Football Manager 2024 review: the dutiful game
This latest edition of the management sim finds fascination in a every facet of a gaffer’s role
While the entire games industry is pulling in one direction towards greater realism, massive photorealistic open worlds and such, Football Manager stands alone, tugging determinedly in the other: show less, make the player engage more. It’s a strong showing this year, because its new features serve FM’s ultimate purpose: getting you to build an entire footballing ecosystem in your head.
When you sign a player in EA Sports’ FC24, you’re treated to cutscenes of character models in suits, lolloping about in a fancy office, ostensibly signing paperwork. You get a kick out of seeing Victor Osimhen in your office, fine, but FM24 does it better by taking the exact opposite approach. Using only menus, reams of text and dialogue bubbles, it describes the same scene and inflames your imagination to build it in far more vivid detail than a cutscene ever could.
Which is all very well and good, but let’s remember that we’re talking about a series of nearly thirty games about depictions of footballers expressed as spreadsheets. As great as it is, that imaginary tale of Mourinho-like dominance that lives in large part in your head, the precise mechanics that power it matter. As with any annual franchise, you need to feel a sense of forward motion.
Here are the new additions, then, in Football Manager 2024: match engine improvements including animations and lighting. An overhauled transfer system in which AI managers are a touch more thoughtful about their signings and where offloading your own players can be done in a few new ways. Setting targets with players to get them to work for that new contract or more game time, and a new set-piece tactic creator.
Are they any good? Well, they remind you that you’re playing a new game quite often, and when you consider that FM has a unique capacity to sap hundreds of hours from you with each release, family members waving goodbye at your oblivious face as they walk out of the front door forever, that’s saying something. We’re all incredibly familiar with the fundamental experience by now so it matters when we’re reminded that an important piece of the puzzle has changed.
The best of that bunch is everything you notice in the match engine. The lighting’s a tiny bit nicer this year which adds a bit more depth and realism, but it’s the newfound quality of animations that prompt you into devastatingly embarrassing Alan Pardew dance moves of sheer joy.
It looks more like football now. Running animations transition more fluidly into jumps for headers or flashes of defender-ruining tekkers. What that means for you in your virtual dugout is that it’s easier to figure out the players who are making the difference on the pitch. It’s easier to see where your system’s going wrong. The more like Match of the Day it looks, the more faith you can put in your own managerial eye.
When you’re away from the pitch and in your office of menu screens and emails, the pace slows considerably. It’s been this way for a decade or more, and it drives a certain corner of the community as vexed as a certain Arsenal manager repeatedly failing to locate his pocket. Unfortunately there’s no way to zip through the seasons like the Championship Manager games allowed, so the question is: is there real enjoyment in the minutiae, beyond a nod of appreciation for the realism of it all?
When it comes to talking to your players and setting objectives with them, there is. They’re not always willing to set a target with you - often they just want more money or game time right now thanks, and can their agent have a million quid too for their troubles please and thank you? But when they do agree that you’ll enter negotiations for a new contract if they record 10 assists in 25 domestic games this season, you feel like you’re managing a human being, not just a spreadsheet of numbers from 1-20.
There’s an intensity to transfer battles which is probably best described as type 2 fun. Smarter AI managers means increased difficulty in getting good deals done. It feels like you’re trying to get the deal done surreptitiously while sitting on a bus seat between Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, for all the chances you have of keeping it under wraps.
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Under TG’s questionable stewardship, AS Roma are keeping themselves in the 2024-25 Serie A title fight. And what will keep that alternate universe of football motoring along is that Tammy Abraham and Leonardo Spinazzola feel like close friends to us now, people we’ve made promises to and taken into our office to offer words of encouragement after a drop in form or a devastating injury. It might crawl along slower than a striker being subbed off in the 89th minute who 20 seconds ago was moving at a full sprint to meet a cross, but Football Manager 2024 keeps inflaming your imagination with all the tiny details, all the facets of a manager’s job they don’t show on All Or Nothing. Once again it succeeds in getting you to build the world in your head, and it should be celebrated like a derby day win for that.