Journalism is littered with incidents of notable bravery, moments when men and women have put the need to uncover the truth before their own welfare - be they Kate Adie in a warzone, Roger Cook tackling bad-ass crooks or Russell Harty going mano-a-mano with Grace Jones. Me, I’m risking possible accusations of major spousal neglect by finding out whether the new version of the Football Manager series is any good or not.
For the faithful, the FM franchise is less a gaming experience, more a lifestyle choice - as many of you know, it’s an insanely addictive affair that dominates sports strategy a la Pro Evo and FIFA, it’s a deeply compulsive, thoroughly executed piece of gaming, backed up with gobsmacking research - Man United’s signings of the Brazilian Da Silva brothers was incorporated into FM months before it was made public, while names that are now becoming staples of the back pages, like Carlos Vela, have long been the stuff of FM legend and real-life managers have supposedly used it as a scouting resource.
While the game itself is pretty untouchable as a brand, yearly updates have always felt like products of an abusive relationship - you love them, they promise to change, but each time all that changes is little more than a promise to put the lid back on the toothpaste.
But not this time round. For FM09, Sports Interactive have started to buy us flowers on our birthday and stopped coming home from the pub drunk and forcing themselves upon us. Or in other words, it has given the in-game engine a major overhaul, introducing 3D gameplay, looked at the erratic transfer system, added to the board and fan confidence ratings, expanded the role of the AI assistant manager, brought in a more thorough press conference aspect and introduced a transfer rumour section.
The interface remains intact from FM08, meaning focus has shifted from the cosmetic to the structural. The matchday section has been impressively pimped. Long a staid 2D tactic board, it has now become a flexible treat, offering 3D animation, which while little to coo over represents a breakthrough. As well as this, you can customise pop-up in-game stat boxes and rewind during the game. The 3D doesn’t work without set specs, but the traditional 2D wisely remains an option, so those with older systems aren’t totally alienated.
As mentioned, the AI assistant manager plays a bigger part - throughout the match he offers tactical suggestions and corrections to your team’s weaknesses, which will help guide newer players down the steady road to FM addiction. With the transfer system tweaked to avoid irritating and unrealistic pricing glitches, and the press conference a far more rewarding and fun affair, there is enough to win over even the most fervent naysayer.
Of course there are bugs, there always are, but that’s par for the course and what the patches are for. It’s a small price to pay when seen in the context of the bigger picture.
Overall, the changes are major, but they needed doing and have worked. Anything less would have been seen as mailing it in and rinsing a captive audience. Of course this means that FM10 will only offer fine tuning for the same price, but us suckers will still fall for it.