“The interface can be awkward, and it’s a pared-back experience, but the appeal is as strong as ever.”£6.99
Football Manager has always been a game about stories. These stories inhabit the world of football, and tweaking tactics and finding star players are the mechanics that drive the game, but the stories are the reason people buy the games in droves year after year. When you recount your exploits in the game to your friends, you talk about the triumph of coming back from two goals down in the play-off final, with the injury-time winner coming from your club-favourite captain two days before his retirement, not about the great filter you used on the transfer screen to build a shortlist.
Of course, that first kind of story is why people like football in real life, and Football Manager’s greatest strength is that it produces the stories convincingly. Perhaps the most important thing to know about its handheld incarnation, then, is that you’ll still be finding stories, but they might feel less like your stories than on the desktop version.
The best way to think of FMH is as a kind of arcade version of the full PC/Mac game. There are fewer stats for each player, for example, which makes it easier to see who’s got the skills you’re after. The interface is hugely pared back, with big buttons taking you through the menus, but this doesn’t always translate into it actually being simpler. If you want to, say, select a player mentioned in a news article, you can’t just tap on his name; you have to go through an extra menu. You can’t go straight from your team selection screen to the full tactical screen, either. It feels like it discourages the kind of tinkering and exploration that the desktop game is known for. Whether this is a bad thing is debatable – it helps to push you through the game in a way that suits the lightness of portable gaming, as opposed to the depth of the desktop – but it doesn’t really feel intuitive if you do want to access those options.
Another concession to portability is the reduction in animated highlights on the match screen. It makes it harder to see what’s going on with your team, and means that tactical changes feel more like desperate dice rolls than clever strategies, since you don’t have the complete picture. However, the shorter matches suit the idea of playing on a train or bus more, where you might have to stop playing suddenly to get off, so the change does make sense. We just wish more feedback on your team’s performance had been added in to balance it out.
The big new addition to the game is Challenge mode, where you can choose a particular scenario to play. You might have to maintain a team’s unbeaten run, for example, or try to avoid getting sacked while managing a team struck by a horrendous injury crisis. They provide an interesting test of your skills, but the overall concept can be frustrating, since they take so much time to play. When we failed one near the end of the season, we can’t say we were compelled to try again. That said, you can actually continue your career after a failure, so the play time doesn’t have to be a waste.
Though we think its translation to mobile devices is imperfect, there’s no denying that the Football Manager thrill is here in force. There’s still a huge pool of players, leagues and teams to choose from, providing fertile soil for your football story to grow. You can still craft a great team, even if you’re not micro-managing any more. It’s imperfect, but it lives up to being Football Manager.