Football Manager 2010

Managing expectations...

With Championship Manager 2010 having laid down an impressive challenge to the Football Manager series, I've been keen to spend some hands-on time with the latest FM2010 pre-release code to see how it compares to its nearest rival. And luckily for me, I've had the opportunity to do just that.

New features and tweaks abound. First off, there's been a complete visual revamp. When I first fired up the game I almost thought I'd loaded the wrong football management sim, with the new tabbed navigational system and multi-windowed presentation more akin to the FIFA Manager franchise than previous Football Manager offerings. Clearly, this cleaner, leaner presentation is meant to create a more user-friendly path through the game's myriad features and screens, but it was only after a couple of hours of trial and error that the new layout started to show its true worth.

After its hit-and-miss debut last year, the 3D match engine makes a return with a number of key enhancements. There are a hundred new animations, resulting in more believable player movements, though the action still appears to lack the level of visual detail and animation variety possessed by CM2010's debuting 3D action. Animated crowds fill the stadiums, with attendances seemingly reliant on match importance, while some decent weather effects help add variety. Perhaps the most noteworthy on-pitch improvement is goalkeeper animations, as net-minders now appear more mobile than Football Manager 2009's cumbersome keepers. The action, whether viewed in real time or as a set of highlights, proves as realistic as ever, once again displaying its dominance over its rivals.

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The 3D engine has been bolstered with new animations.

One particularly praiseworthy addition is the ability to shout commands to your players from the touchline. Selecting your orders from a drop-down list, you can yell instructions such as retain possession, get the ball forward, pass into space and look for the overlap. These instructions stay active until you decide to cancel them and you can issue a number of orders at any one time. After some intense testing, this new on-the-fly tactical tool proves a real winner, with players visibly responding to my barked commands.

Backroom assistance is another area that's been improved, and you can now call meetings with your coaching staff to ascertain their opinions on any number of club-related topics. One coach may believe that your wing-back spends too much time cutting inside rather than hugging the touchline, and if you agree, you can simply click a single button to start training that player to be more disciplined. Some decent feedback then informs you of how well the player is adapting to your new orders. Your coaches can also recommend new scouts or coaches who they believe would benefit the club, and you can choose to either follow their recommendations or totally ignore them. It's a neat new touch that has the potential to exponentially boost the game's level of player feedback, which is never a bad thing for a game as complex as this.

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