Football Manager 2008 review

£25
Price when reviewed

Having topped the league of football management sims for almost as long as Sir Alex has been terrorising the touchline at Old Trafford, Sports Interactive’s Football Manager 2008 returns to defend its title once more. With the competition wearing thinner than Steve McClaren’s excuses (don’t get us started on Championship Manager, the brand left to Eidos by Sports Interactive), has FM2008 raised its game?

We could fill the Yellow Pages describing the countless features that have accumulated in FM over the years, so instead we’re going to focus on what’s new for this season. The big summer signing is the Match Flow system, a new wizard-style menu system that guides you step-by-step through the match-playing process, from pre-match analysis, team talks and instructions on how to mark the opposition, right through to the game itself. FM veterans may find the hand-holding a little tiresome, but it provides insurance against those situations where the game kicks off and you suddenly realise you hadn’t told your right back to give Cristiano Ronaldo a good kick whenever he crosses the halfway line.

With Match Flow, the action no longer stops when you want to make tactical tweaks, with a mini-radar pitch appearing on the tactics screen letting you keep an eye on the game. However, this is more of a hindrance than a help, especially as making substitutions now requires some awkward screen scrolling to find out who’s on the bench. SI also claims to have “greatly improved” the match engine, although there’s little evidence to justify this claim. In fact, players now seem to spend far too long dithering on the ball while opponents stand by and watch, even if you instruct your team to close down the opposition at every opportunity – a bug SI has promised to fix in a patch.

On the plus side, the game’s engine appears to be working more smoothly, with fewer delays as the computer grinds through the matches not involving your team, while the new icon-based UI also reduces the amount of time wasted scrolling through drop-down menus. Budding Harry Redknapps will be pleased with the new Transfer Centre, which provides an at-a-glance update on the progress of all your transfer deals, while new comparison tools make it easier to see how your current squad squares up to potential signings.

However, SI also appears to have spent a fair bit of time on frivolous nonsense. Take (no please, take it) the new FaceGen feature, which creates an artificial face for fictional staff or players who enter the game as the real players retire. SI says the feature will “give each player more personality”; sadly, it’s the personality of an arsonist captured in a Crimewatch photo-fit. You can now also choose the width of the pitch before the season starts, but this seems to have little or no impact on tactics, with nippy wingers proving as effective on pitches as wide as Wembley or narrower than Derby’s chances of Premiership survival.

Does this mean FM2008 is a poor game? Emphatically not. Even with the niggles and trivial new features, we’ve spent hours in front of the screen, punching the air with a disturbing amount of delight when a little dot representing Carlton Cole pops up at the back post and heads in a corner as instructed. And many might consider the game’s £25 price worth paying simply for the updated player database. But make no mistake: this is one of the least impressive upgrades to Football Manager in many a year, and we can’t help wondering whether the lack of credible competition has led to a cancerous complacency. For the sake of the genre, we sincerely hope not.

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