When the Xbox 360 was first announced, it was with great surprise that we heard Football Manager, the world's number one footy management game, was coming to the system. It wasn't that the game was bad or that it wouldn't have the market, it's just hard to see why you would put what really in terms of graphics a fairly bland and basic game on the most powerful console available today. However now that the game has shipped there's a few reasons why it will be a success, not the least that sitting on the couch for hours on end is a lot more entertaining than sitting on a cramped computer desk.
Football Manager, for those who don't know, was the game that replaced Championship Manager when Sports Interactive cut ties with Eidos a few years back to join up with SEGA who incidentally now own the company. However FM is not a new franchise, in fact its one of the oldest franchises around in the footy sim genre which is making a comeback. As with any management game if you don't like statistics or reading numbers and finding that once in a lifetime gem player, then FM is most definitely not for you.
FM on the 360 offers a number of game modes, sadly none of which include Xbox Live. The first mode is a sort of quickstart where the game throws you into a team, gives you some players and asks you to win the championship. In many ways this is the hardest game mode available as you don't have access to the world's best players or mountains of cash as you would if you chose one of the bigger world clubs. For an even bigger challenge you can begin the game with an unemployed status and try and win a job with the lower clubs to improve your reputation and get the big job offers. This, for the purists, is THE football management mode but for those who want a quick game and don't want to get thumped 20-0 for the first five or so matches the game offers another mode.
In the other mode you are able to select your club, details about the manager and your management team. So basically you can pick Chelsea and be guaranteed to win at least a few matches. But of course with the big clubs comes big expectations and if you don't win a trophy in the first season, chances are you will be sacked and now that the media gets involved in the game its much harder to retain your job.
There have been a few changes to FM for the new season including the interaction with the media. Working much like EA's model, the game will give you a quote from a local paper or radio show and then ask you to respond. How you respond can determine a few things such as psyche your players up for a big match, demoralise them if you indicate you're only looking for a draw or even help the opposition if you comment a 5-0 thumping is on the cards. This media interaction has been done perfectly and while it took FM a little while to implement it, they took their time and have done it right. You can also have individual chats with players. For instance if a player is going into the ref's black book a little too often you can tell them to calm down, but you have to be careful as the game may turn the player into a fairy and pull out of 50/50 challenges.
In terms of licensing, SI has really done it again. It has all of the world's major licenses including Australia and the A-League but it does not have the English Premier League still due to EA's extended exclusive contract with that league. That is a huge blow, but SI have done the best they could and included teams and players they were able to under other licenses including the FIFPro license which gives them access to all international players. They have also teamed up with a sports injury website to have the most realistic and accurate injury information in the game although from what we've seen there is a distinct lack of broken metatarsals to the England team, which has to be the most unrealistic part of the game yet! Tongue firmly in cheek of course.
Football Manager on the 360 also requires the hard disk to play which makes Microsoft's claim that the only difference is the media capabilities now defunct. As well as this the developers have chosen to use the online features of the console for the title in a fairly big way. You can have tournaments with up to sixteen other managers to play human tactics rather than AI, and this of course offers a much more realistic experience.
Football Manager 2006 on the 360 really is one of those games that does make us wonder why. However with that said, if you've only got a 360 then this is by far the best football management game around, just don't expect next generation graphics and features.