The usual time drain

User Rating: 8 | Football Manager 2016 PC

I put many hours into FM 2011 and at some point or another, I think I managed every team in the Premier League. After a long break from the series, I return with Football Manager 2016.

Since it's a game of football, it's not got a great scope for changes, other than an updated roster, new aesthetic, and tweaks to the match engine. So once you get used to the new layout for menus, it's really business as usual.

There are plenty of small changes that I noticed, such as new contract bonuses for reaching a certain round of the cup, or payments for being an unused substitute. When players are sold, each of the previous clubs receive a small 'solidarity' fee as compensation for the player's development.

The interaction with the media has been expanded slightly. You can now speak calmly, assertive, passionately, aggressively but it’s not clear what impact that really has. There's the usual pre-match and post-match press conferences and a quick question on the match day.

Player roles have a bigger focus. Instead of a player simply being a Central Midfielder, he can be a Box to Box, Ball Winning, Advanced Playmaker etc., and the degree of suitability for each role is indicated on his profile alongside the attributes that suit the role. Staff profiles also highlight the key attributes for their roles too.

You can send players or staff on an intensive language course to aid them into settling into and being effective in their jobs.

Players seem to be more vocal about a lack of first-team football and will request to speak with you. You can basically give in to their demands, demand they work harder or tell them you will help them find a new club. I found that players didn't take injuries and fitness levels into account. I had players with a long term injury play a few games in the development squad, then moan about the lack of action.

The Prozone-branded analysis aims to give you information to help you understand why your tactic works/doesn't work. I found the feature a bit too clicky and awkward to use. There was too much scrolling, expanding panels, and ticking/unticking checkboxes in order to get the information you need.

A major change (for me anyway) was the fact that the tactics creator now has a button-style menu rather than having sliders to set the degree of certain tactical ideas (such as closing down, attacking mentality etc.). Certain options contradict so choosing an option like "clear ball to flanks" will disable the option for "retain possession". I think this change makes sense since it's easier to visualise a tactic when you are selecting ideas rather than tweaking sliders to a certain percentage.

Sometimes it's hard to notice what difference your tactics make though. A problem in FM11 was that instructing your team to exploit the right or left flanks didn't seem to be any different from telling your team to play as "Mixed"... and it's just the same in this game.

I started out with Sunderland, trying to survive in a relegation battle. My initial defensive tactics proved poor, struggling to score and struggling to defend. What I did notice is a lot of the goals I conceded came from crosses. On my second attempt, I came up with a more attacking formation, picked out my best wingers and encouraged them to cross. This tactic proved much better, my team conceded way less, and scored way more; most of the goals coming from crosses into the box. Regardless, I felt with my current way of thinking; I wasn't getting anywhere, so I took to an online search for new ideas.

I stumbled across a FM blog called Strikerless who specialises in striker-less tactics. Chelsea seemed a great team to pick, so I went with a 3 Centre backs, 4 across the midfield and 3 attacking midfielders, 2 playing as Shadow Strikers and 1 as the Advanced Playmaker. This provided fairly sexy football. With an Attacking mentality and extremely quick pace, the midfielders pinged the ball around with urgency before taking the shot. It was a mix of through balls and crosses but most of the goals came centrally. Although I got some great results from it, there were some bad defeats, especially when it came to the rival teams. By December, not only did my team have the most amount of goals scored, we had conceded the 2nd most. Struggling around 7th and threatened with the sack, I went for a 4-4-2 balanced mentality with no extra instructions. Boring as it may sound, the defence improved a lot, and it provided enough goals to go on a long winning streak and charge up to 3rd by January, dispelling ideas of the sack. The type of goals they scored were completely different in style too, but fans started complaining about the lack of possession-based attacking football they associate with Chelsea.

I'm not even sure what the moral of the story is here. I think maybe keeping it simple could be the way forward and make tweaks from there. It's nice to see that you can create different types of styles, so the match engine is pretty flexible. Regardless though, you can expect to score and concede from crosses no matter what you do. I found having wing-backs with instructions to close down and get stuck in didn't make a difference, neither did opposition instructions to close down the wingers and show them onto their weaker foot.

Football Manager is well known to be a huge time sink. I had various attempts to save Sunderland, then had a go at success at the other side of the table with Chelsea and this somehow racked up 50 hours.

Outside the usual mode, there's ‘Fantasy Draft’ mode which I believe is multiplayer only. This allows you to build a team from scratch with a certain budget then challenge in a mini-league. There's also Football Manager Touch which is the stripped down and mobile friendly version of the game.

I think most people will already know if they want an iteration of the FM series or not. If I spend more time with this version, I reckon it will get better, but this will take a huge time investment.