You can run Microsoft Word on your iPad, edit Excel spreadsheets, or manage a photo collection in Lightroom. But if you want any clearer evidence that today’s tablets are as a capable as a proper PC, look no further: they can now run full-blown Football Manager.
At least, that’s the promise of Football Manager Classic 2015, a new app for “high-end” tablets that delivers the enormous 150,000 player database, the 3D match engine and the detailed interface that are the hallmarks of the much-loved PC game. However, shifting full-blown Footy Manager to tablets raises as many questions as playing Raheem Sterling at centre-back. Does that detailed, data-laden interface translate well to touchscreen controls? Can the tablet cope with the demands of processing all that data? And, crucially, is it worth the princely £15 that Sega is charging? We deliver our verdict.
First, we should establish exactly where Football Manager Classic sits in the pantheon of Football Manager games. It’s a huge step up in sophistication from Football Manager Handheld, which has been the annually updated app for smartphone and tablet users to date. Classic has four times as many teams and five times as many players in its database; it has a 3D-match engine compared to the 2D text and tiddlywinks of Handheld; and it has a whole host of other features that aren’t built into Handheld.
Indeed, Football Manager Classic is akin to the Classic Mode of the PC game – a streamlined version of the full game that’s designed for people who can’t be shagged with negotiating contracts with youth players or planning precise training schedules. It’s much more focused on picking 11 players and ploughing through matches, whilst still retaining the look and feel of the full game.
The most notable feature omission from Football Manager Classic is team talks. There’s no option in the app to inspire the players with a rousing pre-match speech or turn around a two-goal deficit with a half-time rollocking. Instead, you’ll have to rely on tactical tweaks and substitutions to make a mid-game impact. Likewise, interaction with the media is virtually non-existent. You may get involved in a little Deadline Day rumour mongering, but there’s no trashing the opposing manager before a derby or berating your own players for a 4-0 thumping at Crewe.
Successfully transferring a PC interface navigated by mouse and keyboard to a touchscreen tablet is no small feat, but Sports Interactive have pulled it off brilliantly. Screens are still crammed with detail and links, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate through the various menus with your fat-fingered prods. The game’s menu structure is near identical to the PC version, but everything is sensibly spaced, so that you can easily click on a player in your squad list to bring up their detailed stats or scroll through the fixture list.
If we have one criticism, it’s that the game doesn’t always take advantage of touch as much as it could. It should be a doddle to drag a player into a new position on the tactics board, for example, but Football Manager Classic makes this hideously awkard, involving a double-tap gesture that fails as often as it works. On the whole, however, such frustrations are few.
3D match engine
The crux of Football Manager is, of course, playing matches and here again Classic doesn’t disappoint. The 3D match engine isn’t as sophisticated as the PC’s – the graphics aren’t quite as sharp and there are fewer of the animations that help you distinguish a Ronaldo from Ron Biggins of Maidenhead Utd. Nevertheless, the match action feels largely authentic, although we have seen the odd bewildering error: keepers rushing out aimlessly or players erratically lumping a ball out for a corner when under absolutely no pressure.
Still, it’s enjoyable to see your tactical instructions being carried out on the pitch: players pressing when you’ve barked at them to close down the opposition; crosses being whipped into the box; balls being knocked long to the target man when you’re holding onto a 1-0 lead. You never get that feeling that your instructions are meaningless, which was often the case with Football Manager Handheld.
We’d say the match interface is a little over-complex: too many drop-down menus, too many overlapping screens. There are at least three different ways to make a substitution, which is two too many. The default bar charts that show you possession percentages in various parts of the pitch over the past five minutes are also meaningless unless you change the duration to “overall”, which you have to do every single time the match sequence starts. But once you’ve learnt to tame the interface, it’s satisfying to sit back and watch the action.
Football Manager Classic is one of the most demanding apps we’ve ever come across. It can only run on high-end tablets: the iPad Air 1 & 2, the iPad mini 2& 3 and a selection of Android slates. The game’s App Store reviews are crammed with angry customers who’ve bought it for an old iPad 2 and can’t get past the loading screen, so don’t be tempted to see if your old hardware will cope.
You can choose to run up to three nations at the same time, but even in our game with only two (England and Spain) on a first-generation iPad Air it can trundle along. The pre-match menu takes a few seconds to load, taps are occasionally unresponsive, long lists are sticky to scroll through. It can get tiresome, but never boils over into outright, fling-the-tablet-out-the-window frustration.
The other performance factor to note is battery life: all that data crunching takes its toll. We’d estimate we lose 10% of battery life on the iPad Air for every 20-30 minutes of gameplay, so you’ll be hooking the tablet to the charger more frequently than normal. You’ll also need to have at least a couple of gigabytes of free space on your tablet, which isn’t always easy on a 16GB iPad.
We’ve also experienced a few crashes. The game is very conservative with its auto-save feature, saving progress before every match so a crash doesn’t wipe out hours of progress. It also auto-recovers from crashes, although not without problems: our game once crashed just after a 2-1 victory, but when the app auto-recovered it replayed the game automatically (without any option to tweak tactics, make subs etc) and finished 0-0. Two points dropped, as they say.
Value for money
Is Football Manager Classic worth £15? Viewed in the context of apps, it’s definitely at the top end of the scale, but when you consider the PC game retails for around £30, we think the price of the base game is justified. What does leave us wanting to hurl a plate of sandwiches across the dressing room is the in-app purchases. Football Manager Classic is constantly urging you to spend a quid here or a quid there to boost your bank balance, over-ride a board decision or give your next opponents food poisoning by paying for a “dodgy lasagne”.
There is particularly apparent with injuries. In the two games we’ve played with West Ham and Arsenal, big players were more fragile than the iPad itself, with broken ankles here, pulled hamstrings there. When you’re suddenly hit by these injury crises, you’re left wondering if it’s purely designed to make you spend 79p on a “magic sponge” to heal the player instantly, which is conveniently offered on the screen notiftying you of the wound. It all leaves a bad taste when you’ve forked out £15 to play the game in the first place.
That said, none of the in-game purchases are compulsory – you never have to pay to unlock a new season or play beyond a certain time limit, as you do with some games. They certainly tainted our opinion of the game and of developer Sports Interactive, but the option to whip out your iPad and blast through a few matches on the bus or in bed of a Sunday morning is still – literally – a joy to behold.