Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What is wrong with lying?: part deux

Well, I've submitted my review to the team at the Escapist for them to go through it with a fine tooth-comb, and hopefully my weaknesses in the genre will become evident.

That's right, as a writer about to go into the workforce I'm looking for the most criticism I can get, the harsher the better. Only through thorough examination (internal or external) can you ever get better as a writer, so it's something that all training journos should be looking to do.

The better writer's the better, as they'll see problems with your writing that others will simply ignore.

Anyhow, here's the copy I sent them after a few alterations. Here's a fun game, try to guess where I changed it and why I did it!


Football Manager 2009

Another year, another itineration of the Football Manager series and another ulcer for my trouble. You see, Football Manager is one of those games which not only requires an intellectual investment on the part of the player but also requires an emotional one. Not bad stuff for a glorified spreadsheet.

It creates that ‘just one more turn’ factor well as you’ll often find yourself trying to finalise a transfer fee for that gun striker at 2AM with bleary eyes. So Football Manager 2009 has had a successful formula to work off, and by all rights should be able to just update the stats each year and sell to their niche market, but instead the team at Sega decided to muddy the waters a bit. Whether this be a bold choice or a stupid design decision depends on your understanding of the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

The things that don’t change in this year’s effort are the things that attract players to the series. Football Manager veterans know what I’m talking about when I say those little circles representing the players on your team become much more than graphical representations of number-crunching; they become your team. You’ll howl every time they concede, and crack open a bottle of bubbly every time they score an injury-time winner.

It’s risky business trying to muck with a formula like that, so why in Maradonna would you do it? The team at Sega decided it was time to mess with the formula in an effort to take the immersion level up to 11.

The big thing they did in this version is introduce a whole new graphical element to the experience; a 3D engine. Now that may not seem to be a big deal, but when your experience of a game series is entirely informed by a 2D interface, adding a new dimension is like…adding a new dimension to the experience. So does it work or is it just a pretty diversion?

Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you all. The good news is that the engine while nowhere near FIFA eye-melting levels does a solid job of representing the game we love. The movement of the players is just what you’d expect from watching a game of football, and the players move in a realistic way. That may not seem like much, but it’s really well done and is for the most part a welcome addition to the core match day experience.

Now for the bad news.

It seems that Sega really wants this new 3D match engine to succeed, so much so that the revised 2D screens look like the dog’s breakfast. Just a few short years ago the 2D match engine looked clean and was the basis for the game’s popularity, but now its circles have seen better days and are in dire need of a good anti-aliasing. Theoretically you can still choose to play with a 2D match engine, but what’s the point when the 3D version looks halfway decent and the 2D engine makes you eyes bleed? It’s like saying goodbye to a part of my gaming heritage, it’s just sad is all. If that wasn’t bad enough, the graphical needs of the 3D match engine may just push this title out of the ‘runs on the smell of an oily processor’ category.

In previous versions of the Football Manager series, the graphical requirements of running the game was pretty much the ability to render Skifree. With Football Manager 09 though you’ll need to be packing a Radeon 9800 at a minimum which may not seem like you’ll be breaking the bank for a new graphics card, but this game is supposed to be a glorified spreadsheet after all.

But despite the downside to introducing a new match engine, Football Manager 09 doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and remains the authoritative football management sim on the market.

The introduction of a couple of nice touches help smooth out the criticisms. The addition of a press conference that you as manager can attend is a great way to involve you in the game world. Given the whole selling point of the series is “You can be the manager!”, it’s a surprise this option wasn’t included in previous versions of the game.

The press conferences are structured well, and if handled correctly can give your team a morale boost and put the fear of God into your opposition. Responses to questions are limited however, so you can’t exactly go on a Jose Mourinho-esque rant in the middle of a journalist’s question, but it’s still an addition that adds to the core appeal of the game.

The addition of real-time feedback from your assistant coach is a great inclusion as well, and really helps you out in diagnosing where your team may be going wrong or which threats you need to neutralise. For example, if the opposition starts pushing players forward and their defensive line is pushing up too, your assistant manager will tell you about it so you can switch your tactics to sitting deep and counter-attacking to exploit the space behind the defence. It’s an addition that will have you thinking like a real manager, and this is what the series and game is all about.

It’s called Football Manager, and this game lets you be exactly that as you ride the highs of championships, the nerve-wracking lows of a relegation scrap and feel the pride of finding a gem of a player in the youth ranks and nurturing him to superstardom. The stats you love are there, the gameplay which entrances you is there and despite Sega almost dropping the ball with the match engine, Football Manager 09 remains the benchmark by which all other football management sims are measured.

Recommendation: Buy it if you’re a football nut or want a new sim to play with, otherwise it’s probably not for you.

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