Football Manager 2009 PC & Mac DVD
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Sports Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Those who have loyally followed the great football simulations created by Sports Interactive over the years will know that once in a while there are some major changes to the formula and these changes can take a subsequent version or two of the game to be fully realised. Championship Manager 4 introduced the 2D match engine and for the first time the matches played out on the screen in front of our eyes rather than in our imagination which had been feeding off text descriptions. The 2D match engine simply couldn't compete (what can compete with our imagination?) and on top of that there were bugs that needed sorting out. The final Championship Manager game Sports Interactive developed and their new Football Manager series improved it tenfold (at least) but times change and now the jump into the world of 3D has been taken.
Before we come to the main addition this year let's take a quick look at some of the other additions. Press conferences have been included and you'll get to comment on your managerial appointment and upcoming matches. You can even type in a response which is a nice touch. Initially the press conferences seem like a good thing but they become repetitive. Whilst you can send your assistant, you can never depend on them to say the right thing and it could affect the morale of your players. Whilst it's nice to have them added to the game, it's a shame the ability to disable them hasn't been included. Trial Days allow you to watch games between young hopefuls and assess whether you think any of them are worthwhile. This is actually a useful feature although should a player catch your eye and you make a bid for them, don't be surprised if news of the offer is leaked and suddenly you have other teams interested in beating you to their signature. The media feedback has been enhanced with transfer rumours being spread with virtually no truth in them at all, just like in real life. There are opportunities to train players to perform preferred moves. On the tactics screen you'll notice coloured dots which signify if a player is being played in their ideal position which is a small but ever so valuable addition. Support has been included for widescreen displays. You'll also notice your assistant manager now provides more feedback during matches and so forth. The quality of the advice depends largely on the quality of the assistant manager so if you have a duffer you might not want to take him too seriously. There are many other improvements too such as a re-written transfer system and it is easier to train players to play in different positions. In fact it would take me far too long to list all of the minor additions and tweaks but one addition stands out high above the others.
The 3D match engine is by far the most important addition to the Football Manager series. Moving from 2D to 3D reportedly allowed Sports Interactive to improve the match engine, as problems which weren't noticeable in the 2D view became apparent. Your opinion of the 3D view will largely depend on what you were expecting from it. It disappoints in terms of the quality of the graphics, the lack of camera angles (and the absence of a customisable camera angle), the absence of crowd graphics and some of the animations are awkward to say the least. Games can be viewed full screen in what's known as TV view and you can open a series of widgets to provide you with worthwhile feedback. The problem is these widgets obstruct your view of the game so you won't want to open too many. However, it has to be said that in some respects it's a sterling first effort and it surpasses any other 3D match engine in a sports management game. What impressed me was the player behaviour. There are problems with it, sometimes a player will simply stand there for a few seconds with the ball, there are too many shots from distance and there are times when the ball is kicked out of play for no apparent reason. That said, some of the player movement is exceptional and there are times when the movement is life-like. You really can see the difference between top and lower division players too which is something that's not always possible in games with 3D match engines. You don't see the same goals over and over again, which is certainly a good thing. Goalkeepers actually dive for the ball (although they don't seem too good on penalties) and make some terrific saves. Players capitalise on deflections and the movement of the ball is affected by the weather. In my opinion the positives far outweigh the negatives and the 3D match engine has had a much better debut than the 2D match engine had in Championship Manger 4.
There's no getting away from the fact that there are problems with FM 2009. There have been complaints about the copy protection methods, bugs and system requirements, so let's briefly cover each of these in a few paragraphs. To begin with it's no surprise that publishers are taking a firm stance against software piracy and some have taken rather draconian measures to prevent it (whether it works or not is something better discussed elsewhere). The copy protection system used for FM 2009 is actually quite lenient. The only problem I had with activating the game was to find out if my key code contained zeros or the letter 'o' which is difficult as they both looked the same in the font that has been used for the code. You have five activations which allow for five installs and every time you uninstall you get an activation back. Once activated you won't need the disk in your DVD ROM drive in order to play the game. This should cover most eventualities and it should be remembered that it's a game that is usually played for one year as fans of the FM series drop their cherished game like a hot brick once the next version is out.
Many have complained about various bugs in the game and it's true there are some present in the game. We reviewed the game with the first patch installed as it was reviewed before the release date (we usually install any patches that are available for a game when reviewing a PC title which is only fair as the 360 and PS3 games patch automatically) and in truth a number of bugs that were present in the demo have been removed. Some still remain. Making a change to your tactics during a game can sometimes lead to you having duplicate players on your tactics screen. This is annoying but it's simply a glitch on the tactics screen and you'll only have 11 players on the pitch at all times. You can't select the FM 2008 right handed skin for some reason and whilst this is a trivial complaint it is something that needs correcting. The 2D match engine does seem to lag somewhat and take a while to load up which is strange as previous versions have been absolutely fine. I would be highly surprised if Sports Interactive were not to address these issues in future updates however.
Football Manager 2009 has cost a lot more than £30 for some fans of the series. The need to have a decent graphics card is something that has been the case for many PC gamers but you have to realise that there are a lot of Football Manager fans who don't play any other PC games and have never had to concern themselves with making sure their graphics hardware is up to date. You only have to check out the official Sports Interactive forums to find that many are complaining about sluggish performance with the 3D match engine (our ATi X1950 Pro is not running the game smoothly 100% of the time on full details). Quite why the game is so demanding when the graphics can only be described as basic is bizarre to say the least. Whilst the classic 2D match engine has been retained (and you can disable the 3D views completely in the preferences menu) it has been reported that the game won't even start if your graphics card/chip is not up to scratch. Upgrading is an option for those who can afford it but it's not an option for those who can't and those who have played previous Football Manager titles on a laptop which didn't include a decent graphics chip have a choice of either not playing the game or changing their laptop entirely.
Mac gamers have to have both an Intel based Mac and OSX 10.5 (although some claim it will work on OSX 10.4). This was going to happen sooner or later as Apple moves forward with Intel based systems but why is the Universal logo on the box? Surely that symbol suggests that the game will work on both PPC and Intel based Macs (http://www.apple.com/universal)? The system requirements state an Intel based Mac but the presence of the Universal symbol on the front cover is ambiguous at best and misleading at worst.
As with all previous Sports Interactive football management titles, Football Manager 2009 is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. All of the information in the game is shown visually. The information is either shown in text or by numbers or colour-coded bars. The game also makes good use of icons to convey information. If there's one complaint I have it's that Sports Interactive should include an option to increase the icon and text size. When playing the game at screen resolutions of 1280 x 1024 and above some text and icons can be difficult to see and being able to increase the size of both, particularly the text, would be most welcome. At least the two interface skins on offer this year are kind on the eyes.
I don't think there can be any doubt that in many ways Football Manager 2009 is one of the best football management games to date. The 3D match engine is far from perfect but it's an impressive debut for Sports Interactive and in terms of realistic player behaviour it's the best 3D match engine to date. Still this year sees the series in transition and there are some teething problems. Outside of the 3D match engine, the new additions and tweaks are mostly successful but you will tire of the repetitive nature of the press conferences and personally I would like to see the training and tactical options move away from using slider bars. Still, bugs, activation and graphical problems aside, Football Manager 2009 is a great game and one that we'll look back on in a few years time as being a turning point in this fabulous series.