Let’s face it, the chances are that you’ll already know whether Football Manager 2012 is on your shopping list for a Christmas treat this year. But if you don’t, I’d recommend spending a good couple of hours with the demo before committing the rest of your life to Sports Interactive’s venerable series. Football Manager 2012 continues the nip and tuck evolution that sees each subsequent iteration polish out the wrinkles and add a few more new features into the mix, and it’s undoubtedly the best version yet.
As always, everything, and yet nothing, is different. The core of 2012 plays exactly as you’d hope it should. There’s that database with incredible depth and unerring accuracy for player stats and personality traits; the match engine that’s a cut above any other football sim; plus press conferences, agents, transfer market shenanigans, and – above all else – more moments of fist-pumping success and bang-your-head-on-the-desk humiliation than is strictly healthy.
The key to Football Manager’s success has always been to ape the emotion that goes along with following the sport on a day-to-day basis, and at this stage it’s a formula that’s not worth changing. Most of the alterations in 2012 simply serve to lighten the load for new players and streamline the experience for veterans, with the result being the least befuddling product that Sports Interactive has delivered yet.
A new UI skin and overhauled tutorials are testament to that being a primary focus, and both manage to convey information in a far clearer fashion than the previous games (especially for those of you on higher resolution monitors). Elsewhere, your hand is guided by your assistant manager and other staff to areas of the simulation that might otherwise be completely overlooked, and it’s the seeding of those ideas that long-term players will find the most rewarding. As an example, I’d never really looked into individual performance plans for each of my burgeoning stars, but once my faithful assistant had highlighted potential changes to make for each of the squad players, micro-management was suddenly chief on the agenda.
Tactically, things have become more rewarding with the ability to ‘train up’ multiple formations to employ in different scenarios. As a result, budding Mourinho’s now have the ability to switch up formations mid-match with full knowledge that the team has previously gelled to that specific shape, and it makes closing out tough games or reaching for an attacking solution that little bit easier. Your words also make more of an instant impact, with the introduction of ‘tone’ into team talks and other interactions, along with a visual indicator as to exactly how your players feel about your latest rant.
Elsewhere, there are changes to custom scouting, player searches, agent interactions and even tooltips for player stats, but perhaps the biggest inclusion is the ability to add or remove leagues from your setup on the fly. Any long-term player still dreams of a rig capable of running every league from every country concurrently, but at long-last it’s now possible to change up from your chosen starting selection mid-career. Fancy dipping your toes into the MLS for your twilight management years and hoovering up some similarly-minded Premiership stars? Now those misguided dreams can come true.
For all the progression within the functional simulation aspects however, it’s also worth noting that match presentation is another area in which 2012 has risen above last year’s effort. A new dynamic camera is introduced to conduct the action from TV-style perspectives, and the all-new weather and lighting effects combine with an enhanced repertoire of player animation to move the 3D match representation into a different class. Simply put, I actually wanted to spend time watching highlights and viewing the action from a 3D perspective this year, where previously I’d default back to 2D as quickly as I possibly could. It’s still a way off being perfected, but it no longer breaks the spell – and that has to be somewhat of a watershed moment for the series.
As ever, there are other tweaks and alterations to discover, but you can read the back of the box or one of the many press releases for those. What’s worth stating is that all of the changes in FM 2012 serve to move the game forwards in a manner that’s discernible to long-term fans, whilst making their presence known to newer players simply benefit of being accessible and well thought-out. Whilst it’s not a release that’ll go down as revolutionary, it is nevertheless still above and beyond the competition in a manner that Sports Interactive can be proud of.