Football Manager 2008 Review (Xbox360)

It's time to don the Afghan coat, invest in some beta blockers and brush up on your swearing as Football Manager 2008 opens its gates to the 360 stat-perverts. With a tuned-up game engine and a few new features, it's a decent (if badly-timed) annual update and Football Manager still offers the most in-depth management experience on the 360. But a few old problems remain and Sports Interactive has done little to expand the series' selective appeal.

Newcomers are likely to be intimidated by the text-heavy menu system, but Football Manager has always been about realism. The amount of options on offer is undeniably impressive and loyal fans will not be disappointed by the tactical depth of FM2008. Almost every aspect of the football team is adjustable, from the club budget all the way down to individual player movements on-pitch. In order to win games, you'll need to keep an eye on your defensive line, tell your midfielders how to get the ball to your strikers and play to the strengths of your forwards. It's not an easy balance to strike and if you choose to play as a more modest team, you may well have to suffer some soul-crushing defeats before you experience a run of form. This writer's brave Sunderland squad discovered a late burst of Dunkirk fighting spirit to avoid relegation by a single point. It's by no means an easy game, but SI has tried to make some concessions to the data-dazzled newbie.

Pretty emo for a 53-year-old.

Aldershot and Altrincham in disappointing match shocker!

Backroom staff play a larger role this time around, and as a new manager you'll be provided with some indispensable advice. Scouts and coaches can help with team selection as well as compiling training and performance reports on your own players and anyone else you've got your eye on. It's an attempt to ease the player into the deep end of the game and it works well. Once you embrace the depth on offer it's impossible to ignore all the nice touches scattered throughout. From choosing the home pitch size to bartering with the board for a half-decent transfer budget, FM2008 lets you inhabit the role completely. On occasions you'll be asked by the media to comment on controversial incidents and the game allows you to review them in the match engine before responding. It's this kind of detailing that draws the player into an absorbing experience. During games, the basic top-down match view is enthralling and you'll find yourself frantically cheering your team of dots as they knock the ball about.

The match engine is as detailed and deep as everything else in FM2008. The matches you will watch are incident-packed, exciting affairs that feel realistic. Tempers will be lost, referees will make bad decisions and you'll see the occasional 30 yard screamer. The game also allows you to choose how to watch a match the default setting is a mixture of classic Championship Manager-style text descriptions and on-pitch highlights. However, the game can also be watched in full in the pitch view in near-real time, complete with injury-delays and time-wasting. Not everyone will want to sit through the full coverage of a 0-0 snooze-fest, but it's a great option that offers the manager real insight into the way their team plays.

Transfers involve more than just meeting an asking price.

Take heed of your club's staff they can offer helpful advice.

However, while the match engine is one of the finer aspects of FM2008, it also highlights the game's biggest problems. The matches will regularly start to chug, as the 360 struggles to deal with the information being processed, leading to some jerky moments. It's a sad reminder that you're playing a game designed for PCs. Although console and PC gaming technology is converging (hard drives, multi-core processing), the PC clearly has the edge when it comes to management sims. The sheer amount of information to be dealt with means you'll spend a lot of time looking watching the 'processing' bar fill. Often very slowly. There are also times when the game all but grinds to a halt as the menus become unresponsive and scrolling becomes impossible. It seems a little buggy in places and there's nothing worse than putting 15 hours into a season only for the save file to be corrupted. And then there's the controls...

Obviously, a game offering this level of statistical depth must use menus, but negotiating those menus with a joypad must be easy. And, in FM2008, it isn't. Although much-improved from its first outing on the 360, Football Manager's controls are still fiddly and inconsistent. The trigger and bumper menus are useful but, in general, navigation feels clumsy. Using the sticks to find your way through the menus feels imprecise and sometimes the game will switch up the button configuration from one menu to the next. It's illogical, confusing and ultimately annoying but, strangely, after a while it almost clicks. You begin to look out for the exceptions and, whilst it never becomes intuitive, it is functional

Busy periods of the season will take their toll on team fitness.

Steve Ashworth: hates kids

Given the choice, it's unlikely that anyone would choose FM2008 on the 360 over the PC version given the control and performance issues, but it's still a valuable addition to the 360's library. Although Sports Interactive has made efforts to make Football Manager more user-friendly, it's hardly accessible. The new adviser system goes some way to helping but most players will find themselves lost at some point. For some the degree of realism will feel intimidating and time-consuming. However, those that choose to delve deeper into the game will find an engrossing and rewarding experience. A losing streak inspires the player to experiment with their team and that's where the satisfaction lies. You'll want to congratulate your players when they perform well and holler at them when they mess up (Jonny Evans has still not been forgiven for giving away a crucial penalty against Newcastle).

Still the best, still with problems, Football Manager offers a staggering level of depth. Those willing to embrace it will lose hour upon hour to the game, perched on the edge of their seat, screaming at the referee in the kind of language that would offend Gordon Ramsay. As management should be.

Top Gaming Moment: Beating Arsenal 4-1 with an injury-stricken Sunderland squad.

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