Football Manager Live PC/Mac CD
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Sports Interactive
It's taken a good few years but we finally have a Sports Interactive online football management game. I can remember some comments in the PC Zone magazine about the future possibility of an online Championship Manager game (which shows how long ago it was). Of course you've been able to play Football Manager online for many years now, using the network multiplayer game option, but whilst it can be enjoyable, you're not getting a game that's really suited to playing online with thousands of other players. Football Manager Live has several things in common with the other Football Manager games but it's quite a different game in many respects and it's one that has been tailored to suit online play quite nicely.
The differences between Football Manager Live and Football Manager 2009 are simply too numerous to list here. We'll cover the main differences but it suffices to say that a lot of the complexity has been stripped away and a different approach to the game has been taken. The first thing you'll notice is that there are no real teams in the game. You'll get to create your own team to manage, choosing your team name, your home and away kit and the name of your ground. The player names in the game are real and the game appears to include the expansive database of global footballers that are present in other Football Manager titles. You'll start off with a squad of players that you probably won't recognise (they're drawn from all the four corners of the globe) and it's up to you to mould a successful squad. You can't just go ahead and purchase every player you want however. You'll begin with a wage limit of £100,000 per day and you're not going to want to let your daily wage bill become more than £250,000 per day as you're taxed £1 for every £1 that exceeds this amount meaning it's going to become very expensive if you decide to fill your team with high wage earners.
One of the first things you're going to want to do is to join a game world and then join one of the available FA's. Being part of an FA allows you to have a steady income of cash and take part in structured competitions. There are various FA's and it's best to choose the one that suits you and the time of day you will typically be playing the game. Before long you'll begin your first season and one of the really nice aspects of the game is that you don't have to be online at a specific time to play a specific match. Seasons take a couple of weeks to complete but matches have deadlines by which they must be completed. If you don't meet these deadlines the AI will take over for you (or your opponent). Promotions and relegations take place, as they do in the real world, and your team will have a rank to let others know at a glance just how good your team really is. You can also setup your own competitions if you wish. You can charge an entrance fee which is used to pay out the prize money . Of course you can play friendly matches at any time, in addition to the leagues and cups you'll compete in, and these are invaluable in helping you fine tune your team.
Effective wheeling and dealing in the transfer market is one of the key ingredients to success in FML. The game has an auction system in place, not unlike the one employed by eBay which makes for some rather tense moments. You can simply meet the asking price for a player if you don't wish to get caught up in the haggling. Of course you may want to invest in more than just your playing staff. You'll get the chance to develop your stadium and increase the chance of bringing in more cash at a later date. I started off with two stands that had bottom of the line seating but for just over £100,000 l had an additional stand kitted out with some rather better seating in the hope of attracting more supporters (and not just the type who were prepared to rough it in my lesser quality seats at low prices). You'll have to pay to maintain your ground too.
In Football Manager Live you won't have to concern yourself with hiring capable staff to help you keep your team running smoothly. You can learn skills that have an effect on the running of your club. The general areas you can gain skills in are Coaching, Physio, Scouting, Management, Infrastructure, Learning and Tactics. For instance every one of the five possible levels for physiotherapy that you can learn will give you a 5% reduction on each of your players' injuries. The set piece coaching skill will give you a 5% training boost to set piece related attributes for each player in your squad. Essentially then you have to 'research' in order to develop your club. It takes time (which is measured in real-time days, hours and minutes) and the more advanced skills will take much longer to learn. As you invest the time to learn the various skills, more skills open up to you and it all helps to reward the time and effort you put into the game.
As a result of having to learn skills, tactical options are initially extremely limited. You'll need to acquire level one of the Tactical skill before you can set any tactical options other than placing your team in a formation and deciding upon which players will take your corners, free kicks and throw ins. To some this will be frustrating. Not being able to set team, player or opponent instructions comes as a bit of shock after playing FM 2009 but in some respects it makes sense as you acquire the knowledge by improving your skills and spending time with the game. In fact it's just one of the ways that the game isn't so overwhelming as FM 2009 when you first start playing. The game is also keen to reward your accomplishments for completing certain goals such as achieving your first win, first clean sheet, an unbeaten streak of three games or more, having a player score three goals in a game and for being a good sport (committing less than ten fouls in a match). Football Manager Live is a game that seems to keep on giving and this provides plenty of incentive to keep on playing.
Football Manager 2009 saw the series make the long awaited move from 2D to 3D but the 3D match engine doesn't feature in Football Manger Live. To some this will be a disappointment but in many ways I think this makes a lot of sense. We saw in FM 2009 that the 3D match engine is very much a work in progress and I don't doubt that it will be honed as close to perfection as is humanly possible over the next few years. It makes much more sense for the tried and tested 2D match engine to be used for the first Football Manager Live title even though it's something that's probably going to disappoint some people. The matches have a variety of speeds they can be played at and the medium speed usually takes around ten minutes or so to complete a match. You can take a Time Out to sort your team out if you wish or you can make changes whilst the game is being played. You get to view a mini 2D pitch at all times so you'll always be aware of how the game is progressing.
There are no problems for deaf gamers in Football Manager Live. Out of the box there aren't crowd sound effects (although at the time of writing it's available as an optional free download) so you'll be fully aware of everything that's going on in the game. All of the information in the game is conveyed either through text or icons in pretty much the same way as other Sports Interactive titles. You can email your fellow managers at any time and during matches you can communicate with your opponent via text chat. The game also gives both text and audio alerts to signal when mail messages have arrived.
Football Manager Live may lack some of the complexity of the other Football Manager games and the game has more of a fantasy football feel to it, which may initially come as a bit of a shock, but it's a game that's much more suited to online play than any of the previous Football Manager titles. It's not perfect but it's a great start and future updates will doubtlessly enhance the experience. I'm not a great fan of MMO games in all honesty and I was sceptical of whether Football Manager Live would appeal to me. I've been surprised at how much it's kept me coming back for more. Of course it creates a dilemma as you have to decide whether Football Manager 2009 or Football Manager Live is the game that's going to claim all of your spare time. Personally I thought that, for me, it would be FM 2009 but I haven't played it in over a week and it's been difficult keeping off Football Manager Live. Maybe it's the thrill of pipping another manager to the signature of a player in the auctions or competing against a manager who's just as likely to make mistakes as you are and not some AI opponent who at times seems capable of nullifying your tactics? Maybe it's being part of a virtual football world where things change constantly and you feel like you can't be away from it for too long in case you miss out on that crucial signing or developing your skills? Whatever the reason, it must be a sign that Sports Interactive and SEGA have another hit on their hands.