Once an addict, always an addict. It's as true for video games as it is for substance abuse and the Championship Manager/Football Manager has long been an addiction of mine. Although I haven't played it that much the last few years, it's one few games that can just wrap me up in a bobble and make me forget about food, sleep, friends and well, most everything.
What strikes me as a boot up Football Manager 2012 is just how massive a game this has become over the course of the last five years or so. 51 countries to choose from, massive amounts of competitions, players, managers, agents, physios and referees. The experience has also improved a lot, no longer is the game messy and unfinished at launch - it comes across as a polished and well crafted experience from day one. Good job, Sports Interactive.
And adding 800 new features and tweaks is an impressive number, but this year is no revolution. While there are many tweaks that will delight fans, they mainly patch up issues that were there with previous games and still there are some issues that are still there. One of the problems with such a huge game as Football Manager 2012 is the fact that it is huge - there is no way around it - even if Sports Interactive have tried to rework the interface and menus in order to make the whole game more accessible. Customisation options makes it a more tailored game, and playing on high resolution will allow you to fit a lot of information into just one screen - saving you a lot of time in the long run.
That said I played the game on my old, slightly crappy laptop. The very same laptop I played the last two games on, and I'm surprised at how fast games are processed and how smooth it runs. The option of adding and removing leagues at the start of each season is a massive improvement for those of us who play on underpowered computers and still wants to be able to have a career spanning various nations and challenges.
I'm the kind of player who loves to build clubs up - and this time I opted to manage Crewe Alexandra in League 2 - decent financials and a good youth set up (for the division) where my main motivation. Over the years I've managed so many of these lower league clubs, that it's starting to blend together. There is always to option of injecting steroids - i.e. loaning quality players from better clubs - but that's not really going to build the club moving forward. I went for a mix of old, new and borrowed - and the results were okay. I'm still working on making Crewe Alexandra a success, and I like the fact that it is a challenge.
The new way in which new youth team players are generated is nice, and towards the end of the first season my good youth system came through adding a 16 year-old who walked straight into the first team.
It's an interesting time for football with new UEFA regulations coming in to play. That may not be very relevant to Crewe Alexandra, but I'm sure a lot of would be managers would relish the opportunity of managing say Manchester City (just sell Tevez in time, before he starts making a fool of himself, or work hard keeping him happy). But making sure your youth team and academy produces talents is going to be key to longterm success in FM2012.
There are many other little improvements - match preparations and the ability to train several tactics, improved scouting, player negotiations and the addition of tone when communicating with players. The tone is a good way of calibrating when you really want to have an effect, and when you're just looking to have things the way they are. It adds to the role playing component of the game, but also adds another layer to the micro management of communications, and players who feel that this is a bit of a chore may not like the new options. Communication is problematic in the game, and press conferences remain a weakness of the game. Having to answer three questions about the form of one player after a poor performance is just not a lot of fun - and it feels like an area where you only really have things to lose and seldom much to gain. Of course, handing it off to the assistant is an alternative, but if you're stuck with a poor assistant manager in a lower league you may not want to do that.
Contract negotiations have been improved thanks to the ability of locking down certain variables - if you want the player to sign a longterm contract you can lock that option and ask his agent to come up with the rest of the terms to try and reach an agreement. It's a better way of quickly reaching a common ground in negotiations and it saves time. There are still some areas in contract negotiations that needs improvement - when I locked down the player wage to a level I could afford one agent came back with clauses that would double the wage after 30 games - something I just couldn't agree to and I wasn't able to lock that out of the negotiation (he came back with the same demands). Finally negotiations broke down.
I haven't mentioned the 3D match engine much, and that's cause I hardly use it. I stick with 2D matches and text commentary for the most part. It's what I accustomed to. The 3D matches still have some ways to go, before I would consider it entertainment to watch them, but it's getting better.
Even if Football Manager 2012 is an improved experience and the best Football Manager I've played I feel the need to deduct a point for the lack of any real game changing features. The developer has noted that a lot of players opt out of buying the game every year, and even if this is an improvement upon Football Manager 2011 - you shouldn't feel too bad about opting out of FM2012. That said, it's still an excellent game of football management with little or no competition.