Headline features that don't have a lot going for them mean Football Manager 2023 is the smallest step forward in the series yet, but a step forward nonetheless, to make this the best FM game to date.
I’ve been a Football Manager addict for almost two decades now. It all started when I was caught using a Dance Dance Revolution mat plugged into the family PlayStation 2 to navigate through the endless menus and spreadsheets – don’t ask me why, I use a keyboard and mouse on my PC like a normal human now. But the point is that, after 20 years’ experience which has even included alternate control schemes, I can say with authority in this Football Manager 2023 review that this has improved on the series’ tried and tested formula once again, and is the best FM game to date.
This doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and butterflies though; this verdict comes with some caveats. The development from FM21 to FM22 was the smallest step forward yet – until now. FM23 gives even more modest reasons to pick up the latest version, offering quality-of-life improvements rather than any big headlines.
Perhaps the most useful of the new features is the Squad Planner, found on the left-hand toolbar above the Tactics menu. It’s incorporated the old Squad Depth option, so you can look at the full squad view for the current season to see all the positions on the pitch for your current tactic and how many players you have in each role, and you can filter this to next season and the season beyond. If a player’s contract runs out at the end of this season, they’ll be removed from the next season screen.
It makes things very slightly smoother when it comes to both finding holes in your team you need to fill as soon as possible, and also when considering which players to let go, but it’s telling that this small addition to an otherwise gargantuan game is the main thing worth writing home about this year.
It’s joined in the list of additions by “smarter AI opponents”, as your competitors’ decision-making abilities have had a complete overhaul. This isn’t something you can easily identify while playing the game though, so it’s extremely hard to judge the effectiveness of it. Does the game seem harder than last year? Sure, but that could be down to my tactics being weaker or the calibre of my squad being worse than the team I managed during FM22, just as much as it could be the AI reacting to different match scenarios better than they have done before.
Animations do look better this year – goalkeepers can make K-block saves for example, while outfield players look more realistic receiving the ball and taking shots. It’s nice to see some effort being made in this department, but unfortunately, it’s far less than what’s needed if developer SI is serious about making the match experience look good. I’m not the first to say it and I certainly won’t be the last: the Football Manager series is so far behind anything that looks even remotely modern, it’s a wonder new players persevere with a game that looks worse than even FIFA Manager ’06, 16 years ago.
Series veterans will be able to look past the early noughties graphics, because looking good has never really been what FM is about, and there’s still nothing that beats being sucked into a long career in charge of one of the best teams to manage. You’ll start with zero affiliation to your players, but over time, you become one with the club. After taking them all the way up to the top tier with a plethora of wonderkids in tow, you’ll be fist pumping for last-minute goals, looking up how much a shirt costs online, and finding yourself dejected when you lose the cup final to an avoidable penalty.
If you’re strapped for cash, got last year’s edition, and wondering whether FM23 is worth the upgrade: probably not. While the small improvements are a welcome addition, FM22 added the entire Data Hub – a treasure trove of information for the football-loving stats nerds – alongside transfer deadline day improvements to replicate the drama of watching the negotiations unfold on TV, and more in-depth meetings with your backroom staff. This year, we’ve got AI enhancements which aren’t tangible, a slightly reworked Squad Depth screen, and official UEFA licensing (which you can just mod into the game anyway with the best logo packs).
With all that in mind though, I’ll reiterate what I said at the start: FM23 is still the best Football Manager game to date, because it doesn’t take anything away from last year. To use an apt analogy, it’s like the devs are defending a 1-0 lead a little too cautiously. It’s the best the series has ever been, but you’re not missing out on a whole lot if you skip this instalment. However, if you’re still playing the 2020 or 2021 versions? Definitely pick this up, but be warned: press conferences and speaking to the media is still as dull as ever, and should absolutely be the next aspect of the game revamped, perhaps after the graphics get some love.