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Gareth Campesinos! Reviews: FM 2011

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The RPS Hivemind does not know this “foot-to-ball”, nor the management thereof. It has therefore called in an expert – Los Campesinos! singer, Gareth Campesinos! – to review Football Manager 2011 on its behalf. Other websites get the work experience kid to do it, we turn to pop stars. A lesson, there.

Is it wrong to think that Rock, Paper, Shotgun‘s readership would be anything like those who steer the ship? Other than intelligent and attractive, I specifically mean completely bemused by the concept of “foot-to-ball”. Perhaps more bemused that this popular series of Football Management Sims offer no control as such, and is perhaps as visually stimulating as a GNVQ IT student’s final project on Microsoft Access. Present me your heartstrings…

I received my first personal copy of Football Manager (or, Championship Manager as it was known then) for my twelfth birthday (I was also gifted a copy of The Beautiful South’s ‘Blue Is The Colour’ by my parents on this anniversary. With hindsight, this was probably the most important day of my life). The date coincided with a Christmas Disco at my school. The first party of note of my senior education years. I remember leaving the dancing early so that I could recommence with the more pressing issue of guiding Fulham to promotion to the Premier League. And so began a routine that continued over the next year or so, whereby I would go to bed as early as my body allowed (as parents could police how long I spent on the computer in the evening) so that I could get up at 4am the next morning to continue my season, while they were still sleeping.

Whilst overthinking, it becomes apparent that the Football Manager series is a massive constant in my life. A safety rail running parallel with an icy slope. Some of the moments that have most shaped my life were played out while I was more concerned about how I could tweak my Southampton side’s preferred formation while star winger and provider Youssef Hersi was undergoing ligament surgery. At the age of 13, as the news of my parent’s separation was broken to me in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, I sat, eyes transfixed on Championship Manager 3, the blow of trailing 3-1 at home to Wimbledon in the League Cup more real, and more immediately troubling than the break-up of everything I’d known before.

My middle teenage years were spent flitting between the “Tactics and Training Tips” and “Off Topic” forums on the Sports Interactive message boards, while I simultaneously discussed the best way to play with two holding midfielders, and bragged about my first sexual experiences. Real heavy stuff. A couple of years later, that relationship petered out as we sat on her single bed, she chain watching Sex And The City boxsets, and me wishing she was more like Jeremie Aliadiere. To be fair, she’d probably have wished the same if she’d known.

All this tumultuous Football Manager related emotional history makes it no wonder that I’m late submitting this review due to the past week and a half having been spent escorting my current girlfriend in and out of A+E, and gently stroking my keyboard, and her forehead, in a darkened room, trying my hardest to be quiet and not wake her, sending her into migraine hell once more. And more so, trying not to seem too chuffed with myself at guiding Birmingham to Champions League qualification in my first season as boss, in case my joy made me seem insensitive of her plight.

I know I can rely on you Football Manager.

And that’s what this instalment of Football Manager is, really. Reliable. Every couple of years sees a reasonably massive overhaul of the game’s general interface and set up. In the past this has seen the game evolve from subtitle-esque text commentary, to top down Battleship style 2D view, and most recently a (for my needs, pretty redundant) basic 3D match engine. But Football Manager doesn’t need to revolutionise its gameplay every year, because its main attraction lies in geeking out on its huge depth of knowledge, and for this reason, FM2011 is largely a data update with some neat, timely additions.

FM’s always done a marvellous job of keeping up with football’s most pressing contemporary issues, and this means the club you want to manage this year is mired in millions of pounds of debt and the board’s not letting you buy any new players ’cause they’re trying to flog their shares and don’t want any more of your useless acquisitions making your club an even less attractive proposition on the stock exchange. But honestly, this is what makes it so much fun. People looking for cheap kicks play FIFA or Pro Evo, whereas Football Manager addicts enjoy the torture and the struggle as much as the glory.

One of the immediately obvious supplements to the game play is the new “have private chat” function. This allows you to call players to your fictional office and either massage your star man’s ego or give them the ‘hairdryer treatment’. Sadly, though in theory these advances are entertaining, they can become rather formulaic. I know the public perception deems that footballers are meant to be unintelligent and personality free, but the rather limited directions that conversations can go in (this criticism also applies to most of the press conference and media interactions) reinforces this and can cause this aspect of the game to become a little dull, leading me to often delegate such interaction to my fictional assistant manager, while I hit space bar to carry me through to the cut and thrust of transfer negotiations and match day dramatics.

If you care about Football Manager (and really, it’s the sort of series you do /care/ about) I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know (except for that sad stuff about my parents breaking up). The truth is, I could say this game was rubbish and it’d make little difference. Your relationship has probably already been cemented, like mine, and even this revelation that you’re sharing your soul-mate isn’t gonna make you think any less of her. She’ll never give you any trouble. Love you, Football Manager.

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