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Football Manager 2013

FM 2013 hands-on: SI's eureka moment

Just a few months back, Harry Redknapp seemed to be applying for simpleton status. The then-Tottenham boss claimed the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic were beyond him – almost belittling his place in the upper echelons of football management. But then Harry is old school: a breed that flatly refuse to complicate the business of managing 11 men to kick a ball with purpose. Such grizzled gaffers snarl at those who take the job into the realms of academia, who lose themselves in positional data, dietary requirements and psychological profiling. Nothing is left to chance for these “professors” but Harry’s game is a different one. This is Football Manager 2013.

Having stretched every cell and sinew to replicate the world of football management, Sports Interactive have, perhaps unintentionally, mirrored this clash of styles. This season’s incarnation of Football Manager asks us to choose our standpoint; do we focus on big money deals and basic team selection? Or do we lose ourselves in layers of complexity, turning over every stone to revel in the role of control freak? This dilemma won’t test your football management skills;this is a game that proves to be such a potent time-thief, your decision will likely come down to life choices.

Sports Interactive have realised that some of their fanbase has “grown up”. The crowd that snapped up Tonton Zola Moukoko have now snaffled partners, while nappies and DVD box sets pull on the timeline to such an extent that even Joe Cole’s contract clause has to take a backseat. Shameful, but perhaps inevitable.

FM13’s new Classic mode provides the antidote to life’s normality curse, giving us the option to cut to the nitty and the gritty, allowing a season campaign to be completed in a weekend or 10 hours play.

As a headline act, the Classic Mode isn’t an obvious crowd pleaser. It’s easy to dismiss it as a diluted version of the existing game, while the unlockable DLC elements could be seen as  cheats”, providing shortcuts to success. The weathered FM player will scowl at such features but SI’s work on the streamlined UI is admirable and reveals an experience of a skinny Football Manager, without the clutter; a few matches in and this soon feels strangely liberating.  

The new mode, along with challenge scenarios lifted from SI’s handheld forays, will be a godsend for some. A Football Manager hit in family friendly portion – this improbable wish is granted here.

The majority will still doubtless turn to the familiar beast that is the full career mode to sate the annual FM urge, without the temptation of the evil unlockables. When they do, they’ll find an array of new features that make FM13 more accessible but, at the same time, rich in detail. The professors have layer upon layer of complexity to drown in, compounded by new improved treatments that include an overhauled training system and enhanced interaction on both the domestic and international fronts.

Even within the guts of the game, Sports Interactive have made further efforts to ease the burden. The inclusion of a Director of Football and the ability to assign backroom staff with specific tasks like the acquisition of players and shipping out the deadwood is, at first, jarring. However, the ability to palm off some of the day to day tasks is liberating and it’s soon clear that FM13 offers far more choice about how and where we spend our time in its world, how we can really make a difference.

Matchday remains all-important and is duly treated to an upgrade. The improvements seem subtle but reveal themselves with prolonged play. Passes and shots are pinged more realistically, with curve and swerve more prominent. Extra player animations add more realism to a 3D engine that has slowly evolved from an approximation of live football, to something edging ever closer to a wholly satisfying experience. Spoiled by the increasingly impressive scenes served by FIFA, it’s easy for our expectations of 3D football to run amok but, on first look, FM13’s match engine makes further strides and does an admirable job of providing a compelling glue that binds the array of tasks leading us headlong to the referee’s whistle.

Crucially, when you sit and watch a classic team goal played out, the drive to tweak your training and allocation of coaching to manufacture more such moves is palpable. That’s the spirit of SI’s work – the matchday experience has to deliver to fuel the desire to tamper under the hood – to eek out that tiny bit more from your squad and resources. A few matches in and FM13 matches appear to stir the hankering to tinker backstage more than ever before.

Even with the 3D matches playing out, SI have looked to take a more user-friendly route. The new pop-up messages from your assistant will again be another feature that washes over the ardent know-it-all fan but for those revisiting FM, they provide a route in the nuances of the numbers behind the scene being played out. If you’re being dominated in midfield, your assistant will alert you to it, whilst keeping you up to date on league scores and positions; next season we’d expect him to tell us how big the queue is for the half-time pie.

With an improved network game, Football Manager harnesses the Steam platform to offer a superior trouble-free setup, and the ability to throw you assembled squads from Career and Classic mode in leagues against some mates, FM13 targets sweet spots that have troubled the community for years. We’ll be looking at the network mode in detail in a follow-up article.

For now, we can be content that FM13 appears to be a eureka moment for SI. It’s shaping to be a version of FM that delivers on the relentless detail, whilst grabbing the strays that have been lost to life’s distractions and carefully hand-holding them back into the fold. A smart move.

This new accessibility, particularly the Classic mode, will be met with some opposition. It’s akin to turning up at the Great British Bake Off and unboxing some Mr Kiplings; it’s corner cutting and it feels dirty. But then, such devotees will always sacrifice life’s demands to embrace what is another impeccably feature rich Career mode and, in that respect we can offer plenty of reassurance.

For both the casual and the fully committed, FM13 is looking exceedingly good. 

The Football Manager 2013 release date is November 2nd. See our Football Manager channel for the latest on FM13, follow our Football Manager Twitter account and check Football Manager 2013 download prices at Green Man Gaming.

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