Football Manager 2008 Review

Alan Baxter

10 minutes left. Time is rapidly ticking down, only moments remaining until your dream of lifting the coveted trophy is dismissed for another year. In a last ditch attempt to snatch the vital goal that would bring glory to the club and send thousands of fans into an uncontrollable nature, the manager decides to substitute the team’s leading goal scorer for a player with only 5 goals to his name all season. The fan’s gasp at what appears to be a desperate and bizarre decision, with boos beginning to ring around the packed 90,000 capacity stadium. 10 minutes later and countless hearts broken, the team has crashed out of the competition and will have to endure an agonising wait until next season for another bite at the cherry. The manager should never have substituted our best player you might be thinking. A different formation would have much better suited our situation, you say. In real life, only the man in charge, the big dog, the number one can make those vital decisions with the worlds hope resting upon his shoulders. This isn’t real life though, this is the Xbox 360, and now you can feel the pressure of these stressful and exciting situations via playing Sega and Sport Interactive’s latest title, Football Manager 2008.

Football management simulation games have been regularly produced since way back in 1982, 6 years before I was born! First made for the ZX Spectrum, personally a console I have never heard of before, simulation games have been extremely popular among sporting fans due to giving you the chance to step into the manager’s boots for a few hours and see if you could do a better job. There are many things to consider whilst being a football manager, from formations and tactics to what players to sign in the transfer window and controlling the clubs finances. Sports Interactive have done a terrific job with Football Manager 2008 in this sense, as the game allows you to tinker with your club in terrific detail, controlling all of the important aspects a real manager would be forced to deal with.

With so many different options available to you at any one time, an easy, accessible control system is vital in these types of games. Many people prefer playing management simulation games on their PC due to the mouse cursor allowing easy navigation throughout menu’s and speeding up accessing certain options. A mouse cursor is obviously not available whilst playing with an Xbox 360 controller, and therefore some gamers believe the controls feel awkward compared to their favored PC version. Sports Interactive have in fact done a pretty impressive job with the control system in their latest title, as the game allows you to nip through menus at a steady rate; after the reasonably long learning curve that is. Up to an hour could be wasted getting acquainted with the controls and figuring out what the vast array of buttons. Sports Interactive have kindly tried to solve this problem by introducing what they call an “Advisor Box” in the bottom right hand corner of the screen every time the game is loaded. From this useful little box, you can view the controls menu, learn how to use the “top tab bar” and also quickly access certain areas of the game. You can choose to turn the box off permanently for that particular game session or have it keep popping up at convenient times whilst you play in order to display tips and help with controls. The Advisor box is a great feature of Football Manager 2008, and will certainly make those new to the series feel comfortable with the complicated control system as quickly as possible.

Need a new Goalkeeping coach? Ashworth is available!

The left and right triggers are the main HUB of the control system if you will. Pressing the left trigger will allow you to progress further in the game by choosing the continue option, whilst also allowing you to easily search for your squad information, upcoming fixtures, finances, aswell as provide options such as searching for players to sign and even going on holiday! The right trigger then essentially acts as an action button, allowing you to see the options available on each particular screen. For example, if you are on a players profile, pulling the right trigger will bring up options such as make an offer, get scout reports, player interaction etc… Both the left and right trigger buttons work extremely well together to provide a fairly easy and seamless control system. That being said, the PC version of the game still feels far more natural to control via the mouse and will speed up the gameplay to a huge extent, allowing you to cover more information and matches in a shorter time period.

Solid features that have made the series so popular are welcomed back in Football Manager 08, such as the detailed training options, precise player statistics and the exhaustive transfer center. Building on features that made the series so successful, Sports Interactive have revamped a few aspects of the game to provide fresh gameplay and a more immersive experience with the game. The most notable change from the 2007 version is the inclusion of a more in-depth match day experience. You will firstly start by selecting your team for the upcoming fixture, swapping players around where you see fit to suit the team you face; you can even ask your assistant manager to select the team for you if preferred. After your 11 warriors have been selected, you’ll progress to a screen showing both team’s line up’s and formations, allowing you to view what side and formation the opposing manager has chosen. The detailed team talk is next, where you have the chance to motivate your players and give important instructions. Whether you select a team talk for the whole team or choose to speak to each player individually is up to you; even speaking to an individual can change the way he performs in the match, so choosing your words wisely is essential. Just like the player selection, you can have your assistant manager take the team talk for you if need be. Opposition instructions are next to be handed out; do you want your defenders to tightly mark the opponents in form striker and show him onto his weaker foot? Next is the all important match, followed by post-match analysis from the media, stating their views on the match and who the key players were for each team. A quite extensive and impressive match sequence I think you’ll agree?

You can even view info about your supporter spokesman

The actual matches themselves have not been perfected just yet, with the match engine still containing a few noticeable flaws. You have the option of just seeing key highlights of the match and commentary instead of watching every kick of the game on the 2D screen, and this cuts out a fair percentage of time. However, even with these quickest options chosen, each match will last at least 5 minutes, likely to rise to the 10 minute mark with the addition of goals and half/full time team talks. The average season will have a minimum of 38 matches, and at 10 minutes per game, that’s over 6 hours per season just watching matches. An instant result option would have been ideal for this game and made the experience even more enjoyable; being forced to sit through matches you have no interest in, such as friendly games, can be tiresome and put you off playing the game for a while. Unrealistic score-lines and strange commentary choices are also flaws in the match engine. Playing as Manchester United, I was beaten 4-1 by Chelsea FC. In the 80th minute, the in-game commentary text told me my central defender Pique had been dominant throughout the game. How could my defender have been dominant if the team conceded 4 goals? Common flaws such as these unfortunately take away the realistic aspect of the game that the abundance of features and options helped to implement in the first place.

Apart from the more defined match engine, the other obvious difference between the 2007 and 2008 Football Manager games is the shiny new Skin developed for the latest version. The options bar on the left hand side of the screen seen in the 2007 version has been removed and implemented into the control system for 2008, allowing for a less cluttered look. You won’t find any gorgeous lighting effects or stunning, realistic textures in this game. The whole game is entirely 2-dimensional, including the matches and highlights you watch. Player’s are represented by a circle with their corresponding number. The 2-dimensional and simplistic style of Football Manager works incredibly well as it helps to present a clean, fresh experience to the gamer; helping to keep the experience uncomplicated, something the excessive features of the game do not. If you have the Vision Cam accessory, you’ll be glad to hear you can take a picture of that beautiful face and implement your mug shot into the game as your manager picture. It is pretty cool seeing your face and name as the manager of Manchester United I must say; a very nice feature indeed, one which helps make you feel like a real manager instead of a pretend protégé.

A new, crisp interface skin is present.

There’s not a lot I can say about the audio in Football Manager 2008, and that’s because there isn’t any! The only audio during the game is an annoying beep you hear every time you move the cursor with the left analogue stick, and poorly created chants from the crowds during matches. Fortunately, the beep noise can be turned off in the options menu and the game played in pure silence. If this bores you, there’s always the option of playing music through your Xbox 360 whilst playing the game, or listening to some awesome tunes via an external source, for example an I-pod or your computer. Some music to entertain our ears would have been nice, but it would have probably ended up being some cheesy arcade style like seen in the Virtua Tennis games, so I’m taking this move as a positive.

The Football Manager series is best known for its highly addictive single player, but since the game has been released on consoles, multiplayer via Xbox Live has also been introduced; unfortunately. Just like many first person shooter’s out there, the multiplayer portion of the game feels tagged on, with little effort applied. There are only 2 game mode’s available, those being Cup and League. Participating in a Cup event allows up to 4 players, whereas you can participate in a league consisting of up to 8 players. Getting 7 of your friends together over Xbox Live and having some banter whilst playing can be some great fun. If you strive for more serious gameplay, you can enter a Ranked match and take on the world’s elite; that’s if they are ever online! I struggled to find a Player or Ranked match, only being successful once in 30 minutes of searching. Not exactly what you would call a striving community… If you eventually find a match, expect to be sitting on that comfy chair of yours for a long period of time. There is a huge blemish with online play, and this is where no time limits have been forced upon the gamer. This could result in you having to wait countless minutes, or even hours, whilst your opponent decides what tactics to use. For all you know, your opponent could have gone to play real life Football whilst you sit there, staring at the screen in tense anticipation of what intriguing ploy you’ll be up against next. Due to this poorly planned feature and a lack of an online community, you’ll only realistically be able to play Football Manager online with a few willing friends.

On the Achievement side of things, massive improvements have been made since the horrific lists of the 2006 and 2007 game editions. Back in the 2007 version, you were rewarded a ludicrous 20 gamerpoints for winning 20 cup competitions; that’s a lot of cups! In the latest game, just winning 1 measly cup competition will bag you a reasonable 10 gamerpoints. Achievements unlocked via gaining promotion from each individual league have fortunately been withdrawn, resulting in you achievement hunters not having to be tortured playing with teams you’ve never heard of. I must point out that if you are looking for a quick 1000 gamerpoints, this is not the game. The infamous “10 seasons at one club” and “win 20 cup competitions” still exist, and with each season around 5-10 hours, you’ll be putting in a minimum of 50 hours before achieving the full and elusive 1000 gamerpoints. Fortunately for you though, tons of fun will be had along the way.

Audio? What audio?! An annoying beep whilst navigating through the menu’s can be heard, and fortunately turned off to avoid our ears bleeding. Apart from that, crowd cheering during matches is the only other sound you will hear during your experiences with the game. Listening to your own tunes via the Xbox 360 or music player would be your best bet. Some music next time please Sports Interactive…

You won’t see any jaw-dropping lighting effects or outstanding textures in Football Manager, but you are graced with a sharp and fresh looking Skin which just seems to suit the games style. Upgraded from the previous 2007 version, the screen now appears less cluttered, resulting in easier navigation throughout the menus.

If you can stomach the steep learning curve and get used to the new control system, you will have the pleasure of experiencing the same, extremely addictive gameplay seen in earlier versions of Football Manager. You'll have a hard time putting the game down once you get immersed into saving your club from relegation or battling the world's elite for your coveted trophy. If you purchase this title, prepare to abandon the rest of your life for a few months.

The game was unfortunately released with a lack of new features and a poorly designed online portion, and therefore a purchase could not be justified if you already own the 2007 version. On a positive note, loading times seem decreased which allow you to dive into the action quicker.

Sports Interactive have vastly improved the game's achievement list, getting rid of the ridiculous “gain promotion in every country” achievements, and replacing them with achievable yet challenging objectives. Be warned, this is not an Avatar-esque game where achievements unlock just for wasting your money on the game, with the full 1000 in Football Manager taking approximately 50 hours or more.

The lack of new features doesn’t take away the highly addictive gameplay and hours of fun you could waste with this title. The redesigned match day portion and new Skin are welcome additions to the game and will make you feel even more like a professional Football Manager. If you purchased the 2007 edition of the series, there might not be enough here to warrant another purchase apart from updated squads and a few new features; unless you’re a hardcore fan of the previous games of course. I recommended this title to any Football fan around the world, but be prepared to waste weeks and even months of your life with this game!

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