Football Manager 2016

Football Manager 2016

We're back for another season spent prowling the technical area.

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Sports Interactive has delivered yet another instalment of their impressive Football Management simulator, and yet again it bears all the hallmarks of the much-loved series that's been so enjoyable for so many years, although we do feel SI could have been a little bit more innovative.

As expected, the latest iteration of Football Manager touches-up, tweaks and polishes all the familiar features that fans of the series have become accustomed to. The astoundingly deep player database still sets it apart from similar games and the match engine still does a good job of replicating a real game of football. While all this is welcome, we have a few doubts whether the franchise is improving as much as it could.

The first thing to do in a new game is create your manager, You can design their appearance, set preferred tactics, and even distribute manager attribute points.

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Modifying the appearance of fictional managers is pretty amusing. While there are virtues here - FM has always been as much about role playing as it is a management sim - its inclusion is utterly superfluous. The models are bug-eyed and eerily non-human, you can modify height, weight, gender, skin colour, but as your appearance is only ever seen as a minuscule blocky figure patrolling the technical area on match days, it's a feature that has little importance even if we don't mind its inclusion.

Something that does have an impact is the choice of preferences that directly influence coaching and tactical abilities. We think this negates player skill. If you are a tactical mastermind who gets results based on how you arrange your stating line-up you should be rewarded with a high tactical knowledge rating. If you scour the world looking for new talent, it makes sense to earn attribute points in judging player ability and potential. It doesn't make sense to assign these skills before they've been proven.

Preferred tactics and playing styles are also set from the offset. While this solidifies the type of manager you want to be, it also detracts from experimenting. We felt obligated to play a possession-focused attacking 4-3-3 tactic throughout our game because that's what we chose at the beginning.

Navigating the wealth of in-game features is fairly intuitive thanks to the side-bar interface, something we have become more comfortable with since its introduction in FM15. All areas such as tactics, scouting, squad and training are easily accessed.

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Football Manager 2016
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The first thing we wanted to do was to set our tactics. We were pleased at how effortless it was to click between strategy, individual roles, and set-pieces. In the past the presentation has been heavily burdened with a variety of screens to click between, though all the complexity and attention to detail is still included, the presentation in FM16 focusses much more on the main tactics screen and thus it flows a lot smoother. Individual tactics are a joy to set. The presentation outlines clearly which positions and which roles your players are best suited to. Even then, juggling your line-up is still difficult. You have to decide whether to adapt your system to fit certain players or keep a solid set-up at the risk of unsettling some of your stars.

We probably spent more time tweaking tactics than we did anything else. Tactics change games. That's something inherent in football and equally true in Football Manager. It can be agonising to see your team beaten by inferior opposition because they negate your free-flowing attacking style by keeping men behind the ball. It's a difficult decision to drop your best player because his position doesn't fit with your system. These choices hurt but they have to be made. After all, this is a football management simulator and these are the decisions every manager has to take.

Before jumping into our first match we visited the training fields, just to make sure our team was on the right path. Training is very straightforward. For team training there's a general focus, such as tactics or team cohesion, and there's also an upcoming match focus. Against weaker opponents we focussed on attacking movement, then tactics when facing tougher challenges. Players can be assigned individual training to help them improve certain attributes, adapt their style of play, or focus on a certain role. We had to be careful not to overwork our players though, injuries become common if you push your team too hard, and few things are more frustrating than injuries in the build-up to a big match.

We finally felt ready for our first big test and clicked our way through the in-game news feed. Before playing we needed to attend a press conference, a divisive feature that's been a regular in FM for several years.

Pre and post match interviews can be dealt with yourself or by the assistant manager. You may also be asked questions moments before kick-off in tunnel interviews. The interview dynamic hasn't changed. You choose to be Passionate, Aggressive, Assertive, Cautious or Calm in your responses and you'll be asked the same questions about player inclusion or exclusion, your opinion about other teams, how strongly you rate your chances, etc. We feel that this system could use an overhaul. At best interviews are a way of slightly modifying your players motivations and morale, at worst they're simply a burden. The biggest problem, however, is that the questions are so redundant and repetitive, and responses so dull, that in time their inclusion shatters the immersion.

Football Manager 2016

When it comes to kick off the presentation shifts slightly into the 3D match day engine. We have something of a love-hate relationship with the 3D engine. We love how easily customisable it is, and enjoy seeing the contrasts in style and strategy between teams depicted in an almost realistic manner, but sometimes animations go wonky or unrealistic moments play out. FM16 has made steps in the right direction. The engine has seen improvements and it's less clunky than it has been, but it's still a little bit closer to watching Sensible Soccer than it is to watching Match Of The Day. We've been blessed by some big advances in graphics in the simulation genre in recent years, unfortunately these have stagnated a bit.

After our first match, a disappointing 1-0 loss where we dominated the game but didn't score a goal, we decided some more firepower was needed so we visited our scouts in the hopes of finding a few potential additions to our squad. Scouting is tricky business and even the best scouts aren't always 100% correct. Player attributes are often estimated rather than definitive. One of the most common reports we received was 'some doubts, might be worth tracking'. Ultimately signing a player is the managers responsibility and scouts only offer an indication of whether or not it's a good idea. Player attributes are depicted in both pictorial and numeric form, making it easy to compare players. Also, depending on whether you choose a small, medium, large or very large database has an affect on your scouting. With a small database scouts find players quickly, but are less likely to find a wonder-kid as they have fewer players to recommend.

Transfer and contract negotiations need to be handled with care. Our first signing unsettled one of our established players and we needed to calm him down lest he disrupt the harmony of our squad. Player power is significant. The modern game is filled with professionals who are capable of agitating a move to another club. Players will demand to know why you rejected a transfer bid, or why they aren't playing regularly. What ensues is a realistic power-play situation. Some react well to you outlining your ambitions and asking that they honour their contract, others refuse to see things from your perspective. This dynamic brings realism to dealing with your team. You have to ask if it's worth signing a hot prospect if they're likely to push for a move a season later, and inevitably start looking for players who are loyal to their contracts.

Away from the main game there's a variety of alternative game modes. FM Classic, a simplified and faster version of the game, has been re-branded FM Touch, an allusion to the soon-to-be released mobile ports. It plays like some of the older FM games in that it removes a lot of the more detailed features but keeps the all-important database and match simulation intact. It's a useful option for players who simply don't have the time or the inclination to try the full experience.

Challenge mode is back, complete with the usual set of objectives such as saving a club from relegation or finishing a season unbeaten. We tried our hand at surviving relegation in the Spanish league and couldn't help but chuckle when we realised that we could select Barcelona to keep safe. It became an easily achievable challenge. Sports Interactive have loaded FM16 with customisation, but this felt like a step too far, and surely the logical approach to a relegation challenge would be to have a finite number of teams to choose from, all of which could realistically end up in that situation.

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There's also Create a Club mode where players assemble a dream team and choose which league they play in. It's similar to the editor that experienced players will already be familiar with, however it's not as easy to use as we would have liked. We found trying to create our own club incredibly frustrating. Ultimately, we decided that while it is a good idea for a feature, it's not very well implemented yet. Some tweaks and improvements would be welcome should Create a Club become a regular fixture in future Football Managers.

Multiplayer options let you import your squad and challenge your friends, start a new league from scratch, or start with a draft allowing for a more even playing field. The draft selection is a feature we highly approve of. It allows players to go toe-to-toe using superstar squads and it held our interest more than other multiplayer features.

Football Manager is not an easy game, but it's not too difficult either. SI has achieved an almost perfect balance. It can be a struggle to find a winning combination, to assemble a team capable of playing cohesively and effectively. Sometimes you feel hard done by because, despite your best efforts, results just don't go your way.

However, it's also equally satisfying when everything clicks and you start ascending the table. There's enormous enjoyment in overcoming challenges and it's always possible to take a struggling club and turn them into one of the world's elite within a few seasons if you play your cards right. There's moments when your much-maligned new signing suddenly clicks and goes on a run of form that sees your team hitting back-to-back wins. Occasionally your star striker dips in form, and you must decide whether to stick with him? Perhaps give him one more game, and then agonise when he hits the crossbar from inside the 6-yard box.

Ultimately, we enjoyed our time with Football Manager 16 and kept going back for one more match even when we had other things that needed our attention. Even if it's mostly more of the same, it's still the best in class. It excels at allowing you to play out your football fantasies and the addiction factor is incredibly high. We do think that the formula could use a fundamental shakeup to truly reinvigorate the franchise, but we're still giving it the stamp of approval.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
+ Still as addictive as ever, huge database, improving match engine, good representation of the sport, decent multiplayer options.
- Not a huge step forward for a franchise that could potentially do with a bit of a shakeup, Create a Club frustrated, locking down tactical options early on limited creativity later on, still not a fan of interviews.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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REVIEW. Written by Jon Newcombe

"It excels at allowing you to play out your football fantasies and the addiction factor is incredibly high."

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