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The game that has made so many girls/women leave their boyfriends/husbands is back again and it promises to unleash the usual havoc on our social lives...
- The same great FM gameplay and content.
- New ability to re-arrange transfer/wage budgets.
- A myriad of minor enhancements.
- Slightly superfluous re-design.
- Not many new features since last year.
- Some of the new features are a bit shallow.
In many gamers' minds, Football Manager 2007 saw a significant stride forward in the depth of the series. Additions such as pre and post-match team talks, feeder clubs and club takeovers were significant tweaks to gameplay depth that definitely pleased the fans. This year's game has the most significant visual overhaul since the first FM game but, ironically, the gameplay adjustments are more a case of fine tweaking rather than strides forward.
If you want a clue for this visual overhaul, just take a look at the colour scheme for FM 2008's box. The usual green and blue design has been swapped for a red, blue and silver appearance, and this follows right through to FM 2008's in-game skin. Not only has the interface been given a visual makeover, but Sports Interactive has also had a bit of a spring clean with the general workings of the interface as well.
On first sight, the interface looks a bit like Internet Explorer in Windows Vista. There's now a much denser range of quick access icons at the top of the screen, for example, while the fonts and colours are a little finer with less of an old-skool Champ Man feel to them. Your initial reaction to it, similarly to Windows Vista, is likely to be 'What have they done?! How do I do this now?! Why is that there?!' etc. etc. It's a bit like going into your local supermarket only to find out that they've done their annual switch around, putting pizzas and microwavable meals (my diet) in an entirely new region of the shop. You find yourself utterly bemused as you search aimlessly for the aisle's relocation while thinking 'Why have they done this?! It was fine the way it was before?!' And so on... But, like all-redesigns, you eventually get used to it after putting up a bit of resistance at the start, and FM soon becomes second nature again.
Within this re-design, though, are some minor new additions that provide a touch more organisation to your bureaucratic affairs. The Transfer Centre, for example, charts all of your most recent transfer bids and work permit applications etc. So, when you're simultaneously trying to sign five youngsters from South America in the hope that one of them might get a permit, you can at least keep track of who you've approached and for how much. Also, whenever other rival teams make a significant signing, you are treated to a mini news feed that shows you all of the recent acquisitions made by your adversaries.
Another minor addition is the Confidence tab, which shows you the club's expectations for each competition and your current performance against these expectations. All of these little touches are far from substantial, but they definitely ease certain annoyances that cropped up in previous FMs, such as 'Who exactly is Federico Sanchez and when did I bid £4 million for him?' No longer will you have to trawl through your news bulletin board to find out.
There are, however, some slightly meatier trimmings to FM 2008 that really do enhance gameplay. One example is the new ability to re-arrange your transfer and wage funds in order sign another player if you're way under your wage budget, or make sure that Spanish star gets the hefty wage they want if you've got some transfer funds left over. This came in particularly handy for me during my first game playing as Liverpool. I'd been trying to sign a bunch of cheap foreigners in the hope that one of them would get through customs. It turned out, however, that a few more work permits were granted than I'd predicted. This resulted in me having no transfer funds left when I finally got a permit for the beefy striker I'd been after (Tigres' Kikin Fonseca for anybody who's interested). Handily, as I was so far under the wage budget, I was given the option of reducing my wage budget in order to gather the £3.5 million required to sign Kikin (a great name for a footballer, by the way) - magic!
International management has also been given the once over to provide more depth. There are now separate morale systems for club and international level. So, Ashley Cole might not be happy at Chelsea (serves him right) but he'll still be his sprightly consistent self for England. There's also specific international retirements which, if SI has nailed it, will no doubt have every English player under Alex Ferguson at Man Utd retiring before they reach their 30th birthday (you know who you are, Scholesy).
Perhaps one of the new features that will have had SI coders working around the clock to perfect is the FaceGen technology for computer generated players. In other words, if the game creates a player to fill the huge FM player pool and account for real player retirements (as it always has done), then that pubescent player will be given a computer generated mug-shot that ages as the player progresses through their career. We're hoping to find the odd grey haired Ravanelli after a couple of decades' play.
That's basically it for the new improvements that are worthy of significant mention. There are still straggling minor additions that we simply didn't have the time (or anal desire) to describe to you at length. These include the ability to schedule fan days; new awards such as all-time in-game best elevens for nations and clubs; and, finally, an in-match tactics section which allows you to keep track of player condition and performance without pausing (you're treated to a mini 2D match engine while you're doing it as well).Although, I suppose these are all fairly self explanatory anyway.
All in all, it's been a year of evolution for the series. SI has of course kept streamlining the core gameplay experience of FM. The 2D match engine is more realistic, media and news are depicted in greater detail, and the labyrinth of code and spreadsheets that go into making Jermaine Pennant perform like the petulant player that he is in real-life have of course been expanded. But, with the amount of respect we have for the grand job that SI has been doing for years, and the consistency with which they seem to do it, we've come to take it as read that this will always be the case (I'll be the first one on top of that skyscraper when it doesn't).
The truth is, if SI had simply released the same game as 2007 but with player and team updates, most FM fans would still have bought it. That's simply how good the series is. Luckily, SI is still slowly evolving their series with each passing year in the same way that they did when they developed the Champ Man games. After all, who can argue with evolution? It happens very slowly but it always ensures that beneficial advancements shine through and, over millions of years, produce a human out of a small rodent. A feat that, within the football gaming world, FM achieves with masterful craftsmanship and great vigour.