A little more than a week ago, a few of us here at Dynamo Theory were contacted with a request to review the latest title in Sega and Sports Interactive's Football Manager series, Football Manager 14. To be honest, the request caught me a bit off guard, but I went ahead and accepted it. Now, I'd never touched a copy of the game until now, though I'd heard many good things about it - plus, my taste has always included a love for simulators, so I figured I'd take a look and see if I liked it.
Turns out, "liking it" would be an understatement. For those who aren't familiar with the Football Manager series, the games put you in charge of a soccer team. Pretty much anything you can think of controlling, you have a say in: match tactics, transfers, talent scouting, contract negotiations, and beyond. The scale of this game is simply massive: the player databases go down to the academy levels, and searching for a certain player sometimes means scrolling through dozens of names you've never heard of. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but the depth is probably the game's greatest asset.
You're offered the chance to manage at the club and international level in more than fifty countries, but like most people here probably would have, I started a game with the Houston Dynamo. To my joy, the band was all there: not just players like Alex Lopez, Boniek Garcia, Brad Davis and Brian Ching, but even the staff and front office - assistant coaches Steve Ralston and Wade Barrett, head athletic trainer Theron Enns, and general manager Chris Canetti are present. Like I said earlier, the programmers didn't hesitate to make this as faithful as possible to the real structure of the team.
The gameplay starts in the 2013 preseason, a couple of weeks before the friendlies start. This gives you time to build your roster and assess the state of the club, much like preseason should. You can't control the lower tiers of the US Soccer pyramid, but the clubs are available for friendlies and loans - the game specifically mentions the possibility of association with an USL Pro club.
I only made two signings - strikers Sammy Ochoa and Piotr Robakowski - and loaned out some of the younger players (Bryan Salazar, Anthony Arena and Jason Johnson) to lower tier clubs so that they'd have playing time. In three friendlies (Minnesota United, LA Blues and NY Cosmos), the club went 2-0-1, and seemed to start to come together.
I stopped playing before I got to the season opener against DCU (yes, you can choose to use the actual 2013 schedule, though for some reason, the CCL knockout round isn't there for the Dynamo), but I still covered about a month and a half of game time over the course of a few hours. The time might be an issue for some people, but I'm used to simulations and RTS games, so though a few hours is still a long time, I wasn't as impatient as many might have been.
All in all, I have to give this game a 9/10. I keep returning to the massive scope - and indeed, it's something you'll probably only grasp when you play it for yourself (which I highly recommend). The scope is the biggest thing this game has going for them. That being said, it's also part of the few problems the game has. The huge player databases make this game a monster, but it also eats up a lot of computer power - my three-year-old gaming laptop was up to the task (just barely), but anything less might not be. Also, the scope adds to the realism, which might lead you to get mad when the arbitrary processes that are part of the game (visas, work permits, and the like) never seem to go your way.
Still, those few detractions aren't enough to turn me off of what I really feel is really a brilliant game. As I said in the beginning, this is a series I'd only heard of - but after playing this title, I really wish I'd picked one of them up earlier. After all, it gives you the chance to do something most of us will only ever dream of: control of a club both on and off the pitch. And while many of us will never end up as a Canetti or a Dominic Kinnear, with Football Manager 14, at least you'll get a good idea of what it's like - which means that the game does exactly what it sets out to do.