles all across your screen which you can hover over to learn more about what a certain tool in the game does. You can completely turn it off, have it only show up for new features or give you a full in-depth guide to what is going on. It becomes quite a handy tool.
Speaking of handy, one of the new things Sports Interactive has implemented in Football Manager 2015 is the whole concept of you being an actual coach with coaching stats. Now, you can actually “participate” in the training of your players which becomes vitally important when you are in charge of smaller teams without the budget nor the board allowance to allow enough coaches to specialize in all the different coachable traits, which gets further compounded by the fact that coaches and physios count towards the same type of “other senior staff.” Thus, every single extra coach you can squeeze in helps. And while there isn’t a mini-game or the like which you will complete to show you are training your players well (all you really do is just tick a few boxes in the coach menu), this new feature gives the whole idea of past experience some extra value outside of talking points for the in-game media (which was basically all it was for in previous iterations).
Training has had a minor overhaul with more pie charts and information displayed in an easier to understand way thus making the effects of your input clearer. It also makes it easier to check on what your assistant manager is doing with it all if you are like me and just decided to assign general training to him because after 7 years of Football Manager, with the myriad of changes, I no longer understand how training works or what is optimum (and yes I know you can just Google it, but it feels too gamey to do that).
The whole idea of responsibility is also a very big step forward in Football Manager 2015. Now, you can basically outsource every possible job you could do to a member of your staff from setting up tactics, choosing lineups and transfers in or out. Now obviously, nobody is going to do that, because why bother playing the game if you aren’t actually playing the game, but not everyone likes doing everything (like general training for me). It minimizes micromanagement and lets you just do the things you like doing, thus increasing enjoyment of the game.
Another aspect that received a massive overhaul in Football Manager 2015 is scouting. Most obviously, you will notice that the old player search tool has become seamlessly integrated into the new scouting sub-menu giving ease of access to an oft used tool. Using your scouts is now more important then ever because, unlike before, players you haven’t fully scouted won’t just have some of their stats masked, but the stats that aren’t masked will have range estimates. This is where having scouts with high attributes in judging player ability and judging player potential will pay dividends. The stat ranges become narrower and narrower the longer you scout the player (and the better your scout is) thus making scouting even more valuable then it ever was before.
The masking of stats also breathes new life into an often under-used feature: Trials. Now, offering trials to free agents will play a bigger part of your transfer policy as having them step through your doors removes all masking and ambiguity of their abilities. Whilst in the past, giving a player a trial didn’t tell you any new information and merely allowed you to play them in some friendlies if you so wished, the ability to learn a player’s true ability without having to dedicate weeks and months of scouting will make all the difference for high-demand free agents and for teams that can’t afford to send scouts too far.
But what if a player doesn’t want to go to your club? Trial or permanent. In the past, you didn’t have much say on the matter and that’s the way it was. However, interaction in Football Manager 2015 with players, the board, your staff and the media has been deepened and you are now no longer as helpless with uninterested players as before for you will sometimes get the chance to talk with the player in question to convince them that your grand schemes are the ones that they ought to be a part of. Obviously, it doesn’t always work as no amount of convincing will make Cristiano Ronaldo play for Gillingham FC (assuming you somehow found the funds to do it), but sometimes, you just get lucky and get to sign a player that wouldn’t have, in other circumstances, played for you.
Sports Interactive wasn’t joking when they said the 3D match engine was much improved. While it looks like 16 bit graphics compared to FIFA15 and PES, it is definitely the best match engine in any Football Manager yet. Considering the fact that not too long ago, Football Manager was still representing players as a bunch of 2D circles, the fact that players are now 3D models with animations that are derived from motion capture footage is a gigantic leap forward. Players no longer kick the ball with weird form, but actually move around and play with realistic motions. They look much less robotic. Ball physics also look much more realistic without the impossible bends that would make Beckham envious. It all just looks pretty realistic and if you sort of just glaze your eyes over a bit and watch from afar, you would find it quite difficult to discern if it was a real football game or not (ignoring the poorly textured hot dog carts and other off-pitch things).
The match engine is not without its issues, as it can be a bit choppy at times on a machine that far exceeds the system requirements and was churning at a constant 60fps according to fraps, but Sports Interactive is apparently doing its very best to optimize and perfect it before the official release of the game on the 7th of November. However there was this one extremely glaring bug that I just had to mention. The highlights system completely missed showing me one of my players missing a penalty. Now while I still won the game comfortably with a score of 5-1, it would have been good to have seen the penalty attempt. I only found out after the fact when I was reading the minutes for the game out of sheer boredom. You can imagine what a big deal that would have been if I was actually losing the match. All the momentum could have been taken from me and I wouldn’t even have known it!
All these small good things culminate to one much more polished and enjoyable product
However, what really makes Football Manager 2015 a joy to play aren’t the big sweeping changes, but the small minute details you probably wouldn’t have paid too much attention to if I didn’t mention it. Your menu bars change color to fit your club colors, so red for Manchester United, blue for Chelsea, yellow and green for Norwich. They also changed the designs of the default club logos (so replacement logos for clubs Sports Interactive don’t have the rights to display) to a bunch of different logos with varying designs that just make the game look that much nicer when you are looking at match lineups in leagues they don’t have the rights to like the English Premier League. And while I know many of you serious Football Managers will be downloading logopacks and skinpacks the second you get the game, these changes make the default look much more appealing and acceptable to play in. The easy access search bar at the top of the screen is also a welcome addition as well as the new slicker update ticker that appears when you “continue” on to the next day, giving you quick headlines and events in a much more flashy and visually pleasing manner.
All these small good things culminate to one much more polished and enjoyable product that can help you overlook the fact that the challenges game mode has not had any meaningful changes made to it, because if you think about it, there is only so much you can do with a game mode where the only difference to the normal game mode is having some arbitrary limits and restrictions placed upon you. I also question the point of Football Manager Classic now that you can assign many of the tasks you don’t want to do out to your staff and thus make your play-throughs faster, which was sort of the original point of the Football Manager Classic game mode.
Setting up your databases has always been a pain and could take many, many precious minutes, but Football Manager 2015 definitely sets up very large databases in a fraction of the time than that of its predecessors. Overall Football Manager 2015 is, in my opinion, the most complete iteration of the Football Manager series since the introduction of the 3D match engine in 2009.
I will however, leave off on some wise words (which I just came up with just now): While some games are simulations, not all simulations are games. Football Manager 2015 isn’t quite at the point where the learning curve is where you would require the obtaining of an actual coaching qualifications to play, but it isn’t getting too far from it either. A certain amount of realism is important and necessary to have, but too much of anything is always bad and it will be interesting to see if future editions make this mistake and forget that it is still supposed to be a game and not a future football manager training tool (which it totally can be).
Football Manager 2015 is the most detailed and complex Football Manager yet. There are some really minor niggles in the UI, with the drastic overhauls, and game design, such as having physios and coaches being counted against each other in the staff count, but if you have enough patience and love for football, you will quickly breeze right by them and get to enjoy all the good things about it such as the improved 3D match engine and the more rewarding, realistic and detailed scouting and interaction systems. Football Manager 2015 is a must-have title for veterans and newcomers alike who want to try their hand at leading their favorite football clubs to the plateaus of victory.
Football Manager 2015
- Available On: PC/Mac
- Published By: SEGA
- Developed By: Sports Interactive
- Genre: Sports, Simulation
- US Release Date: November 2014
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "Football Manager 2015 is the most detailed and complex Football Manager yet. There are some really minor niggles in the UI and game design, but if you have enough patience and love for football, you will quickly breeze right by them. Football Manager 2015 is a must-have title for veterans and newcomers alike who wish to try their hand at leading their favorite clubs to the plateaus of victory."