Football Manager 2011

The long game.

Back in the days before the games industry became the unceasing, year-long money-making juggernaut it is now and when Sports Interactive's football management games still went by the name Championship Manager, the series' yearly releases would vary between major full-price products that signified leaps forward for the series (Championship Manager 3, Championship Manager 4) and reduced-price offerings full of tweaks and data updates (Championship Manager: Season 02&03, etc.). Of course, that was a long time ago.

One of the complaints many Football Manager fans have these days is that they simply can't justify paying full price for each yearly FM release. After all, many of them argue, new match engines aside, each new version can't be all that much more evolved than the last, right? Well, usually that would be a valid argument. But this year, things are a little different.

When it comes to ground-breaking new features, Football Manager 2011 is unlikely to have your ticker skipping like a three year old with a lollipop shaped like a bear. But thanks to a truckload of intelligent tweaks and a generous shovelful of innovative and well-integrated additions, it turns out that this year's FM is the deepest, most complete and cohesive offering Sports Interactive has produced for some years.

Whether it's the added slickness and detail of the 3D match engine, the exponentially more realistic and flexible player, press and board interactions, or the added tactical depth, married to a new-found accessibility that partially succeeds in opening the experience up to newcomers and AWOL fans intimidated by the franchise's complexity Football Manager 2011 is worthy of your attention.

Let's not get too carried away just yet, because Football Manager isn't perfect. With such magnitude come the now-obligatory irks and inconsistencies, though thankfully there are fewer than in some previous years. There are times when some of the features contradict each other, and moments when little glitches leap out at you. Navigation is also a slight problem, with some key features hard to locate. But these issues are rarely terminal and are more than made up for by the game's staggering depth and impressive cohesion.

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While the dialogue is generic, the new player interaction features do add extra depth.

Perhaps FM 2011's most noteworthy and intriguing new feature is the increased ability to communicate with players, the press, agents and your board. Through a series of conversation topics and options, you can generate entire conversations on subjects such as areas of improvement, praise or admonishment for attitude or performance, pleas for extra funds and tapping up players.

The way these new features seamlessly meld with the game's existing mechanics makes them particularly impressive. Advice from your back room staff on how a player can improve seamlessly transitions into conversations with said squad member. Your staff member's recommended approach is even highlighted for your convenience. Of course, you can choose to follow or ignore each piece of advice. After all, you're the one who lives and dies by their decisions.

Agents now play hardball as you hold face-to-face talks, while players provide more detailed reasons for rejecting deals than ever before, even taking their representative's feelings into consideration, like their need for a second harp-shaped swimming pool in their Hawaiian villa. Try to force a player out of your club against their will and they may launch a hate campaign against you, either in the press or in the dressing room.

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