Football Manager Live Review (PC)

Based on the largely successful "Football Manager" series from SEGA, Football Manager Live is a Massively Multiplayer Online variant, allowing you to create and take charge of your own football team, and pit it against other player’s teams from around the world. Because of the nature of the game itself, it differs significantly to the classic Football Manager formula, although it does keep on the basic elements such as the match engine and other core concepts.

First things first – you’ll need to create an account. Like all MMO’s, FML follows a subscription based model, so you have to jump through the hoops before you can even sign in, including the “game world” you will want to inhabit. When you do sign in though - the first thing you’ll need to do is create you own team. This is where things differ from the previous games. Gone are the chances to show Scolari how Chelsea should have been run, or to take your fledging local heroes and spur them on to the premier league. Instead, you create your own fictional team, although you can choose from real players that are in any of the football leagues at the moment. In order to start everyone off on an equal footing, new managers are given a set budget to begin with, so they can only hire players they can afford - so no trying to bag Rooney from the off. However, do well enough and earn enough money, then you will eventually be able to wield your all-star team, provided they haven’t 'retired'.

The chat interface lets you talk to varying groups of people, not only your friends.
The match interface may be old school, but it works, and lets you concentrate on the more important things.

The various game worlds go through cyclical ‘seasons’, which typically last about a month, with a few weeks in-between. After each season all of the football players age by one year, and eventually they get retired. This means that they get replaced by made-up characters, so as time goes on, the game world will get more and more fictional. A necessary step to keep the game going, but will it cause people to lose interest? Would you still feel the same about the game when you know the people you are controlling are fictional, as opposed to your favourite all stars? Only time will tell on that one. It is the same system used in previous Football Manager games; however things are slightly different now that you’re paying a subscription.

You can also choose a name for your own fictional stadium, choose team colours, manager traits, and even join a player Football Association that fits your playing style. It’s surprising how many Role-playing elements actually factor into what is basically an online sports simulation – you have your Guilds (The FA’s), your character (The Team), your skills (The Manager Traits)... whilst these elements might upset some of the hardcore Football Manager fans, it does help make the game more accessible to the wider online audience. The Manager traits especially call out to the role-players among us, as the skills you train/learn will help your team in the long run.

There is also a huge social networking aspect that has been included in the form of integrated chat rooms, Player Football Associations, Auctions, even a Buy/Sell/Trade feature, which impacts heavily on user interaction (How long do you think it will be before someone figures out a scam using the transfer system?). You can also save and share clips of goals that you thought were rather spectacular, although somehow seeing a circle cause a smaller circle to impact into an open rectangle doesn’t quite have the same effect as real football goals do. Still, there are regular votes for the ‘best goal’, and players can even barter favours for votes if they so wish.

It's important to keep track of your finances, and to make sure you don’t go over budget.
Nothing inspires competitiveness like some good old fashioned standings.

Apart from the initial tutorial, there’s nothing much left to do then sort your team out, and find matches. These are very straight forward affairs – you can either submit yourself to the match-maker system, or agreed matches with any of the players. There are a range of tournaments and competitions to enter your team into, from player created tournaments, to your Football Associations League Tables, to the all-encompassing grand titles.

Using the old-school 2D engine, matches are interesting affairs. The main overview presents you with a bird’s eye view of the playing field, and you can sit back and watch the coloured circles that are your players moving about the pitch in an animated fashion. True Managers however will be looking at the stats, subtly changing tactics and making substitutions as time ticks away. It can be a lot to get your head around, but Football Manager Veterans should feel right at home, and newcomers, well, we’ll just have to learn as we go!

There’s more to the game then just matches though. There are a few other micro-managing like tasks that you have to be aware off, specifically your home stadium. Setting prices, development, managing finances... it’s all part of the package, and not only do you have to engineer a successful team, you have to keep the ‘fans’ happy as well.

There's always one who wants to play hardball...
There's a multitude of different interface screens for you to pay attention to.

The one thing that is slightly negative about the game is the interface. Whilst it does look pretty slick at first glance, it can at times become a labyrinth of menus and sub-menus, sometimes repeated, and navigating around the place can take some getting used to. Still, it does some things right, such as separating the chat client from the main program. Un-initiates to the FM world will probably be a little lost to begin with, especially with trying to get their heads around all of the player stats.

All in all though, Football Manager Live is a solid addition to the series. A part of you can’t help but wish that they would just tag this along with one of the other games as an online ‘component’, but that would be too easy wouldn’t it? It’ll be interesting to see if this game makes it to the consoles, likes some of its predecessors, but either way, Football Manager fans should find a lot here to keep them occupied for a good while.

Top Game Moment: Winning your first match, when you have now idea how.

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