That there is a Silver Trophy in Football Manager Classic 2014 that rewards you for participating in 30 consecutive seasons – or a couple of hundred hours of play – will be no surprise to fans of the franchise, many of which will have been glued to their computers for the past decade or so. This is a series that’s universe shatteringly addictive. Even if you don’t like the beautiful game, the property offers a stat-crunching blend of strategy and action that will hold your attention like nothing else. And finally SEGA has delivered, offering a full outdoors version that’s bound to ruin barbecues, family outings, relationships, and potential football management careers.
This PlayStation Vita version remains extremely true to the original game. So loyal is the port that it can occasionally prompt problems that wouldn’t be an issue if you had a mouse at your fingertips. Everything from creating training regimes to shouting instructions from the side-lines are just a few screen touches away, and for the most part, you’ll feel like you’re in complete control. If you want to manage everything directly, then you can make each element of footballing life your responsibility. However, the opposite is also true, and it’s nice to know that you can delegate areas that you’re less interested in. This is a great addition for beginners who need support to get up to speed.
As already alluded, almost everything that you do is controlled with touch, with a few shortcuts linked to the handheld’s physical buttons. This isn’t bad, but you’ll occasionally find yourself incorrectly answering emails because your fingers are likely to be bigger than the narrow selection boxes. Alas, insulting journalists, people from other countries, and anybody that isn’t directly benefitting you at a specific point in time is par for the course for a football manager, and this game captures that perfectly by not always being perfectly responsive to your interactions. It’s almost an advertisable feature.
With thousands of teams to pick from across the world, there are dozens of ways to play, across many different league types and competitions. Value for money is a definite no matter the price. Trophies are designed with multiple playthroughs in mind, and they’ll also encourage you to try out teams from other countries. This would be easier if not for the fact that the action slows down to a crawl when you choose to spearhead a bottom-of-the-barrel club. For example, if you want to manage AFC Telford United – and you most certainly will – you’ll need to turn on every league above them, making the game’s loading screens as slow as your attacking midfielders.
Fortunately, once you’ve picked a side and spent hours “evaluating the needs of the team” – otherwise known as “firing everybody” – you can finally start to get into the matches. This version of the game boasts the 3D Match Engine from the PC titles, although it’s not quite to the same standard. It looks good, yes, but it rarely works as smoothly as it should. Players will often do strange things, such as goalkeepers standing behind their line to catch shots, and attackers making dangerous back passes for no real reason at all. Dodgy camera angles and a cluttered screen also hurt the immersion, offering little to managers of seemingly blind, thought-deficient players.
During a match, you’ll get suggestions from your assistant manager. He’ll say things like, “We’re not keeping the ball enough, we could do with more possession,” or, “We’re trying to score but keep missing, maybe we should shoot from the opposition’s half?” You then have the option of following his all-too-obvious advice, or shouting out your own team tips. We’re not entirely sure how much of an impact this actually has on the game, but it does give you a feeling of control in a match between two sets of computer controlled teams, and that can’t be considered a bad thing.
It’s slightly vague systems like these that make up Football Manager, and you’ll need to master them all if you plan on taking the reins of one of the less talented teams. Understanding formations, set pieces, and player attitude will go a long way towards making an average team top the table, and even the best squads in the world will need to keep their egos in check in case they get a little too cocky. Your responses to journalists and the way that you discipline poor decisions on the pitch will actually matter to your team, even though you won’t immediately see those systems at work. It’s interesting, and means that there’s always a sense of fresh discovery, no matter how much time you invest into your virtual career.
For those that already own Football Manager 2014 on the PC, that “career” may quickly become one of your biggest time-sinks. There’s a simple way of transferring saves back-and-forth between platforms, meaning that you can now use the magic of the cloud to not only continue your progress on any computer in the world, but literally anywhere that you take your Vita as well. It’s a big selling point, and a reason to double-dip, although the better layout and tighter controls mean that the PC version will always be the best option if you have the choice between the two.
And if you’re a complete newcomer, it’s worth stressing that this game is very involved and quite slow. Any action comes in the form of non-interactive highlights, while the majority of your time will be spent trawling through menus. It’s not a franchise for people without patience, or for those who want immediate gratification. It’s also worth mentioning that, no matter how good a manager you are, there are always going to be things that are out of your control. This can be frustrating, as it’s not typical of the medium to present you as anything but the complete master of your own destiny. Uncharted, for example, always has a happy ending no matter how badly you play it – but Football Manager doesn’t.
Unless you pay, that is. As of writing, there’s nothing actually on the PlayStation Store, but in-game purchases are almost certainly going to be a thing. Got an injured player? There’s an option to use a ‘magic sponge’ right in the email, and additional cash is only a microtransaction away. It’s hard to tell to what extent this will exist until launch, but we didn’t really find any downsides to not using them. The additional purchases are advertised throughout, but are subtle, and it seems that price will be the only point of contention for this feature’s existence.
If you, like Manchester United gaffer David Moyes, want to run a major football team from a bathroom stall, now is your opportunity. SEGA has brilliantly crammed the entire Football Manager experience onto the Vita, without much of a break in quality. Too much on-screen information and touch screen issues are constant niggles, but those that are enjoying themselves will happily overlook the setbacks – and the occasional gaffes in the 3D Match Engine. Unlike Barcelona forward Neymar, this replayable package represents a real steal.