To start off with, I'd like to say that I've bought nearly every Football Manager (or Championship Manager as it used to be) since CM'93 way back in...1993. So I like to think I know a bit about the CM/FM series of management games, having experienced the major changes the game has gone through as Championship Manager became Football Manager, and can be in a position to offer an opinion on this one. Hence, my review of this game isn't about how very little has changed from FM'11, it's about the game overall and how it's developed over time.
The core of the game itself has come on leaps and bounds since the 90's. I've always been a fan of the switch to 3D - the option is there to view old school text-only commentary if people want it, so visualising the text was never a negative imo. The depth of the game is now immense, from contracts to media interaction, tactical depth to set pieces, from scouting to training, etc etc, feature wise it's great compared to older versions, and provides everything the game needs to it to be a downright brilliant experience.
However, this is where the criticisms start to mount up. Ever since switching to SEGA as publishers, Sports Interactive have been under considerably increased and tremendous pressure to rush games out in time for the pre-Christmas sales every year. In the past few years, they've released retail versions of Football Manager that have had horrendous balance issues and downright game-breaking bugs, hoping to patch the problems later on (usually releasing the main patch in March, some 5 months after release) whilst they collect as many sales as they can. And to make matters worse, they're clearly working to a development budget and cycle that doesn't give enough time or manpower to make drastic overhauls to the game. As such, the game doesn't change much at all and hasn't really since FM2008, they just continuosly tweak the same game and add more features and options (or bells and whistles) onto an outdated design that really needs to be re-written from the ground-up again. Most of us know that FM 2012 is pretty much the same as FM 2011 just with a few streamlined menu options that allow you to perform a task in 1-2 clicks that previously would have needed 3-4 clicks (certainly not worth £30), but that doesn't even begin to deal with the underlying design that is horribly outdated. A good way to think about it is that if FM 2012 were a version of Windows, it'd be Windows '98 that had been continuously patched over the next 14 years, never being re-written from the ground up. Think about all the inefficiencies and limitations that such a development model would present compared to systems that are constantly redesigned, especially in the face of competition (i.e. Windows 7 copying elements of Linux or MacOS because the others provided something innovative).
As an example of the limitations being referred to, take a look at the match engine. It hasn't changed in donkey years and the AI has become so linear it's a joke. E.g. the AI actually cheats by scripting mistakes and poor performanes into your team/players to give the impression that the AI is countering your tactics like a real life manager would. The AI doesn't have the ability to form genuine counter tactics, or exploit weaknesses in your tactics or lineup, - you just end up losing games because the game has decided you will. It's gotten to the stage where having good tactics and a well put-together team with great individuals means alot less than it used to in older versions of FM/C. This is fact, not opinion - the game code simply doesn't have this functionality.
The match engine itself also has players in specific positions doing the same repetitive motions, no matter what your instructions or what their abilities, because those specific positions are scripted to play a certain way. For example, you'll never see a centreback dribbling forward past 5-6 players like Lucio or Beckhenbauer (or even big Sol Campbell at one time) used to, no matter how much you tell them to, so if you somehow managed to get a cultured and gifted attacking defender, those attacking abilities are useless within the game. Same thing applies to many other positions, e.g. fullbacks. The Cafu's and Roberto Carlos' in real life don't exist within the match engine as fullbacks only play one way, so you could play a rubbish centreback with zero ability at right back and he'll play the same way as the equivalent of Cafu. This is all because the game is stuck with a match engine from 5+ years ago that they've only incrementally updated, and won't really make major changes to, when they really should.
Another area that I've learnt to hate is the match ratings, again completely linear - unless outfield players score a goal or get an assist, or the entire team wins by a large margin, players rarely get good ratings. So you could have a defender like Franco Baresi in your side playing the game like it's an art form week in week out, putting in 10 out of 10 defensive performance where he single handedly keeps the defense together and dominates the opposition attackers, but if it finishes 0-0 he'll get a 7 rating, 7.5 at most. Defensive midfielders like Makelele, Roy Keane, Vieira, etc, or "playmaking midfielders" like Xavi, won't get good match ratings unless they score/create goals (or again, the team wins convincingly, in which case everyone in the team automatically gets good ratings). For me, this ruins much of the fun the game should bring to players.
Other aspects of the game outside of the match engine are also outdated and probably "broken" because too much tweaking has been done to code that needs to be re-written from the ground up. E.g. the transfer market is far too weak, it's nothing like in earlier versions where competition for the next hot talent was fierce because clubs who were interested in a player would actually bid for him. In the current iteration of the game the AI clubs seem to do nothing despite there being major interest by a whole gang of suitors. And the horrendous AI squad building (encompassing both transfers and newgen development) is pretty much infamous - can the game really be fun if you can visibly see great clubs like Barcelona, Milan, ManU, etc etc, waste away whilst they buy dross? Ever wondered why it's realtively easy to build a title winning squad within 3-5 years with a mid table Premiership club? It's simple - the AI won't aggressively sign the top players when the budget is there, it won't develop it's newgens properly, there seems to be no scouting at the youth levels, and hence you can steamroller all the other AI clubs over X numbers of years because you can snap up all the future greats for peanuts with no competition early on.
There are also features of the game that haven't been fully implemented properly (again because of the rush-rush-sell-sell-patch-later development model). Player agents for example, the game needs to build better relationships between managers/clubs and certain agents, because that's sometimes what happens IRL (I know some Premiership clubs have purchased most of their players through a single agent at some points). I think footballers who want to leave for "first team football" and will accept a step down to a club at the other end of the table doesn't happen enough in this game too (e.g. Carroll to West Ham, Berbatov to Fulham, etc etc). We don't have the "European" Football Director model, i.e. where Head Scout + Director of Football signs players and the manager just picks the team and makes do with what he's given - how SI have managed to get away without implementing this (or at least giving players the choice to have this feature in the game for those clubs who IRL have it with their current management), I don't really know, as some of the biggest clubs in the world IRL have this structure. Press conferences are also a major waste of time, so much so that judging by the SI forums the majority of gamers will have their assistant managers attend them. The newgen system is still too erratic, whilst I don't think the player longetivity model works. So there are many features that need improving.
Hence I'm giving this game 2 stars out of 5, because in my opinion it is a highly frustrating experience that is benefitting from not having enough competition to force significant changes and restructuring of game concepts/code.