Top critical review
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Fundamental flaws hold back a lot of potential
on 18 December 2012
There is huge promise in this game - many of the changes Sports Interactive have made are genuine improvements: a thoroughly enjoyable transfer deadline day simulator, a simpler training system, expanded yet more user-friendly staff roles and some graphical upgrades. The new classic mode is fine - not really my kind of thing but will probably suit some users. There are some new 'unlockables' which you can purchase from SI (like injecting your club with a bunch of transfer cash mid game) for real world money - these feel like rather poorly-disguised efforts at a money-making scheme by SI, but ultimately they do not harm. Importantly, they do not interfere with the main game - you are not being forced to pay for features of the game you used to get for free, but being given (largely unnecessary) extras that you can buy if you want to. A lot of the further small changes feel redundant and unnecessary, but do no harm, and there are many areas in which FM13 has clearly improved on past iterations of this series.
Unfortunately, these improvements are outweighed considerably by one disastrous change for the new game: SI's decision to entirely overhaul their match day engine six months before the game's release. When the BETA version of the game was (quite sensibly) released early to allow the public to participate in the testing process, this was revealed to be a major regression on the match-engine of previous versions of the game. It was improved for the game's full release, but seemingly SI just could not get it up to scratch in the two weeks they left themselves to do so. It is a crippling weakness for FM13 - whilst the match engine is superior to FM12 in a couple of (relatively minor areas) it is much worse in others. Absurd mistakes flow from all levels of footballer, players routinely ignore visually blatant opportunities to intercept passes, score fluke goals far too often, struggle to achieve pass-completion rates that would be mediocre in real life, and no matter how good they are meant to be at following your instructions, in practice persistently ignore them. Things frequently happen on the pitch which are simply inexplicable, like three Premiership players all running towards the ball and merging on the same spot, missing it, and leaving acres of space for opposition players to walk into (and probably score). The impact of all this is that a) as the manager, you are in fact much less able to control your team now than you were in FM12 and b) most matches feel fundamentally implausible - a poor simulation of the tactical systems and players on the pitch.
This is not just unrealistic expectations from me about the realism a computer game can achieve - I have played many past versions of the FM series, and the point is that this match engine is fundamentally worse. SI have basically started again from scratch, and one fears that it will take them a long time to even get the new engine back to the level of the old one. This regression necessarily outweighs the other areas of improvement since, unless you can ultimately enjoy the experience of watching and directing your team in the area where, fundamentally, all your other decisions come together, the rest of the game may be imminently enjoyable but is ultimately pointless. There is little satisfaction in simulating transfer deadline day better (as mentioned, one of the best features of the new game) when you can't actually get your signings to play realistically in a football match.
Above all else, this state of affairs is hugely frustrating, and represents an unforgivable approach towards game design from SI. To spend an entire year introducing "over 900 improvements" to the game, hyped up through a series of youtube videos, without fundamentally getting the most crucial feature of the game - its ability to simulate football matches - right, represents a wanton lack of design-skill and abject efforts at game testing by the development team. Perhaps even worse, it displays a staggering neglect for the fan-base, ignoring its consistent requests for improvement in the match-day experience, in favour of a plethora of typically needless alterations designed to bump up the "this is how many changes we made" number for advertising purposes. No one, except, it would seem, SI's game designers, can possibly believe that (slightly bizarre) rotating new camera angles, or a bewildering new array of buttons on the game interface, are more important than making the football matches realistic. Whilst this game does have some nice new features, these only render the fatal flaws at its core all the more frustrating.
Football Manager has no rival these days, and FM13 displays the problematic complacency such a monopoly creates. I strongly advise against buying it, at least until a major patch has been released and found to work by the fan-base (check out the SI community forums to find out). For now, your only, and preferable, alternatives are to either stick with FM12, or wait for FM14 (though do a thorough search of the SI forums to see if the game's fans think these problems have been fixed first!). I appreciate that some reviewers here (and even some gaming magazines) have given the game high ratings - but, with respect, I strongly feel that this reflects a very superficial assessment. The game is presentationally well put together, and contains a variety of exciting new features. Play it for any length of time, however (particularly if you are familiar with what was on offer in previous versions) and you are highly likely to find it extraordinarily frustrating.