While the football management genre has hit a peak of depth and realism, there's no doubt that it remains a little daunting for beginners. FIFA Manager 08 aims to fill the gap between the hardcore management simulations and such games as FIFA Soccer 08 with an approachable football management game that has many different features to distinguish it. Most notably, the 3D match engine is more visually engaging than similar features in other management games, plus the official license affords a mountain of team logos and player photos to break up the stats. This year, the game is a deeper experience than ever with revamps of the training, player interaction, and scouting elements. The game struggles to present all the information coherently if you play at the hardest difficulty, but otherwise, it's a decent, glossy alternative to other games in the genre.
FIFA Manager 08 makes an excellent first impression. British gamers, in particular, will feel a warm glow when the theme song from the Grandstand TV show kicks off the welcome screen, and high production values are evident throughout the game. As with any management title, you start by choosing the domestic or international club for which you want to work. If you choose to raise a team from the ranks of the lower divisions, you'll have fewer resources and lower expectations, but if you pick a world-class club, you'll have some very serious board expectations. However, FIFA Manager 08 helps you juggle the demands of whatever club you choose by allowing you to palm off certain aspects of the running to your assistants. If your interest is in finding and cultivating talent rather than wading through spreadsheets of numbers, then your finance team is there to take care of it. Alongside this, FIFA Manager 08 places an emphasis on creating your manager rather than being the manager. You're asked how you want to look, how big you want your family to be, and what sort of hobbies you want to pursue. Learning a foreign language will help you secure a job in another country, while playing golf may enamour you to the board members of another team.
Thankfully though, the developers have concentrated their efforts this year on improving the core game. There's now a greater emphasis on player scouting, training, and motivation to the point that the game feels completely refocussed on the players themselves. Aside from short-term considerations, such as swapping substitutes or allowing talent to flow from your youth team, you also need to cultivate star players by giving them pep talks--and not just during matches.
While FIFA Manager 08 does a great job of easing you in, the interface can get messy very quickly as you activate the more advanced options. While it can go spectacularly in-depth compared to last year's relatively shallow offering, the resulting interface clutter needs to be addressed. There are some useful additions for all players, though, such as the widget system that provides you with access to everything from a notepad to an MP3 player in-game.
Training schedules can now be specified for each individual player and the overall team; thus, making small changes can have a dramatic result on performance. The transfer system now works in a much more realistic manner, with more in-depth negotiation between clubs and players, while the scouting element is a minigame in itself. Foreign player statistics are now hidden by default, and it's only when you send your scout to the region that you can differentiate from one player to the next.
FIFA Manager 08's 3D match engine is something that sets it apart from other games in the genre. Traditionally, matches have often been re-created using a mixture of text-based commentary and a 2D engine to represent the players. This leaves more to the player's imagination while the computer is spared more resources to compute likely scenarios. While FIFA Manager 08's match engine presents a watchable game of football, it doesn't make the job of management any easier. The game does allow you to play as one player on the pitch if you want to, but the lack of overall control means it's more frustrating than helpful.
If you're a football fan, then you'll really get something out of the official licences. They permeate the game, with a customised menu screen depending on the team you play, as well as mountains of up-to-date player photos and stats for the majority of major teams. The licensing even stretches to official newspaper reports from such publications as The Sun, something that really taps into the wider aspects of football. While the number of teams can't touch that of Football Manager, the game still covers the major world clubs. It also now includes more English and Spanish leagues than before.
It's clear that Bright Future has worked hard on updating and expanding its football management sim. While it's not quite in the Premier League yet, there's plenty here for fans to enjoy. It's a tremendously deep game that also manages to be welcoming to the novice while the official licenses and overall polish will delight both types of player. Those playing at the advanced level are unlikely to feel hamstrung by limited options this time around, but the way that all the information is presented could definitely do with some work for next year. Most importantly, the game carves out its own niche in the football management market, and although this time it falls short of greatness, it shows plenty of promise for the future.