The Football Manager game for the year is here, and we've already spent a bunch of hours in Sports Interactive's latest simulation title.
I have long believed that sports games should be released every two years instead of every year. There isn't enough new stuff every year for players to have to pay full price annually. Of course, from the business side, I understand why it is done. The game that this probably fits best with is the Football Manager series. For example, there are no advanced scanned player faces or other graphics that need to be updated, or lots of game modes that need to be developed, and from Football Manager 2022 to Football Manager 2023, there really hasn't been any major changes. Instead, there are several small changes that actually make this version the best in many years.
The Football Manager series probably doesn't need much of an introduction anymore, it's been the same for decades. But if you're brand new, I can best describe the game as something that will totally devour your time. Start playing at 8pm and before you know it, it's 4am. This is without a doubt one of the most engaging games on the market. There's always that feeling of needing to go another day ahead, or playing one more game, or having a quick look for a new and better striker because yours can't hit sand in a desert. It's football, it's the role of manager, and has a host of text and numbers that would make an Excel expert jealous.
The basics, of course, are the same. You take over a team (or start club-less if you like) and then try to guide your team to success by setting up strong tactics, buying and selling players and other things. But all these elements have a lot of layers, it's like an onion. You have to control team selection, how free kicks work, whether you want an attacking or defensive striker, which player on the opposing team is the most dangerous, and so on. It's hard to describe how deep this game is and it can feel overwhelming. Luckily, you can let other coaches take care of things. Don't want to handle contract renewals? Let someone else do it. In recent years, a host of staff roles, from recruitment analyst to director of football, have been added to the game to help manage all aspects of the day-to-day job.
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One of the new features this year is an improved recruitment system. Among other things, it allows you to plan your team's development for a couple of seasons ahead, with feedback from coaches on how they think your players will develop. If you feel that a certain part of your team is not strong enough, you can now target a specific weakness where the scouts try to find players who will correct it. But watch out for how your current players react, because if they feel you want to replace them they will ask you directly. And a bad answer can lead to poor squad cohesion if the player has the team backing him up.
The dynamic in the club is very important and another novelty this year is the feedback from fans. In the past we have been able to see small indications of how the fans are reacting, but this year there is a whole separate section for the fans. There you can see how they are divided, whether it's mostly hardcore fans, families or "casuals" who go to your matches. You can see how much the fans influence the board and if you dislike fans who influence the board, it's not good news for you. They also have their own expectations of you, such as bringing up players from the youth teams or playing attacking football. Just like the board tells you at the start of each season.
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Perhaps the most visible of all the new features, however, are the licences. Now there are finally the big European cups with real names and everything. The Champions League is there including the classic anthem, as well as the Europa League and Conference League. A really strong new acquisition by the developers. With these also comes the pre-match graphics with team line-ups displayed as if you were watching on TV, as well as the results graph in the top left corner and even the logo in the centre circle as the players enter the pitch. A really good step in the right direction.
On the pitch, things have been moving in the right direction too. Computerised managers are now better at reacting to what you do during matches and may try to counter your change with their own. They can also play differently depending on the type of opponent they face and how important the match is. The graphics are also updated, although of course it doesn't look like FIFA 23. Most noticeable is probably the goalkeepers, who have previously looked rather clunky. Now there are new animations for different types of saves and it didn't take me long to notice how much better it looks. Out on the pitch there's an improved first touch, better tackles and more. It just feels more real than before.
Football Manager 2023 doesn't take big steps forward, but it takes enough small steps to make the difference noticeable. The new licensing for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League was much needed and, along with improved player animations, is a big part of making this feel like the most lifelike game in the series' history.
8 / 10
New licenses for European cups. Vastly improved player animations. Smarter opponent coaches. The relationship with fans is now more important than ever.
Press conferences are useless. Licenses for many teams still missing.