Football Manager 2013
As the years have gone by, Football Manager has grown increasingly complex, and its critics have tired of the increased demands on time and effort it requires, with managers now expected to detail training routines and provide individual player instructions in games.
For others, the game's depth is its greatest strength, and this year managers must contend with more complex tactical planning, as well as matters such as the tightening of Financial Fair Play rules and countries' disparate tax laws (post-tax wages are now prominently displayed, to emphasise the point). "We have to be mindful of the fact that it happens in real life and so it happens in the game as well," Sports Interactive boss Miles Jacobson said in an interview with PC Gamer last year.
Yet, while its complexity can be overwhelming, the game still allows the armchair Harry Redknapp to thrive just as the armchair Rafa Benitez, even in simulation mode; Football Manager 2013 provides many ways to skin a cat.
Just as in real life, there is no universal law stipulating managers must take responsibility for everything that goes on at their club. While some may seek to be a modern-day Herbert Chapman, looking after every detail, others might adopt the Sir Alex Ferguson model, trusting staff to carry out a wide array of duties at the club. Appoint a reliable assistant and he can take charge of post-match press conferences, training, booking and controlling friendlies, and plenty more besides, allowing you to dip in when you see fit. You can even appoint a director of football to look after contract negotiations.
There are striking aesthetic changes, too, with the interface undergoing a major redesign. However, while it is to be expected that new layouts will bring inevitable initial frustration for seasoned users, the implementation is less than perfect: the use of hover menus, particularly in-game, can be needlessly vexing.
The match engine has also evolved, but its slickness renders it more artificial and can hardly be considered an enhancement. The insistence on showing the action immediately after the kick-off and before the full-time whistle for those requesting only key highlights is questionable, too. Your assistant will also provide advice throughout games - suggesting tactical tweaks and warning of tiring players - which is a welcome addition, but the speech bubbles can obscure the match action.
For those who had grown accustomed to the 2012 edition, the adaptation period will almost certainly lead to annoyances, and even given time it is hard to shake the impression that some changes are a step backwards, but this remains an intensely absorbing, and ever more accurate, simulation of life in the dugout. Show patience, and forgive its minor foibles, for Football Manager 2013 is by some distance the finest managerial sim you will find.
It is fair to say that the footballing gaming landscape has changed over recent years. So much so that the detail which was Football Manager's prized possession has now become a frustration for some users. Enter Classic Mode.
For a gamer who still uses a 2001-02 version of the classic Championship Manager (after downloading updated squads of course), this was a god send; a way back into the FM world. What was found was a less time-consuming, streamlined version of a great game. Something the user who is focused on tactics, trainings, contracts and transfers and nothing else, will enjoy.
Of course the spec of the Classic Mode is shortened. There is less information and news, no need to indulge the media in as many press conferences, while player and board interaction is kept to a minimum. Tactically, the players respond to team directions, but there is no option for the personal touch and instructions are simple to bark out without getting bogged down.
Transfers and scouting is streamlined to the point where you can practically skip over the negotiations and avoid the long conversations with agents, while not compromising your managerial nous on things like starting line-up, tactics, and the final decision on the sale/purchase of players like any manager in the real world.
Matchday scenarios have a number of options like 'Instant Result' which can make the time fly by, while there is also the ability to switch from the 3D match engine to a more basic commentary bar if your computer (or even you) can't handle the increased graphical display in the newer FM versions.
The key question for me was: how quickly can you finish a season? The answer: around 10 ten hours, which means a three or four day campaign for those who can spare a few hours per day. If you don't fancy a season, try a Challenge Mode where you can jump into a situation like saving Tottenham from the drop when they only had two points from eight games before Harry Redknapp arrived in 2009.
It's a shame that particular scenario is not part of the game, actually; Redknapp would love FM13's Classic Mode.