Football Manager 2024 marks the end of an era for Sports Interactive’s long-running football sim. 20 years of iterations culminate in what is probably the most robust and fully realised version of the game in its current form before the studio makes its big, sweeping changes and engine switch its promising for next year’s game and all games going forward.
Well, here we are again, another year, another Football Manager game. But this time it’s a bit different. According to SI, this is the final installment of Football Manager as we know it. Earlier this year the studio gave some insights into the road ahead for the long-storied franchise. FM25 will be what they are referring to as a “true sequel” for the game. They are overhauling just about every aspect of the game, and switching to Unity, a far more powerful game engine than the series currently uses. There’s not a huge amount of specifics right now, but it sounds like a pretty significant attempt at a leap forward for the studio and the game. But we aren’t here to peer into the future, we are here to talk about this year’s game, and what SI has given us is quite the swan song.
It would be easy to think that with the studio having one eye on the future of the series, this year’s game would not have gotten too much attention and simply have been FM23 repackaged with updated squads and leagues. However, what SI has done, is release the most comprehensive and polished version of the game we have ever had. I have sunk more hours than I care to think about into each year’s iteration of this game since 2014, and I can safely say that FM24 feels more complete than any version that has come before it. It feels like the perfect crescendo for the series as we know it, an amalgamation of 20 years of tweaks and changes that gives the current series the send-off it deserves. If you are unfamiliar with the series, Football Manager tasks you with being exactly that, a football manager. In the game, you will take control of pretty much all the aspects that football management entails, tactics, signings, training, talking to the press, etc. Whilst you do this, the game will simulate an entire world of football around you helping immerse you in its pages and pages of menus. It’s within this huge simulation that the game shines, creating year after year of results, winners and losers and world-class players.
So let’s talk about what’s new. With an annual cadence of releases, Football Manager has always been a series of small iterations and a slow drip feed of new features. Over the past few years, you might have been hard-pressed to notice any significant changes, but almost immediately with Football Manager 24, you can get a sense of the new features and how they are going to impact the way you play. The game features set piece coaches for the first time and a revamped set piece maker. This clear-to-parse and simpler-to-use version allows you to fine-tune your set pieces and make sure you have the right players in the right positions to fully take advantage of them. Player agents were often seen as a thorn in your side, taking a cut out of your transfer budget for doing seemingly very little.
However, now that they can be used to your advantage, you can speak to them to gain a better understanding of players’ market value when it comes to selling time. You can now also higher intermediaries to help drum up interest in your unwanted players and possibly help you get a better price for them. In previous games, unloading unwanted players could be a bit of a nightmare, so it’s nice to have some options available to you when the time comes to do this. One of last year’s features, the squad planner, has had an overhaul and is now much less clunky to use. There are changes to the financial fair play rules, giving you more fiscal hoops to jump through when it comes to the running of a club and a more true-to-life experience.
There is the introduction of the Japanese football leagues, the first time they have featured in the series. Under the hood, there’s also been a whole host of tweaks to how AI managers will manage their teams and tactics and how they will explore the transfer market. There’s the introduction of a new position, the inverted wingback(think Kyle Walker at Man City, or Zinchenko at Arsenal). While only a minor change in the grand scheme of things, it shows a reflection of what’s happening right now in the real game and allows you options to create more real life feeling tactics for your squad.
The culmination of all these new features along with a more sleek look and fine-tuning of the mechanics have felt like a breath of fresh air for the series, giving you new things to poke and prod at and work out how to use them to your favor. However as always if you don’t want to interact with any of these, you can simply farm them out to your assistant manager and coaches. The art of management is delegation after all. Also for the first time in the series history, you can now transfer your save across from last year’s game. This is a nice feature for folks who aren’t quite ready to give up on the legacy they have built in FM23, and works pretty seamlessly
Changes To The Game
Probably the most noticeable changes to the game have been to the matchday engine itself. Improved lighting and textures make the stadiums feel more alive and the pitches look more like grass rather than a bright green slab of concrete. Improved player animations and AI make the players move and interact with one another more dynamically. The ball moves more like a ball. That sentence might sound silly, but if you have played any previous FM games you will probably know that the ball acted more like a hockey puck at times and seemed to zip around the pitch in a very unnatural fashion. Now it bounces, bobbles, spins and floats more like a real football which just looks so much better than it used to. Don’t get me wrong, the match engine is never going to get mistaken for the real thing, or even a game of fifa at a distance, but all these changes feel substantial. The games are just more fun to watch now. The combination of the dynamic players and the more fluid ball movement feel like a big step up from last year’s game and the games I’m watching feel just a bit more true to life than they have done before.
However, with all these new bells and whistles Football Manager is still Football Manager. A lot of the gripes I and others have with the game are still here. It’s still a huge time sink, maybe even more so now if you really want to interact with all the new features and not delegate any of the responsibilities. Renegotiating 30 plus under 18s contracts before the start of a season can begin to feel like a punishment rather than an enjoyable aspect of the game. Once again not every team in the game is officially licensed, including the Premier League. This can be quite immersion breaking for some people, there are third party ways around it, but these do require some file jiggery pokery which not everyone is up for doing. While the graphical updates aren’t going to make your PC struggle, a large player database can certainly make your game take a while to load. This can be alleviated by having the game simulate less leagues, but as you do this the games world starts to feel a little less alive and your pool of players to sign gets smaller.
But annual gripes aside, this is probably the best the game has ever been. Football Manager 24 is everything we have come to know and love about the series, polished to a fine sheen. This year’s new features help with giving you more to interact with and make you feel like you have some more control of the simulation. And the work done to player animations and ball physics makes the games more fun to watch. If you’re new to the series, the game still does a good job of guiding you through its densely layered menus. And if you are returning to the series, it’s very apparent that a lot of time and effort went into giving the game as we know it the proper send of that it deserves. It will be interesting to see what the future brings for Football Manager, and what direction the series heads in over the years to come. For now though we can be content with the most solid and feature-rich entry we have ever had.