Some games are more difficult to assess than others given the constraints allotted to a reviewer. A game the size of Football Manager 2017 comes with certain challenges. We can't very well play for as long as most players will over the next twelve months, not even close, and potential flaws could be hidden until you've played a dozen or so seasons into the experience.
Having tried a few different leagues, and having taken over West Ham as our main pursuit (we like a reasonable challenge), we feel confident of passing down judgement on this year's effort. And as usual Football Manager provides us with an incredibly deep experience. It seems every aspect of the beautiful game has been tweaked and altered to provide further depth, even if the experience as a whole remains largely the same.
Ahead of release the inclusion of a "Brexit" feature has been catching headlines. But it really isn't all that surprising for longtime fans. Football Manager has been adapting to the rules of employment and political changes in the many countries it features for years. It's only that "Brexit" has more of an impact on the top flight of the game. There are a number of different outcomes, from soft versions where everything remains as is in terms of employing EU players, to extremely harsh "Brexit" conditions where EU players will now count as foreigners who need to meet the same conditions as non-EU players do today and you can only use a limited number. It's a potential bombshell if you're a Premier League manager, but if you're managing a foreign team it could also have a huge impact as there is all of a sudden an abundance of quality players in need of new clubs. The effects will of course also trickle downwards as Championship clubs will have to fend off bids from Premier League clubs for their homegrown players. Brexit offers a twist at some point (when it strikes is also simulated and different each time).
In many ways the Brexit feature is a testament to the amount of work and research that goes into making sure all the rules are up to scratch. Whether it be financial fairplay, restrictions on foreign players, or the new kick-off rule (FM2017 holds the honour of being the only football game this season to feature the new kick-off rule where you're allowed to pass it back immediately).
Speaking of controversial events that may happen, in one game Qatar were taken off hosting duties for the World Cup in 2022, and Morocco were instead given the honour. We'd say the chances of that happening in the real world are fairly slim, but you never know.
One of the tweaks that we found most interesting was how the procedures for transfers, loans and contracts have been changed up. Now you can offer promises ahead of negotiations to possibly lure a player in who would otherwise be uninterested in joining your side. Making promises is easy, keeping them is another matter. On the whole interactions with players are more complex, and after having to deal with Andy Carroll at West Ham we can tell you that it's not always a walk in the park (he ended up playing his football in Ukraine after six months under our management). Most players are more easily handled, but you'll still need to be careful not to be seen as too ruthless by the rest of the squad or they might side with the complaining player. One thing we did find odd, was that while players would complain over lack of first team football, there wasn't an immediate reaction when a player on loan was left out of our league squad. And that was a player who had previously complained over a lack of first team football.
One thing we feel was better simulated here than what is perhaps usually the case was how teams tends to have ups and downs during a season. Your role as a manager is often about being able to find ways of breaking out of a poor spell, or trying to maintain a winning streak. West Ham seemed to be a team particularly prone to hot and cold streaks.
In recent years a lot of effort has gone into the 3D match engine, and while the improvements are easy to spot (new camera angle, free kick spray, improved animations), it still feels a bit weird to watch the matches. This year we actually played through almost a full season using the 3D match engine (at least for extended highlights), and particularly when you're looking at lesser teams playing it can be a bit painful. As always FM is best at simulating the top level of football. There is still some ways to go for it to look anything like say FIFA or PES, but we shouldn't expect it to, at least not yet, and like we said we actually stuck with it for quite some time until we wanted to speed things up. More troubling is that at times the text commentary doesn't come across as a good representation of what takes place on the pitch. Players can be praised for attempting a shot from 30 yards and only succeed in giving away a throw-in. Maybe it's the tradition of overly enthusiastic commentators that comes through.
Over recent years takeovers and all kinds of more or less eccentric owners have come to make the lives of real-life managers more perilous. These interactions are more intricate than before, and you'll see more variation in terms of takeovers here. Having a new owner come in with a different outlook on things could spell the end of your tenure. For instance, in our case with West Ham the new owners did not want us to focus on bringing young players into the team, which threw a wrench in our transfer strategy having just spent most of our budget on promising young players like Fosu-Mensah. Good thing he went on to score three goals in his first five games then.
Options have also been increased for scouting, and building your backroom team is more important than ever. Particularly if you want to develop young players long-term. The mind games tend to become a bit tedious after a while as you're asked the same sort of questions by probing journalists (is this how the devs at Sports Interactive view us journalists?). You can, of course, opt out of that, but as it can provide a bit of drama we sometimes like to engage, if only to make The Special One grumpy. Speaking of media, there's now a social media feed that will let you gauge fan reactions as well as follow players, teams, and fellow managers. It's a nice addition and it means your inbox is dedicated to things that are of immediate importance, for the most part (some agent offers are basically spam, much like in actual football we assume).
In addition to the normal career, Football Manager 2017 offers a few returning modes. Fantasy Draft returns with new features. It's not a favourite mode of ours as we prefer the more authentic take on the game, but particularly for multiplayer it offers a quick fix that's balanced evenly. There's of course online career and then there's create-a-club that lets you edit your own club and squad. It's a bit like cheating, but for instance you could create your own Sunday League side for fun. Additionally, Football Manager Touch is now a separate game that comes with the purchase of Football Manager 2017. It offers a more streamlined experience, but builds on the same foundations as the main game.
We have to say that we're impressed by the speed at which Football Manager 2017 operates. In fact, unless you're looking to play on your tablet (there's cross-play with Touch) we really don't see a need to play Football Manager Touch on your desktop. The data-handling is incredibly swift, at least if your rig is up to date. The user interface is very easy to get used to, and it's a rather impressive feat that they've managed to make so many options and layers of information so readily available. If there's one thing we feel is missing, and this is largely a result of you being able to click virtually everywhere on screen to access more information or new screens, would be for the interface to feel more tactile. Implementing tactics can feel like clicking a hyperlink, which isn't as grand as we imagine it must be to send out new orders from the sidelines during a game.
Football Manager is as addictive as ever. And it's seemingly polished as we only came across one slight issue in well over 40 hours of gameplay (we were locked out of switching tactics after having mucked about with the menus). These days it's a very complete experience for football fans of all types as it offers both Fantasy Draft, Touch and a highly customisable career mode where you pretty much decide your role and how much you want to micromanage your club. There's a lot here, and what's here is great.
Most of our time reviewing the game has been spent with the beta leading up to release. However, it should be noted that as far as features and stability goes this version of the game was pretty much complete. A few late moves and some tweaks arrived with a patch prior to launch.
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