Monday, 30 November 2009

Review for Game-Debate: FIFA Manager 2010

Being asked to review FIFA Manager 2010 by the GD Overlords was almost going back to the future for me. You see, dear reader, back in the olden days when wheels were square and reviewing games involved walking five miles and back in the freezing rain, I wrote my first article for Game-Debate on FIFA Manager 09. My review wasn’t as favourable as I had hoped but the game showed promise and was great to cut my journalistic teeth on. So I was keen to see what improvements 2010 edition had in store for me.

FIFA Manager 10 is the latest installment of the EA Sports management series in which you manage a football club of your choosing. Inevitably I’ll make comparisons with the most successful sports management game on the market right now, Football Manager 2010.

EA Sports claim all of the improvements they’ve made this year are based on requests made by FIFA 09 players and I was delighted to see one major change within minutes of starting the game. You have the option to turn your manager’s private life off! Last time around balancing a personal life was an extremely frustrating part of what was supposed to be a football management game. Of course, it allows you to actually spend your virtual pay-packet, but spending time with your boss or improving your golf skills felt pointless- it's not supposed to be a people management game! If that’s what you want, play Sims 3. I had more fun with FIFA 10 than I did with FIFA 09 because I didn’t have to worry about other virtual people, other than my players. Who needs a virtual girlfriend when you can spend time with an entire virtual footy team, ay?

Ordering the players about is what you’ll spend most of your time doing, in theory anyway. There are all the standard management sim activities to be had here; buying and selling players, hiring and firing coaches, taking care of training and laying down match day tactics are all areas you’ll be heavily involved with. Signing players and hiring staff is simple enough, a lot simpler than in Football Manager. On the other hand, organising training is more complicated, and I found this aspect of FIFA 10 confusing and ultimately disappointing. No matter how many times I saved my players training regimes a few days later the game would change the training regime to something else. This was frustrating to say the least, especially when I was trying to raise my players’ perennially low energy levels. Unfortunately neither the online manual nor the in-game help menus seemed to explain how to improve this which ultimately went on to affect my team’s performance during matches.

Controlling what happens on the pitch is the ultimate task in FIFA Manager 10 and the tactical choices on offer are once again very impressive. You’ re not restricted to placing your players in defined positions on the pitch so if you want to play that ultra-experimental 1-4-5 formation you really can (although you best have a superb goalkeeper for that!) When it comes to playing games the 3D match mode is massively superior to the text version, though it isn’t without its flaws. My players made some very, very strange decisions during matches. I opted to control the mighty Cardiff City in The Championship, however FIFA 10 seemed to believe that because they weren’t in the Premier League they should struggle to string two passes together, or run the wrong way down the pitch when in possession. This occasionally clumsy AI can be frustrating and I must admit I did find myself shouting “What are you doing?! “ at my monitor on a number of occasions. When your players do the right thing, like thumping Plymouth Argyle 4-0, it’s very satisfying... if you can ignore the somewhat repetitive commentary provided by the strange pairing of Andy Gray and Clive Tyldesley (Was Martin Tyler unavailable?) and the somewhat generic looking players. But they’re much better to look at than text or indeed 2D blobs, and a management sim isn't going to have the superb look of FIFA 2010 on a console is it? Well, not yet anyway.

FIFA Manager lacks flexibility when it comes to altering tactics during matches. Yes, I said the pre-match tactical options are excellent, and they are, but the process of making changes during a match is overcomplicated. Positions and line-ups are under different menus and it took me until my eighth match to actually discover where the tab I needed to swap player positions round was. The level of control over in-match changes is lower than I’d like; in each area of decision-making there are only four or five different levels which can make the experience feel rigid compared to its main competitor, where you can alter everything from closing down to passing on a sliding scale. This may only be a small gripe but it does leave FIFA Manager feeling less authentic than Football Manager.

EA has introduced an online mode this year for those looking to test their management skills against other players. It’s designed so you can play through a season with up to three other people in a period of less than four hours. However, online mode is restricted to text only management so if you want the joy of watching you footballer minions running around in 3D mode against other “real“ teams you will be disappointed. The text mode can be difficult to follow for newer players so you might only want to consider this if you really want to put in some time and then go out and beat your friends. Or strangers.

If you buy FIFA Manager 10 you’ll spend most of your time playing offline which is certainly more enjoyable than the new online mode and definitely a massive improvement on last year’s offering – mainly because it gives the option to turn off private life, Allowing you to focus on the football. The 3D match mode is an improvement, despite the occasionally strange actions of your players, and the pre-match formation choices are excellent. It’s just a shame the same flexibility isn’t available during matches.

When I reviewed FIFA Manager 2009 I compared it to Spurs: it needed a Harry Redknapp type revolution to lead its charge up the table. FIFA Manager 2010 is certainly not relegation material this year, far from it. Just like Spurs it’s nipping at the heels of the traditional leaders, but it’s not quite ready to join them at the top. If EA keep the improvements coming – and if the FIFA 09 rolling update model is used they will – there’s no reason why FIFA shouldn’t be a serious challenger in the future. For now, it’s a mostly enjoyable experience, so if you fancy a change from Football Manager, give FIFA Manager 10 a go.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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