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Football Manager 2011

The long game.

Never before have the personal wants and feelings of players and agents played such a prominent role, nor has the feedback regarding their feelings been so pronounced. Throw in improved press interactions, and you've got yourself an experience that requires you to think more carefully than ever about every decision and manoeuvre. You can even forge friendships, or launch character assassinations against other managers.

These enhanced communication features are a great first step to bringing the world of Football Manager to life in an interesting new way. Sports Interactive's next challenge will be to build on this by taking FM 2011's often generic player responses and colouring them with the real-life personalities of each player – as well as providing more detailed information about their disposition, character and motivations to enable you to fully understand the best way of dealing with each personality.

Amongst FM2011's other new features is a revamped training system. While this isn't a stand-out, it does provide a little more control over the disciplines your players spend their time practising. More noteworthy is the added control you have over match preparation. You can train players to specialise in unique formations for each encounter and concentrate on honing attacking, defending or how your team blends together, with detailed info displaying how comfortable players are with each tactic. Meanwhile, the enhanced post-match feedback furnishes you with more info than ever before regarding who's playing well, who's failing and, more importantly, why.

After the success of Championship Manager 2010's set-piece creator last year, it's positive to see a similar feature debuting here. However, rather than a system that lets you create bespoke moves that often don't materialise in matches, FM 2011's intuitive set-piece creator allows you to set up offensive and defensive set-piece instructions for corners, free-kicks and throw-ins, giving you far more control and flexibility over a wider range of situations.

Pre-match preparation is more detailed than ever.

The 3D match has also made some noteworthy strides, despite a few lingering animation problems. Goalkeepers in particular are far more realistic, moving with an agility more closely associated with professional net-minders than sacks of potatoes with rigor mortis. The sheer amount of information during games is immense, making this the most complete match day experience to date, with tactical and player feedback particularly impressive. Even if you're just watching key highlights, you always feel impressively informed about how a match is unfolding.

Football Manager 2011 is a behemoth of a game, one which makes a concerted (if not always 100 per cent successful) effort to make itself more accessible in spite of its increased depth and complexity. Many of its new features are cleverly integrated into the existing mechanics, while the value of others, such as the Dynamic League Reputation, will only become apparent from more extended playing time than this review allows.

The sum of FM 2011's parts is the most organic but more importantly, most believable man- and team-management experience the series has provided. Don't be expecting perfection, because you won't find it – but even if you own last year's version you should seriously consider investing in this follow-up, a recommendation I certainly don't make every year. And if you've been holding off purchasing a Football Manager game for the last few years, then this is the year to get back in the game.

9 / 10

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