Damn you, Sports Interactive. We’d just about managed to wean ourselves off FM09 and re-emerge into civilised society, one that doesn’t care about how well our under-18s did in the Youth Cup or whether a 4-2-3-1 formation is the way forward, when along comes the latest update of the footy management classic to again make its needy demands on our personal lives.
As football has its fierce rivalries, so too does football gaming. With FIFA and PES just having had their annual cockfight for supremacy, this year saw the renewal of the management sim scrap, with Championship Manager moving back into the market after an absence of 3 years.
Without any competition during that time, the FM series coasted a bit, with the only upgrades feeling only cosmetic or tweaky; only with the introduction of the 3D game engine last year did there seem to be a truly weighty improvement that piqued any curiosity beyond wondering what the new stats for FM legends Carlos Vela were.
So with CM to contend with again, the onus is on Sports Interactive to stay on top of their game and keep the franchise fresh. Having already revamped the graphics on such a grand scale last year, any changes this time round could have inevitably seemed less impressive in comparison.
One thing we like about SI is that they tend to leave what works and tinker with anything that could improve the package. FM10 sees a major attempt to overhaul the interface, aiming for a more intuitive experience that improves the flow between the vast number of aspects, and the gameplay itself, adding new touches and expanding key ones.
The interface is now less reliant on breadcrumb icons, which could have been harder to navigate for newbies, and instead uses a more logical tab system that allows each page to branch of into a number of other sections. For example a player’s page now has clearly visible links to his training, transfer, contracts – though stylistically similar to previous years, visually it packs in more info and links.
Perhaps the sheer weight of customisable views is a tad overwhelming, but it doesn’t hamper the basics. One of the neater customisable aspects is the newsfeed – this can now filter out unwanted mail, after all, updates on the England squad are of little use when you’re toiling away in the Blue Square leagues.
The tactics have also had a going-over. There’s now a tactics wizard that’ll help you set-up how you play and players can now be assigned more specific roles – strikers can now be poachers, deep-lying forwards, among others, hell, keepers can even be sweeper keepers. This really does make it easier for those who have neither the time nor the inclination to get ball-deep into it and prefer a less demanding game. Possibly the suavest tactical addition is the touchline instructions, which allow you to pick a number of standard tactical instructions which can be done without stopping the match.
The geekier gamer will heart the new post-match analysis, which offers a thorough Opta-stlye breakdown of each player’s performance, allowing you to pinpoint weaknesses. The backroom staff advice, introduced in FM09, has been made more humanistic too – your coaching team offer up handy suggestions, from tactics to scouting, meaning that you don’t have to be mindful of the myriad of tactical aspects the game has to offer.
That’s the key success to this version of FM – they’ve added a bewildering degree of new depth to a number of parts of game, but have also matched that with an attempt to make it as user-friendly as possible. Even last year’s improvements have themselves been improved. Neat touches have been added to the 3D match graphics – the crowd responses are more lifelike, while the state of the pitch is rendered in greater detail. Nothing, it seems, has been to chance in the fight to remain market leader.
Despite seemingly being less of a trumpets-blaring upgrade than last year’s 3D engine, this is actually the better version – the changes are more fundamental and positive, making the game more logical and realistic. The gamer is at the heart of the changes – as SI both expands the game while making it more enjoyable at the same time.
It may feel like the default setting to praise the series and others may have been playing it longer than this reviewer's 5 years, but due to the significant changes they’ve made and the ease with which they’ve been integrated, this very well may be the best Football Manager yet.