Version tested: PC
After Championship Manager 2010 and Football Manager 2010's titanic clash for football management bragging rights, chances are you may have forgotten all about the third contestant in the annual genre superiority playoff. Traditionally, the FIFA Manager series is written off by many as an also-ran, but with the franchise having made steady progress over the past few years, such a dismissive attitude is tinged with myopia.
Perhaps the hardest thing for many management fans to get to grips with is that FIFA Manager isn't just a team management game, but one that allows you to take control of every facet of club management, whether it's liaising with architects to draw up new plans for stadium expansions or picking the starting 11 for a key derby game. And let's not forget the often unfairly castigated personal life elements (which this year can be disabled) that help provide the series with its unique feel and spattering of quirkiness. Thanks to the game's exhaustive array of customisation features, you can decide exactly how much or how little of day-to-day club management you want to be in charge of, meaning all the minutiae can be ignored if you so wish.
So what's new? Well, the big news this year is the addition of an online multiplayer feature that allows you and up to seven other real people to compete in quick-fire seasons in a host of leagues from across the globe. But we'll come to that in just a moment. When it comes to new single-player features, FIFA Manager 2010 possesses some 400 improvements over its predecessor, though this is a tad misleading as the majority of these are nip-tuck tweaks rather than genuine innovations.
Polishes abound in almost every department. Your stadium's infrastructure can now be modified in a myriad ways, ranging from the maintenance of food bars, VIP areas and even public transport to and from your stadium. An annual magazine provides you with a rundown of all the teams in your country's premier division while player guidance has been bolstered with the addition of Help icons that fill you in on what everything does, though never to the detailed extent of Football Manager 2010's revamped player guidance system. Yet for all its spit and polish, you can't help but feel there's little here that can be classed as a major step forward from last year. That is, until you reach the pitch.
The first, most striking 3D match engine improvement is the number and variety of player animations. Last year, the game suffered greatly from a lack of unique playing styles. The addition of scores of new animations has certainly alleviated this problem somewhat, and it's now far easier to identify the differences in playing styles between fleet-footed wingers and pug-nosed stoppers. The match action once again proves to be a mix of convincing passages of play and infuriating inconsistency, and while games often do look fairly realistic, they never satisfy like Football Manager's matches and, to a lesser extent, Championship Manager's. As has become traditional with the series, you can also opt to be a player manager, either controlling your player yourself (unwieldy and frustrating) or have them controlled by the AI.
In a bid to keep up with the Sports Interactives, developer Bright Future has also added a touchline order system, which you can use to yell instructions at your players. Your 17 options include telling a player to attempt a one-two, ordering them to get forward and informing them how you believe they should be passing, tackling and marking. It's a decent enough addition and to FIFA Manager's credit your players do visibly attempt to follow your commands. On the rare occasions your orders do make a key impact, the feeling of smugness is so overwhelming you're tempted to dislocate your arms so you can pat yourself on the back more easily.
Press and player interactions remain relatively unchanged from last year, though your dealings with journalists do at least possess some charisma, unlike Football Manager's rather sterile offerings. However, with so few genuine innovations on show you can't help feel that after several years of impressive progress the FIFA Manager series has lost some ground on its two main rivals.
FIFA Manager 2010's biggest new feature is its online mode. But if you're expecting to be able to play the single-player game in a long, protracted battle against other players, you're in for disappointment. What is on offer is a massively stripped-down experience that bares almost no resemblance to the single-player game whatsoever. After you've either chosen to host a game or join someone else's, you must pick a team to manage from the selected league and then play through an entire season against other human players and AI opponents.
Every turn is restricted to a stringent time limit, during which you must select your formation and line-up, pick from a surprisingly small number of tactical options, define training sessions and manage your ticket prices. Players' stats are shown as a single level of ability (ranging from one to 20) and a set of specialist skills (strength, speed, crossing etc), but other than these, it's virtually impossible to gauge how one player differs from another. The addition of bonuses that reward the best players and rapid transfer auctions are decent enough ideas, but they're not quite enough to make this a genuinely long-lasting pastime.
After you've made your tactical choices it's game time, though the text-only match view is incredibly limited, providing only brief accounts of the action and rarely truly informing you of how each player is performing. The lack of match-day player feedback restricts you to making tactical tweaks and substitutions that are often more guesswork than informed decisions. In its own simplistic way, multiplayer can be briefly fun, but the shortcomings soon become clear, causing your interest to wane rapidly.
While FIFA Manager 10 is by no means a poor game, there's an underlying suspicion that the energy that's been pumped into the hit-and-miss multiplayer features would have been better spent on genuinely innovating the single-player game, which sadly feels a little too similar to last year and a little tactically thin compared to FM and CM. However, if you didn't buy FIFA Manager 09 and you're looking for a genuine alternative to CM or FM that offers a unique slant on the genre, then FIFA Manager 10 still warrants a closer look.
7 / 10