Hello and welcome back to Football Manager Ambition.
But before I get into the detail of FM19 beta, here, as always, is one of our...
GREAT FOOTBALL MANAGER QUOTES
"At every club I have been at I have had a test in the first few weeks from the big players at the club. At that moment you define your success at that club, you either win the group or you lose the group."
~Carlos Carvalhal. Love him or be perplexed by him, you can't fault his assessment of the importance of making an impact at a new club. Something we'll all have to deal with on FM19
In this blog post, I'm going to be looking at the game in general, and although I'll be using examples and screenshots from my preliminary save with Sheffield Wednesday, I won't be going into the specifics of my club on FM19 (that will be covered in future posts).
So without further preamble, let's get into the game!
GAME SET UP
Game set up looks pretty much just like FM18, with the same process of selecting the number of leagues, database size, and a few preferences.
I always like to go for a large database, and quite a few leagues, and I don't mind trading off some processing speed for that. If you look at the bottom right of the screenshot, you'll see I've started very early in the pre-season, using a Czech Republic start date, even though I'll be managing in England. I just like plenty of time before the season starts. But this is all old hat, with FM18 (and earlier iterations) working this way. Ho hum.
Again, there's not a whole lot of difference in setting up your manager profile in FM19. But I'll throw in a potentially controversial opinion, here: I hate the manager profile part of Football Manager. For me, it's just a way of adjusting the difficulty level of the game. Early iterations worked fine without it. I just don't see the point; the decisions you make while playing should be the driver of your performance on the game,
However, as the manager profile is indeed part of the game, you have to use it. Some gamers, I know, choose minimum ability for their profile, to make the game harder. I don't know about that. I've blogged previously about how I treat FM as a role-playing game. In other words, it's a fantasy. We've all fantasised about what it would be like to manage a top football club; would we be any good? I think fantasising that you are crap at something is probably not a healthy sign, and I think most serious FM gamers would like to think they'd be great as a football manager. So, seeing as Sports Interactive have foisted the manager profile on me, I tend to pick the highest possible qualifications and previous experience, and make an awesome manager profile.
Clearly, my dislike of the Manager Profile isn't new to FM19, but it is part of the game, and that's why I've mentioned it. Moving on...
By now you will all have seen the default purple skin that comes with the game. After all, even if you haven't purchased the game yet, the new branding and screenshots are all over social media. I've already blogged about how pug ugly I find the new colours, but it's not a problem because SI have once again included an alternative light skin, which for the most part is pretty lovely; very clean and crisp. However, there is a bit of an issue with the light skin when it comes to things like team talks...
As you can see from the above shot, pale text on a pale background is a bad idea. It seems like one of those simple things that shouldn't be missed. Hopefully, it'll be resolved before full release. Otherwise, I really like the elegant look of the light skin:
However, I do have a criticism of the match screen. Do we really need the stripe at the top to take up so much screen space? I'd also appreciate it if I could make my information windows smaller without it cutting bits off.
And on the subject of information windows... this is a bit nitpicky maybe, but have a look at this:
If you look closely, you'll see the top centre panel just cuts off the possession figures. Yeah, there's a scroll bar, but really? Come on guys.
Okay, so the tactical system of Football Manager could be the subject of a series of lengthy blogs in itself. What I want to do here is make some headline observations.
Tactical Style Presets
There's been a lot of hype about the new tactical presets on FM19. The Gegenpress is particularly trendy just now, as is Tiki-Taka. The new presets are great for setting up tactics quickly, and will be helpful to new players, or those not particularly confident with tactical knowledge. However, I would suggest that most experienced FM gamers who enjoy tactical challenges would prefer to set up their own tactics. I will always be setting my tactics up from scratch.
You can tweak the presets to customise them to your own exact style, and you can, of course, emulate any tactical style, or create something unique, from scratch if you want.
The headline here, of course, is the introduction of the Pressing Forward role, and the no-nonsense defenders and fullbacks. The really useful innovation here is being able to have a Pressing Forward set to an attack duty, which was a glaring omission in FM18's Defensive Forward role.
Frustratingly, if you want to play Inside Forwards, you still have to position them wide on the wing, which shows an embarrassing misunderstanding of what an Inside forward actually is. The guys at FM seem to have IFs and Inverted Wingers hopelessly confused. Really, you should be able to choose an Inside Forward role for players in the AMCL and AMCR positions. Maybe next time, eh?
This is a real disappointment, in that the clumsy clunky system from FM18 remains in place. I've got some sympathy for SI here, because I don't think it is easy to replicate meaningful set pieces on a game like FM. But I'm sure there must be something better than this. If you've ever sen a pro team in real life work on set pieces in training, you'll know the management often leave attacking set pieces, like corner routines and direct free kicks, up to the players, unless the coaching team have spotted a glaring vulnerability in an opposition. Even then, it's likely that it is more of a steer that is given More coaching goes into defending set pieces. Set pieces should be fun, but on FM, it's a chore.
A suggestion would be to have a system in which you set principles for set piece defending; zonal or man-to-man, or combined; heavily defensive (everyone back), or risky (keep more players forward), and then let the players (AI) decide on the pitch, with an option to issue shouts ("No Wayne, stay back this time!"). Similarly, you could have a system of principles for attacking set pieces, with coaching steer: This team is slow, or this team is vulnerable to high balls, etc. The actual position of players could be left to the AI, representing player decision-making, but again with an option to issue shouts. It would be fun to see the players argue over who was taking a free kick!
The changes to opposition instructions have come as an unwelcome shock. In previous iterations, you could set up standing instructions for any opposition position, so that whatever formation your opponents played, you could have an instruction in place. Now this might not be important to you if you prefer to tailor your instructions to particular individuals' traits and ability. But some tactical systems, like mine, rely on handling opponents purely based on their position on the pitch. Being able to set these instructions was incredibly helpful, and is something I would do in real life. Difficult to understand the thought process behind this one SI!
This has actually infuriated me. FM18 was the first iteration to introduce match plans, and it was a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, it was riddled with bugs, which many gamers reported on the FM18 bugs forum. It was marked as under investigation by SI, but never resolved. Surely they'd have it sorted a year later for FM19? Surely? No! When using match plans on the beta, I have found substitutions being made by the AI that I didn't want. It's hard to believe that this problem is still in place in a new version of the game. And my money says no one at SI will come out and own up to it. I fully expect this bug to still be present when the 'finished' FM19 drops, as, let's face, they've had a whole year on this.
Pre-Match Tactical Briefings (PMBs)
The has changed a little bit since FM18, but I'm still not sure what to make of it. A problem with PMBs is that you don't get to choose when they happen. Sometimes it's on the day of a match; sometimes a day before. To really make them work for you, you need to have picked your team. If you have done so, then you get this helpful screen:
However, if you haven't picked your team, you get this less helpful screen:
When you go to the PMB itself, if you get to choose a focus (this is new):
And when you move on, if you have picked your team, you get this type of thing:
Whereas if you haven't yet named your team, you get this...
... Little reaction.. .presumably because you're talking to an empty room!
I, like many managers both in FM and the real world, don't like to name my team until the last minute. But, like you might have seen Pep Guardiola and his coaches do on All Or Nothing, I would like to give my whole squad a meaningful briefing before a match. This part of FM is confused, and needs looking at.
I also spotted a bug in PMBs, and while I hope SI get it sorted for full release, considering the match plans fiasco, I don't have much confidence. there is a drop down menu in PMBs that should allow you to select a different tactic. It doesn't work; the menu is blank:
So far, it looks like this might be the best thing to come out of FM19. There is a huge amount of flexibility, and you can customise it to suit your style, or leave it at defaults. There might, possibly, be too much flexibility for some gamers, which is why the defaults are important. But even if you leave the defaults in place, you can, if you want, just dip in and change little bits when something specific comes up. There's so much in the training module that it could take up a big article on its own, but for now, I'm just giving this innovation a big thumbs up.
However, I wouldn't be me if I failed to find some kind of fault, and this one is just a bit silly. Take a look at this image:
As you can see, Lee Bullen's best training category is 'aerobic'. But there is no such category, having been apparently replaced with 'quickness.' Does it spoil the game? No. Does it show a lack of attention to detail? Yes. Will it be corrected on full release? I'm not holding my breath.
So far, I've found matchplay to be without problems. I can't rave about anything new, because it appears to be the same match engine as last time. But as I've now played about 15 matches, and not had a problem (apart from the aforementioned match plans bug), I'm saying it's okay.
One minor criticism within matches - although this isn't new; it was the same on FM18. If you click 'make sub', and complete a substitution, you don't get the opportunity to give the oncoming player(s) a team talk. You have to go all the way into full tactics and make the sub there if you want to have a chat. Seems like unnecessary extra clicks to me.
On the subject of team talks, when giving the pre-match, half-time and post-match talks, something appears to have changed. It now seems easier to get a positive reaction from players, and there is less volatility, and fewer unexpected bad reactions. This may make the game 'easier', but that's not a problem if it makes it more realistic. One of my criticisms of FM18 was that player reactions were really volatile, and it was way too easy to upset someone.
Early in a new save, it's notoriously difficult to get great player reactions from a pre=match talk, as you haven't yet built up that relationship:
Half-time talks tend to get more reaction because you've got some concrete performance to talk about
And of course, full-time talk are always easy when you win, unless you say something silly. Even so, for early days, I do sense the player reactions have been tweaked a little.
Again, I have to remind you this is very much first impressions, but it does look as though it might be a little easier to buy and sell players on this iteration. On FM18, I could not get rid of Keiran Westwood for love or money, even though he's reputedly the best keeper in the Championship (I have my own thoughts on that). I also struggled to move on Sam Hutchinson and Steve Fletcher. However, I offloaded Westwood, Hutch and Fletch easily on FM19 beta, and managed to cash in on Forestieri to the tune of £10 million!
I mutually terminated all the non-playing staff at SWFC, as they were very poor. I managed to find some half-decent staff to replace them, but I was annoyed that I couldn't find old favourites Phil Cannon, Gordon Ewens and Paul Scholes. If you've played FM for a while, you'll know these were great staff. My understanding is that in real life Phil Cannon is on the staff at Blackburn Rovers (can anyone confirm?), but he's not on the game.
SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION
This is frustrating. When I set the game up, I successfully entered my YouTube account details. However, the first time I tried to upload match highlights, it wouldn't work. I thought perhaps I needed to log in again, but then found the log in screens weren't working properly, either for YouTube or Twitter; they just stayed blank. Annoyingly, this, like the match plans bug, is not new. It was a known problem on FM18, and a year on it's still not sorted.
I did manage to export a highlights package, and then manually upload the video to youtube. However, despite setting the graphics to the highest quality, and using a high-spec Mac, the quality of the uploaded highlight package was so poor, I refuse to use it. Plus, the exported videos still come in the troublesome .ogv file format. Very poor, SI, very poor.
Okay, so like I said at the top; some positives, some negatives. Are the negatives enough to put me off playing the game? No. but I'll not be using the match pans function, and I will continue to be frustrated at the quality of video exports, and the social media integration fails. I'll keep an eye on the bugs forum, but if the progress made lat year is anything to go by, I'm not holding out much hope. Having said all that, I still expect to have many hours of fun playing the game. There's just nothing better out there .
Sports Interactive still have a long way to go before they can look at this game and honestly say they are proud.
Well, that's it for my first impressions. Thanks for stopping by, and please get in touch to let me know your thoughts. Until next time, may your game never crash unsaved!