Football, the beautiful game. The hallowed green beneath your feet, the sky, as blue as the eyes of a Dublin lass, above. The atavistic chant of the thousands of devotees gathered, braving the elements to watch the modern day gladiators battle it out over a leather sphere. As you enter the ground, which is to many a temple of the Gods, a myriad of scents assault your nasal apparatus with the severity of a well aimed projectile, such as the sausage roll or the ever popular meat pie. We love the game, our national pastime. But how can us, mere mortals, attain the heady heights of such legends as Sir Alex and Sir Matt Busby? Enter: FIFA Manager 11, the tenth edition of the franchise brought to us by EA Sports and what an incredible game it is. So don your camel-hair coat and prepare to lead your team to ultimate victory.
As you can expect from a game with the ample weight of FIFA behind it, the database of information is loaded to capacity with player bios, club images, facts and figures. The list is immense and it brings to light just what a behemoth of a game FIFA Manager 11 is. I could write a twenty thousand word essay just on the ins and outs alone without even scratching the surface of what this goliath has underneath. So I will take a deep breath and try my best to get as much across as possible.
You start a new game with the creation of a profile, this leads to a number of, very colourful, menus each detailing the game specifics, such as the number of players (you can have up to four friends playing alongside you), the type of manager mode, the database (which is kept up to date via the EA website), the country you wish to represent and the leagues from each. After the basics are set, you get to choose your personal appearance, name, age, language, hair/skin colour, hair style/colour, face type etc. All from a crime watch, photo fit, catalogue of candidates. But what made me laugh was the fact that you could choose the type of clothing you wear, from a casual shirt and tie or a formal suit (no doubt an expensive one) to a sporty look with matching shell-suit, which has more of the appearance of a school’s games teacher rather than a modern football manager.
It doesn’t stop there, you can even dedicate yourself to the entire running of the club, i.e. stadium upkeep, merchandise, ticketing, sponsorship and so on. Luckily, you have the option for an assistant to look after that side of things for you, leaving you to concentrate fully on the team tactics and the pure football. I also have to mention here that you can even opt in (or out) to take control of your personal life as well. You can ‘set-up’ a family, buy a house, rent out other houses, spend your ill gotten gains on luxury items or invest it in the stock market. It all sounds a little too much, (as I said the option is there to turn it off), but it makes you wonder how much of the game suffered by adding the extra unnecessary elements?
Eventually, you are asked to choose your club, again depending on the choices you made in those initial screens will depend on what leagues and countries are available. From there you are met with a welcome screen to your new club and the game desktop, from which you will manage your club to victory or doom. An email-type news screen keeps you up to date with advice from staff, players, transfers, questions from the board and other information. Again, this depends on what options you chose from the start and whether your assistant deals with this level of micro-management or not. A calendar at the top of the screen details the passage of time, in days, until match day when you are presented with yet another screen containing the relevant info for the match. You can setup formations, tactics, shuffle everyone around a bit or simply ask your coach for assistance and they will advise you on the best choices to make. When ready, you can start the match (finally).
A special highlight to this edition of FIFA Manager is the polished, 3D engine that EA have invested so much time and effort into, and it shows. The textures, lighting and movement of the players on the pitch are a wonder to behold. If you decided to opt in as a player manager in the career mode then you get to control a player. By using either the keyboard or controller of your choice you can get into the action and, hopefully, score. The game plays fluidly and is remarkably responsive, however, if you are just watching the game and not actually playing, then, despite the glories of the 3D pitch and the chants of the fans, it can become quite a haul, especially as you have an entire season’s worth of fixtures to play. This can be dealt with by choosing to watch the game in ‘text mode’ and speeding up time. You can speed up time in 3D mode, but it hardly seems the point and would most likely give you a splitting headache after a dozen or so games. If you chose to play with any friends then they can join in the action as well, as the camera’s attention is on the ball and the controlled player’s position is highlighted by an arrow, fairly standard stuff really. EA’s has also added an additional online mode, in which up to eight players can battle it out over the Internet.
If all of the above seems a little staggering, then hold on, as I have one more feature to add. The World Cup 2010 mode – remember that? The one where we did so well? Maybe I’m thinking of something else? Anyway, here’s your chance to put things straight. This mode is vastly scaled down, with all of the main game’s micro-management features removed, leaving you to apply yourself to the task at hand. I really enjoyed this mode, as it was a fresh breeze away from the detailed management approach. Again you can choose your country, where the team are to stay (fortress, country or posh hotel) and again the 3D engine is beautifully crafted, all you have to do is work out the tactics and, well, win.
So where does this leave us? Well, FIFA Manager 11, as you already guessed by reading this, is big. It is very big. You could play for days and lose yourself in the immense game-play options or you could play for a few hours and try to win the World Cup. The choice is yours, but this game is not for the faint hearted. If you are really into the management and the control of every minuscule detail and you live and breathe the facts and figures of the game, then you will be in football Valhalla. If not, then you will find yourself lost and confused in a jungle of menus, options and decisions. I’m not sure if EA have created the ultimate fan game, or if they have unleashed a monster upon the gaming world. Those of you who love Football Manager 2011 (reviewed elsewhere on this site) may hate this, it may be too much to get into. Personally, I loved it. There is no denying it is an incredible, impressive and mighty huge game. Just don’t forget to eat or visit the bathroom occasionally when playing!
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