In the best way possible, Football Manager 2016 is an exhausting pastime. A decade ago, and more, all this series really asked you to do was define a formation, sign players and balance the books. Nowadays, if that’s all you’re doing then you’re dooming yourself to failure.
Delving into individual and team-wide training regimes, pouring over thousands of numbers and statistics, scouting opponents weeks, sometimes months, in advance and holding regular meetings to discern the mindset and aspirations of your squad are all elements that can never be overlooked. Leave out just one of these, amongst countless others, and your chances of victory against even the most modest opposition drop to something approaching zero.
Realistically, then, to get the most out of this you need to abandon any and all ambitions across all other games and dedicate yourself to pulling Portsmouth back up through the English leagues and into Europe… or whatever your personal football fantasy might be.
Achieving such goals is more pleasing than it has ever been. This is a series that has forever featured ideas that have outpaced the interface design team’s ability to skilfully portray them, resulting in presentation that is – to put it lightly – barely fit for purpose. Such a disconnect is not an issue this season. The visual slate does a quite brilliant job of representing the underlying functions and reasoning of the game, as well as its constantly evolving personal narrative.
Best of all are the new Prozone-branded options for displaying and understanding complex in-game events and tendencies. Prozone is, as ardent football fans will already know, the premier name in real-life football analytics and the company that provide many professional clubs with post-match data on their own players and upcoming opponents. Having everything from heat maps to crossing positions, and from where the ball is most frequently intercepted to how many passes your keeper makes to your left back, is akin to opening the most informative treasure trove of football secrets that the most numerically-minded fan could ever dream of.
The sheer diversity of means available for analysing a game helps not only your understanding of this digital world, but also facilitates an education of the intricacies of the real thing. Thanks to this deceptively simple portrayal of complex data Sports Interactive has, then, provided the most tangible link to the world of football that any videogame has ever achieved. FIFA and PES might let you catch a (very) fleeting glimpse of what it’s like to be Messi or Ronaldo, but Football Manager allows you to understand concisely what exactly makes these players the world-beating entities that they are.
Statistical wealth of this variety only achieves its full potential when you’re engaged in the ‘full’ Football Manager option. If you’re less inclined towards fiddling over training rotas and worrying about whether Nathaniel Clyne is tackling hard enough then the Football Manager Touch variation provides a more accessible, quicker alternative.
Touch is what was previously known as ‘Classic’, a game mode that harks back to those pre-Football Manager days in which Championship Manager was King of the Kop. Simply: everything is easier. The game won’t punish you for not properly implementing the advice of your scouting department and clubs take a softer line when it comes to selling their star players to you, for example.
It’s true that Touch offers something that lacks comparative depth, but it’s also the best way to enjoy certain aspects. Playing games online with/against friends, for instance, is much better done under the Touch banner. By ridding yourselves of the need to trawl through every screen in minute detail you open the door to being able to realistically complete a season in a week or less. This becomes particularly pertinent if playing with series newcomers, not least as it prevents you having to navigate the time sink required to explain the multitude of quirks that must be understood and engaged with.
Multiplayer sees the addition of a completely new mode designed to take advantage of the explosion in popularity of fantasy football. The Football Manager Fantasy Draft mode allows up to 32 players to simultaneously take part in a process of selecting players from the game’s database, creating themselves a dream team with the view to winning a fictional league or cup.
Prior to the draft starting you can select how much money each player is allowed to spend, up to a maximum of £250 million. However, with Messi and Ronaldo both valued in excess of £60 million, and even players at the level of Falcao and Van Persie coming in at roughly £30 million, it’s impossible to simply wade in and select what would constitute a modern World XI. As with everything in Football Manager, a degree of thought is required.
Football Manager has always excelled in providing a rich simulation, but it hasn’t been so impressive when it comes to offering multiple ways in which to penetrate its world. The addition of the draft system shines a new light on the core elements, allowing for a new tone and form of play.
It’s that, along with the improvements in how data is presented, that makes this the finest game Sports Interactive has released. Games released annually tend to feel incredibly similar year on year, but a lack of progress isn’t something that can be claimed here. Yes, at its core it’s the Football Manager we know and love, only this time it’s a treat for the eyes as well as the head.