Version tested: Xbox 360
There's no point in beating around the bush - the first attempt at bringing FM to the Xbox 360 was a proverbial 'game of two halves' of such extremes it was almost impossible to attribute an accurate rating to it.
On the one hand, it was - pretty much - a perfect port of the PC/Mac original, which is to say the definitive football management simulation on so many counts that it's almost embarrassing (for the competition at least). But on the other - extremely important - hand, it was hamstrung by an interface that required a ridiculous amount of getting used to, thanks to inconsistent and unintuitive button mapping that made it a real headache to peel away the layers of depth and access the things that you knew were there somewhere. Even as an old hand of Sports Interactive's games stretching right back to the very beginning, I found myself, at times, utterly stumped. When I wrote the review, I kind of assumed it might just be a case of me being a bit dim - but as it turned out, it was an experience shared by pretty much everyone who played it.
In truth, FM needed a complete control overhaul on 360 or risked losing its console audience for good - and no one knew this more than SI itself.
Fortunately, we haven't exactly had to wait very long. With SI keen to align the release of all versions of FM as closely as possible (FM 2007 Handheld has also just been released), FM 2007 follows less than eight months after it debuted on the 360 - simultaneously risking the ire of those who invested in the original and delighting those who have been holding out to play a version they can enjoy in the living room with the rest of their console games.
Now, at the risk of repeating and tediously recycling the exhaustive and exhaustingly detailed feature list that the parent version brought in this year, may we suggest you revisit October's in-depth review? We scored it a highly respectable 9/10, noting that it was "by far the most refined, in-depth and yet approachable version Sports Interactive has come up with to date", to which we should have added that no one else has even managed to get close to competing with what it offers. Happily, the Xbox 360 version is an utterly feature-complete no-compromise edition which brings the realism and obsessive attention to detail like no other console football management game has ever dared to - which is either a good thing or just plain terrifying, depending on how you want to look at it, and what sort of football management title you're looking for.
For those who just want the edited match highlights of what's new this year, it basically boils down to adding realistic player interactions, introducing a feeder club system, enhancing the role of team-talks, more interference from the board, a much-improved and easier to understand scouting system, deeper involvement with the youth set-up and a gazillion other minor tweaks and changes that all do their bit to contribute to a more involved and involving experience that gets ever closer to nailing what it means to be a modern day football manager. That was a long sentence, admittedly, but if you're interested in Football Manager, be prepared to be in it for the long haul.
The player interactions, in particular, make a huge difference to your role as a coach. Like any manager these days, player power is hugely significant to your ability to do the job, so if you're unwise enough to sign a trouble maker and don't bother listening to the advice of your team, you could quite conceivably have a revolt on your hands - or at the very least an unsettled squad.
But FM is - to a large degree - whatever you want it to be. It doesn't really punish players for not wanting to engage with the layers of micromanagement - the training, the scouting, the contracts. You can still play it just as a tactician and simply pick the team, choose the tactics, buy the players and get on with it, or - if you want - can assign all manner of stuff to your backroom team and keep clicking to the match day to enjoy the tension of seeing them out there on the pitch. To a large degree you go as deep as you want with FM, though it does make you feel slightly guilty whenever you ignore the depth it offers. Maybe that's just me.
But most of you will know all of this stuff anyway, so there's no need to regurgitate it. What's important in the context of this review is how well the entire game works on the 360, and whether SI has sussed out how to best make use of the 360 pad. It goes without saying that Microsoft could fix all of this in an instant by bloody well giving us the choice of using a mouse, but until that day, SI has come up with as-near-as-dammit the Next Best Thing. The key difference is the role that the right and left bumpers play this time - allowing you to quickly and easily switch between tabs, the menu system is about ten times easier to get your head around than it was last time when it relied on the user memorising which button to press on which screen. Also, the obvious use of 'B' as the 'back' button has been introduced, making it a very simple and consistent interface that even arch novices should slip into within minutes. Almost everything not immediately present on the screen you're on at the time is available by pressing the left or right trigger. Effectively, the main menu bar on the PC/Mac original can be brought up at any time with the left trigger, while right trigger brings up an Actions menu, containing a host of relevant options that make it a breeze to navigate through the game.
Some of the flaws and irritations aren't necessarily with the control system itself, but legacies of the parent version. For example, you still seem to lose half your backroom staff for no apparent reason at the start of the game (and seem powerless to do anything to stop everyone poaching them), you still have to wade through an enormous amount of emails every single week (and can't reduce the amount of communication thrown at you). And one startlingly obvious issue still occurs in the 360 version where the substitution screen during the match lists your squad, their number, their position but not their current fitness condition by default - which is, after all, one of the most pertinent pieces of information you require when deciding who needs to be taken off the field. Also, it's still a bit of a faff to have to fiddle around with the screen layout on the match screen to come up with a simple configuration that shows a) your squad status (i.e. Fitness and rating), b) the match highlights c) the match stats all at once. For reasons that elude me, you always seem to be missing one of those crucial bits of information no matter what combination you use, meaning that the player is forced to chop and change between views to keep up. While I'm a big fan of being able to tailor the viewpoint, it's always been a bone of contention that there's never been one standard default view that covers the essential basics. Rant over - it's no biggie, but sometimes the little things can prove annoying when you're spending hour upon end with the game - especially when you're talking about a version of the game where switching panes isn't as quick and simple to achieve. Next time out, FM's console approach would benefit from making sure more essential info appears on the same page - especially for people with high def TVs (this is the case already, but could definitely be improved). The amount of space wasted on widescreen displays, in particular, is something that could be addressed - frankly, the less navigation you have to do, the better.
A couple of other new additions make it into the 360 for the 2007 version with varying degrees of importance. First up is the slightly throwaway ability to put your own mugshot in the game via the Live Vision camera - it's a nice idea in theory in that it means your profile includes your picture, but the result is reduced in size to such an extent that it's barely recognisable. Elsewhere, SI has overhauled its Xbox Live mode this time to include Fantasy Draft - a custom competition where you can play each other in a series of rounds in 'snaking' order to ensure you play each other in reverse order in subsequent rounds. You can import your offline team, crucially, so this will definitely be a mode that experienced campaigners will want to dabble in with fellow managers once they've got a few seasons under their belt to settle those arguments about who the best manager is. As with the previous Xbox 360 version, 50 achievements are up for grabs in the game, and - once again, there are no easy points to be had. Expect many seasons of play to mine this one for points!
On the whole, there's no doubt that Sports Interactive has done a grand job of rectifying the mistakes it made in the last Xbox 360 version. The 2007 edition feels a far more intuitive and thoughtfully designed effort in every respect that oldcomers will adapt to with ease, and newcomers will have no trouble finding their way around. If you want the closest possible replication of the PC/Mac version then you'll be thrilled with the results, but it's that very factor that stops it from scoring as highly as its parent edition. This is a still, unquestionably, a game designed specifically with the mouse in mind, and no amount of intuitive tab-based control systems can address the fact that this compromises the general gameplay flow and speed with which you can buzz around the hundreds of menus. Put simply, FM is just not - and probably never will be - as enjoyable sat on your couch with a joypad as it is in front of a monitor with a mouse as the developer intended. It's not their fault that this is the case, and they've done probably the best job they can, but just be warned. A game as fearsomely complex as FM can't just be shoved onto a console without some drawbacks - but if you're prepared to settle into a new way of controlling the game, a whole world of football obsession awaits. Just be aware that the PC remains the series' home ground for good reasons, and if you're really serious about playing FM - and have the choice - you should definitely plump for that version.
8 / 10
Check out what happened when Eurogamer TV went exclusively behind the scenes at Sports Interactive and talked to Miles Jacobson and the team about their new releases.