Invariably when I get asked about my favourite game I will instantly answer ‘Championship Manager 97/98’ – so the possibility of combining some of my best gaming memories and the PS Vita could surely deliver the ultimate pocket gaming experience, couldn’t it?
For as long as I can remember football or soccer has gone hand in hand with management games, as armies of “I know better” hopefuls do their level best to guide their team to glory. While for the onlooker there has never been much in the way of eye candy, those that understand the genre get the depth of the alternate reality on offer. I haven’t had a run up at a new management game for a few years, and when I have tried newer versions or formats always drifted back to the heady days of 1997 / 1998 season, even now a DOS emulator is never far from my Mac’s desktop. Imagine my joy as news of a new transfer hit the market, Football Manager was coming to my PS Vita, were glory days ahead of me again?
I open the box and I’m impressed, a hefty pocket sized manual sits there, begging to be read. Yes, kids, back in the days before digital stuff, games came with paper accessories. This joy however is short lived as I quickly consume the five or six pages in English, grasp the brevity of the button layout and skim over the multiple language rest of the book. Okay, FM is FM, it’s going to be pretty straight forward I though and thankfully it is. Having been labelled with the FM Classic title the game is being sold as the streamlined, quicker to play generation, at the outset this is good news and under the hood it means there is no more fiddling with ticket prices or having to deal with painful training regimes. However the game is still a beast, even running with a couple of live leagues it chugs along, sometimes throwing in a painfully slow autosave to give you time to cut up the halftime oranges. Now, growing up on previous manager games I have experienced and accepted that it takes a whole weekend to run two, maybe three seasons and a pre-season update could take most of an hour, even with my roaring 386 pc. These days we live faster and we play faster, so in fairness for a title developed to stick in your pocket and play on the go, it’s sadly, just too slow.
Pick a team and get out there, handle the press, play some friendlies, dip into the transfer market and impress your fans. All in a day’s work for a developing manager. Of course the impact of those things will vary depending on the calibre of team you start with. There are ‘those’ people that will vehemently insist on playing as Chelsea, Barcelona or Man United, even though they’ve never seen a live match. Then there are those that like to struggle, to live the fight from lower leagues, building on successes and shrewd transfers, taking a team like Lincoln Town to the top of Europe for a consecutive run over ten years. Ahh, happy memories.
There is a hiccup though, these games have constantly developed, improved and been embellished, when the fans want more, the developers dig deeper and the deeper they dig they more confusion and rules they create. The transfer system in FM Classic is painful to say the least, the only real results that were useful were direct from scouts, whereas older games would let you drill down through clubs and players to the detail you want. Now that detail is swamped by stats and options that are very rarely visited. The options are expansive, but they slow the game down, they stop you getting where you want to be and more often than not the player is left waiting for something to do.
The user interface is crisp and full of functionality, but there are minimum face buttons in play, the right shoulder button drops down an interactive menu which is used through the touch screen and this is the biggest issue that has stopped me from playing. The touch screen. The Vita has a beautiful screen that much we know and well used it’s real estate can work wonders, however FM tries too hard, the screen is full of tiny text and tiny buttons, so small that it struggles to pick up my chubby fingers and when it does more often than not I’m hitting the wrong thing. I have played console versions of manager games and the have always had controls and buttons snapping to the screen controls, without a mouse it’s the only way to go. By ignoring that and switching to touch only the developers have shut a bunch of people out harder than an Arsenal back four. Stepping back for a moment and remembering that text, when a game makes you remove your glasses and hold the screen up to your nose, you know something is just not right.
Ok, brushing aside for a minute the painful controls, user interface and pace, the game itself does exactly what it says on the tin. It delivers a Football Manager title that is current, with more breadth and depth than most Premier League squads. The database is extensive and caters for all tastes, the control and development of tactics would be sublime if my fat fingers could get a grip of them. I missed out on the pleasure to be found trawling the transfer market for a seventeen year old reincarnation of Alan Shearer, but the game time that passed in the last week did deliver some of that old satisfaction from sneaking a last minute win or unexpected giant killing.
The game does also have some exciting new features, the match engine has moved on significantly from the text commentary only screen of yesteryear, but can be swamped with information all the same. The game can also be played out in glorious 3d, sometimes this is too much of a gimmick, but in FM land it matches the text commentary perfectly.
Another benefit would be the cross save functionality with the PC or Mac version, but not having access to that and really wanting the game on the Vita leaves me out of that position.
Overall for the fans it’s a rocket into the top corner, for someone with big fingers and dodgy eyes I’ll still be sticking to Champo 97/98 for the current season at least.