This is agonizingly close to being a fantastic game, but unfortunately contains enough irritations to make it (for me) unplayable.
Minor annoyances within the game aside, it's the match engine that's at fault. If they could sort out the following, all would be well:
1. The human player is unable to instruct the goalkeeper to distribute the ball to defenders, thus building from the back and retaining possession. Tick boxes exist for this, but they don't work. On the game company's website, pretend experts on message boards advise how to get your keeper to do this, but their advice doesn't work and even if it did it would invalidate most tactical setups (anything without an ultra-deep defensive line). Instead, your keeper will hoof the ball up the other end of the field (in the vague direction of your most inappropriate player to receive such balls), only for it to ping all the way back to your own penalty area for constant reverse-route-one attempts on your goal. Your keeper, allied with unrealistic AI clearances, is thus the opposition's most effective attacker. In FM9, the act of translating the 2D view to 3D evidently brought home, at long last, the unrealism of this to the programmers. While the GK distribution instructions STILL don't work, the reverse-route-one AI attempts at goal have been toned down.
However, in FM8 it will account for 30% - 40% of goals conceded. This wouldn't be quite so annoying if this affected the AI team in the same way. It doesn't. The AI team can build from the back perfectly well.
This amounts to the game cheating. Intentional or not.
2. The effect of team talks and pre-game press releases are wildly overdone. Pick the wrong pre-match teamtalk (no matter how reasonable) and you won't even get out of your own half, no matter what your tactics. You just have to hope you get the half time talk right and the ai manager doesn't.
In FM7 the team talks had an effect but not to the extend that tactics were sometimes rendered redundant. In FM8 you can almost immediately tell if you've chosen the wrong talk; if you have it really isn't worth watching the game, tweaking tactics, anything.
3. The AI team will score the vast majority of their free kicks within ten yards of your penalty area by deflecting the ball off your wall. This will account for another 30-40% of goals conceded. It's almost like awarding them a penalty. Again, no such luxury for the human player. It wouldn't be so bad if I also had a "bounce free kicks off the wall for 30 goals a season" option. Effectively another AI cheat.
4. The AI team has at it's disposal a cheat tactic. The ultra attacking 4-2-4 it uses if required in the closing stages of a game. This will score it the required amount, without fail.
There are extreme measures that can be taken to counter this. You must have a pre-prepared anti-4-2-4 tactic ready and waiting! Watch the match with the opposition's formation visible. The very nanosecond they change to the 4-2-4 cheat tactic, hit pause, go into tactics and institute your counter 4-2-4 ct measures.
Problem: the game can wait for up to 12 minutes of match time before implementing your tactical changes. When do you think it will do that? Yep, when the AI team are running around celebrating the inevitable 4-2-4 cheat tactic goal.
In a previous incarnation of the game (CM3-4) some bright spark came up with a tactic called "Diablo". This human player's tactic destroyed the AI team's tactics. "Cheat", the game purists cried and vilified anyone using it. Strange how SI can programme a cheat tactic into the game to use against the human player, isn't it.
5. For some odd reason, the programmers have deemed goalkeepers congenitally unable to keep hold of the ball, except for the very weakest shots straight at them. The few goals you concede that aren't from AI free kicks bouncing off your wall, reverse route one goals from your own keeper or 4-2-4 cheat tactic goals will mostly be from the ball bouncing, yet again, off your keeper and falling conveniently for an attacker to stroke it into an open goal.
This, though, is one fault where the human player will score as much as the AI. Still annoying, though. This sort a goal happens in real life, but is far too frequent here.
If these things (three of them effectively AI cheats) could be improved it would be a five star game.
As things stand, the match engine is far too annoying to play. A game I can't play is worth nothing.
Buy FM7 - very good. Has faults, many similar to FM8, but not so extreme. Unfortunately, FM8 inherited FM7's match engine faults and multiplied their effect to an intolerable extent.