We'll get this right out of the way - this review isn't going to appeal to about 95% of the members of this forum. If you've clicked through from Facebook or Twitter though, welcome! This might just appeal to you.
So then, Football Manager. It's pretty much a staple of the football gamer's season, alongside either FIFA or PES (let's face it, you won't buy both...right?) Since the start of the series in 2005 (it was known as Championship Manager beforehand), the game has gone from strength to strength and the last game I played, FM2009, was pretty much definitive. Has enough changed in the past three years to get a casual player such as myself addicted?
Let's start off with the basics. This game is scarily up to date. Most football games are up to date when it comes to transfers made during the summer window, but then there's the Carlos Tevez saga. Granted, this happened a good three weeks before the game shipped to store shelves, but note that I've been playing it for about two weeks prior to that. Sports Interactive actually put the fallout from that event into the game. It helps to really put you in the place of a manager right now, as everything is current.
The game also feels a lot more accessible, compared to previous games. If you're new to the series, there's a heap of tutorials that can help you out, or advance your knowledge if, like me, you've been away for a while. You can also delegate members of your coaching staff to do things like pick teams and set tactics, if you fancy.
So, I went ahead and set a profile up. I couldn't manage the mighty Grantham Town (local team, and yes, they are in the game), so I went for Manchester United instead. Cue instant disapproval from the fans, as I'm not a recognisable name, however they soon warm to me following a 6-0 battering of Man City. Fans are very important in this game. Perform well, and they'll love you. Perform badly, and the negative reaction can see the board wielding the axe. The threshold for this is obviously different based on the club you choose, but for Man United, it's quite low.
What of the other features? The 3D match engine returns again, and it's really not that impressive. Sure, it's not going to beat FIFA or PES in the graphics race, and SI aren't known for this side of games development, but that can't quite excuse it from looking like a low end PS2 title. The engine has been in the game since 2009, and a little improvement would have been welcome. Nice touch with the stadiums though - if they're meant to be empty, they're empty. No full houses all the time (looking at you FIFA).
The biggest improvements, year on year, do seem to be the interactions between yourself and your staff, both backroom and playing. Being able to call Backroom Meetings enables you to get an overview on how the playing staff are performing in training sessions, whilst Player Meetings can help to boost morale, although saying the wrong things can lower it as well. I know this from experience.
On the fact of player interactions, you now have a lot more options during pre-match, half time and full time team talks in matches, the best of which is being able to pick the actual tone. Telling somebody passionately that they're playing well will elicit a different response than it would by saying it calmly, or even reluctantly. These are all things we'd know from real life, but seeing it in a game like this is welcome.
I've been a longtime FM fan since the Championship Manager days, but it's safe to say that my enjoyment of the games has waned a lot over the years. FM2009 was an absolute drain on resources, whereas FM2012 is a lot smoother, and faster, thus meaning I could actually enjoy the game, and not spend half the time looking at a loading screen.
There's just a wealth of content in this game, and I haven't even scratched the surface in this review. Being able to add/remove clubs and leagues during the middle of a season, increased scouting options, better transfer negotiations (or worse if you hate agents). The game even auto adjusts the layout depending on the screen resolution! It's just amazing that so much has been done in the space of 12 months.
Let's face it, if you're a football fan, it's impossible to imagine that you won't buy FM2012. Having not played FM2011, I'm not entirely sure of the improvements over that game, but if you're on-again off-again like I have been, you can file this one safely in the "must buy" range. If you've played FM2011, then feel free to deduct a point from the score below. It's probably not as essential, but it's still the best football management game available. Bring on Football Manager 2013.