Most people review games early or immediately after release. This helps people like YOU decide whether to buy the game or not. But you have probably noticed that this place doesn’t really follow that. FM23 is on its way here in just a couple of months, so I’m here with a review of a game that’s a year old.
The premise of this game is that you’re a club manager. You are ultimately in control of almost every decision within your club, including how you talk to the press and how you handle individual players’ temperaments. You set the tactics. You set the training schedule. You set the lineups. You read the social media feeds and get to hear fans complain about you.
If you’re not in the mood to make ALL of the decisions, you can delegate to assistant coaches. Those coaches are AI, like Haley Joel Osment in .. AI. Or like the Jude Law sex robot also in AI. So far, I have not had sex with my assistant AI coaches, but the day is young. These assistants also help idiots like me who have no clue what they’re doing by dropping hints both before and during matches. This is invaluable because I am an American who did not grow up with soccer as a sport I followed. Like at all. When I was a kid, it was seen as a “sissy sport” (actual quote to me throughout my childhood). I’m sure I’ve parroted that back when I was younger.
And though it has been a solid 20 years now since I began to follow any form of soccer (the 2002 World Cup, my friend), I only follow casually. I don’t know a ton about tactics, and I know even less about how to run a club. Yet I find myself fully enthralled with this game.
The pace is what you make of it. This game is mostly asynchronous in that you can make a decision at your leisure during a “day” and it won’t flip to the next day against your will. That means you can watch an actual game and during the low periods, look at your computer and see what needs attention on that current gameday. This game is a grown man’s game in the best sense of the words. I can watch as much or as little of my matches as I want. I personally enjoy watching the little AI dudes run about, ultimately winning or losing.
Mid-match, you’ll get some advice from your assistants. Jimmy isn’t playing well, we should sub him. Larry is doing damage when he’s all alone out there, we should press him when he has the ball. Things like that. You’re free to take or ignore their advice as much as you please, and you will be the one responsible when things go south. The board is there to overrule you in cases of finances, but they’re also there to oust you if you’re not pulling your weight.
The Story of El Cuñado
I was in the midst of a binge of The League when I started playing Football Manager. You have the ability to create your own manager which gives you some relatively basic head shapes and faces and whatnot, which you can then warp or alter to your liking. It’s possible to make a totally normal looking person, but you don’t get the extreme customization of, say, Skyrim, where you can make your person a total mutant. They also offer a way to make yourself (or someone else) by using a photograph of said person and marking where a few key areas are on the face. I decided to use Jason Mantzoukas as Rafi from The League. I’m not going to get into his character here, but he’s a funny guy.
I made a decision early on NOT to take on a team I liked or was already doing well. I wanted to start unemployed like a real coach may do. Sorry, manager. It’s an interesting thing to watch the standings and look for teams that are not doing well. You know that you’re going to inherit a pretty bad situation no matter what, but you have to prepare yourself for the climb up. Unemployed management progresses very similarly to employed management in that you’re checking your inbox, checking the social feeds, checking the tables, and trying to see which clubs are doing well, which are not. The biggest difference is that you’re not tasked with actually doing anything at this point. As a wise Kiwi once said, when you’re unemployed, there’s no vacation. So true. It’s a constant hunt for the next way to get some PAY.
Getting a club isn’t as easy as you may think when you start as an unemployed coach. I suppose it’s possible to juice your stats and make it so that you’re a super hot commodity, but that’s not my style. Rafi is a former player who was in some good matches in his career but is largely unproven as a manager. Applying to teams is easy enough. You also have the ability to let your interest be known, which gets the media involved. It’s somewhat funny if you apply to a few teams as manager because the media will start questioning you on how desperate you are. Like, hey dude, stop applying to more than one position at a time. What are you, some sort of little bitch?
As I’m highly superficial, I only applied to teams that had kits that I approved of. No goofy looking stripes, no fully saturated blues. I suppose at this point I should also mention that you can pick which leagues are part of your simulation. You can pick as many or as few as you’d like, though as you add more and more leagues, your PC will have more and more trouble knocking through the simulation of days. I took the main leagues in England, Italy, Spain, Germany, and France. The clubs I ended up applying to were mostly in England, though I did apply to one in Germany.
After waiting quite a while, Charlton Athletic sacked their manager and was in the mix. I applied and interviewed. They asked me how serious I was about the club. What are my plans? Wow, is this some sort of marriage proposal? Relax, this is a stepping stone! But I didn’t tell them that. I don’t think you can say that even if you want to. I was lucky? enough to get the job with Charlton sitting there at the bottom of the table waiting to get relegated. The board was on edge when I took the job and the fans were NOT happy. Who the hell is Rafi El Cuñado and why do WE have to be his proving grounds?! I understand their concern.
The first match I had was against a team that was at the top of the tables. It was a real test of where the club was going and where it truly was at that moment. I decided to play a very timid, counter-attacking tactic that kept my team on their heels for almost all of the game. They beat us 1-0 in a close one. The following match was against another top team, and this one was a draw. I used similar tactics for that one. Theoretically, these teams are on a similar level, but in reality these clubs can have pretty massive differences in talent and budget.
The board was happy with my draw, but that only made them want MORE. DO BETTER. WIN MORE! I can’t imagine how they would’ve been if I had won those matches. I stopped reading the social media tabs because it was a constant firehose of clumpy shit. It’s oddly disheartening to read people talking about how awful you are, even though you are not actually Rafi and these are imaginary people. I can’t believe people use social media in real life. What a nightmare.
Traditional media wasn’t really all that kind either, to be fair. The questions they asked were all negative and leading, but I was able to respond with enough “positive” responses that they started to warm up to me. Oh, I also won a bunch of matches and that helped. Soon it wasn’t only local rags talking to me, but the BBC! Hot damn, I really made a name for myself! Or, I guess Rafi did. Wait.. I made a name for Rafi? You get what I mean.
The budgets are pretty tight with this club, but a switch in training schedule and tactics has proven to be a winning strategy. Scouting reports are sent to my desk before each game and give me insight into what the opponent is good against, bad against, and what they do best. All you have to do is read that bad boy and get your training setup the right way and, hey, you’re in good shape!
The story of Rafi is ongoing and I feel it can be a multi-year tale when all is said and done. But I felt it was worth bringing up now because it gives you a sense of the ups and downs you’ll experience in this game.
So .. Is It Good?
FM22 is no FIFA. If you want to score goals and play as your favorite club, this is NOT the game for you. But if you like the intricacies of a club from the management side and watching a simulated game (or clips at least), then you will lose endless amounts of time in this. It feels very similar to the Civilization series for me where I think “one more turn” and before I know it, 17 days have passed.
And speaking of the simulated matches… I get as invested in them as I do in FORTNITE VBUCKS SCAMS. Maybe moreso, because the actions of my team make me feel just as intense feelings as I do watching my favorite sports teams in real life. And that, to me, is the most amazing thing about this game. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much emotional tie to a video game in my life. I LOVE sports games and this is basically at the top of my list of sports games that I thoroughly enjoy playing. It’s never going to top NHL 94, but this game, and probably this series, is an amazingly in-depth, immersive experience.