• They say that football’s a funny old game. I don’t particularly know what’s funny about it, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo’s hissy fits when one of his shots doesn’t go in, but that’s what they say. Perhaps they’ve watched too many Catherine Tate episodes and have therefore had their expectations of what ‘funny’ should be lowered. To me funny isn’t watching your team throw away a five point lead at the top of the table and slowly implode on national TV. But like Murphy’s…

    Football Manager 2008

    Anyway the point (there is one, I’m slowly getting to it) is that Football Manager 08 is as close to football management as any of us armchair experts are ever likely going to get. I can now use a five man defence with Swiss Phil in the centre to help cover our lack of height, attacking full-backs to make up for our lack of width and move Hleb into the middle of the pitch with Fabregas and Flamini as that’s clearly where he wants to play anyway. It’s also incredibly realistic, as I told Hleb to shoot from anywhere and, as in real-life, he still insisted on sliding it two yards to somebody else who was tightly marked and who had no realistic chance of scoring. Presumably he was still doing that with his Frank Spencer grin on his face. ‘Ooooh, Ade’. Of course this formation of a five man defence (or ‘3-2-3-2 Score Me GOALS!’ as I ended up calling it) went on to win me the Premiership and the FA Cup. Buying players that didn’t have a fetish for physio room tables also helped I guess. But I won the Premiership and the FA Cup. Not Arsene Wenger. Me. Jorgio Bennetto (it’s continental, don’t you know).

    If you’re new to Football Manager as a series, that’s the sort of highs you can expect. There are obviously many lows to accompany those highs, but once you win something all of those are forgotten. If you’ve never played a Football Manager game before, come out from under that rock, bask in the sunshine for a few seconds and run down to your nearest store or order it online if your rock has broadband, and enjoy the best Football Management game ever created. Go on, you don’t need to read any more. For you it’s a 10/10. For those of you, however, that have played one of the previous FM’s you will already know all of this and are probably wondering how this year’s compares to previous seasons? Let me enlighten you.

    So what’s new?

    First of all there’s a very nice skin overhaul that makes it a little easier on the eye. There are also a number of pre-season options that have been added, the best of the bunch being the ability to alter the dimensions of your pitch to suit your style of game. There’s also the ability to haggle for extra transfer funds and increase your wage budget by informing the board that not only will you meet their expectations, but that you will exceed them. Word of warning here though, while this provides you with a bit more cash the reward isn’t usually worth the risk and can see you being sacked pretty early on if you don’t have an exceptional start to the season.

    There’s also an optional adviser on hand, but as all of the newcomers are at this moment running to the shops or ordering it online (you have all gone, haven’t you?) then you really don’t want to hear about how irritating this soon becomes and how quickly you will turn it off. Elsewhere a new confidence screen gives you much better feedback than before and lets you easily see whether the board and fans are happy with your progress and what they think of your recent signings (fans, who do they think they are telling you what you should be doing!). It still has a bit of a blip occasionally (the board can be a very fickle bunch, lambasting you for not doing well after only five games into a new season, on the back of a Premiership and FA Cup winning season at that) but generally the information is useful.

    Matches are now more realistic than ever, with tactical decisions made on-the-fly and a myriad of tactical choices available before and during the game. Having the ability to instantly see how moving a player into a different position or changing formation affects the match makes you feel more like a manager than ever before. Transfer negotiations have also had an overhaul, enabling you to haggle more effectively than a stall holder at an East London Market. There are many other more subtle improvements that have been made as well, too many to go into in the review (SI claim there to be over 100 additions over Football Manager 2007), but suffice to say that they all help improve what was already the leader in its field.

    OFFSIDE…we mean ONLINE!

    Two additions that we do want to highlight though are the online modes. You can now take on a human opponent or participate in a cup (2-4 players) or league (2-8 players) via XBOX Live. Both are highly anticipated additions and ones that I expected to instantly lift Football Manager into 10/10 territory. Sadly they didn’t turn out to be quite as good as expected for a number of reasons.

    Firstly finding an opponent can be an unnecessarily laborious task, thanks to the awful search facility. Then when you’ve finally found an opponent you waste even more time while they tinker with their tactics. There didn’t appear to be any default amount of time before the match started whether they were ready or not and it appears that you could effectively sit and wait all day while they played around with their tactics. Worse still, matches themselves can seemingly be paused an infinite amount of times and for whatever duration they want. You can guess then what some people do when they’re losing with a few minutes to go or by a large score-line. This is something that should have been picked up in testing and, while it’s likely that it will be addressed in a later patch, it’s completely unacceptable.

    Those fairly glaring faults aside the online mode, when playing with friends or more adult opponents, is a joy to play. You can manage a default team, a saved team (from a career) or even enter in a Fantasy Draft team, where everybody gets to pick players from the best teams in the world, in a round-robin style. Leagues with Fantasy Draft teams are exciting affairs and even selecting your squad of players turns into a tactical game and often leads to lots of expletives when everyone else forgot to sign Lionel Messi and you’re gamble of leaving him to the last minute as your last draft pick works.

    On top of all of that Football Manager 2008 runs slightly faster than 2007, has the choice of selecting 10 leagues (from a total of three nations out of a choice of over fifty) to run concurrently and excellent hot seat play. There’s no editor (which is a tad annoying, especially as even the PSP version had one) but I suppose there is at least the potential that it may be made available later on as a download. Even without it, though, Football Manager 2008 is the best football management game on a home console. The controls are intuitive (while not threatening to overtake a keyboard and mouse as our preferred control method) and it runs relatively bug free from the time we had our hands on it. It’s a very solid overall package and one I can heartily recommend. The additions may not be huge, and the online modes can be exploited easily by unsporting opponents, and it may even be a little expensive, especially when compared to PC version. But none of those stop Football Manager 2008 being a highly recommended purchase that just falls short of greatness due to a lack of stand out improvements and badly designed online play.

    Score: 8/10

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