So let's start with the meat of the experience. Football Manager 2009's core is still the same imperious and heavyweight simulation that Sports Interactive has spent the best part of two decades lovingly cultivating to a finely-honed excuse to waste days of your life. Despite the flashy new graphical engine grabbing headlines and surging interest from long-lost fans, the beating heart beneath the veneer of change is familiarly potent and positively brimming with appreciation for the finer points of the sport – as it always has been.
Thank heavens for that then, as the 3D match engine will likely steal any or all of the thunder that FM2009 ends up cultivating. Gone are the days of staring at a small text bar at the bottom of the screen or wondering exactly how your star player managed to balloon the ball over from five yards – and in their place comes an entirely new approach, finally allowing players to visualise the action from a host of broadcast-friendly viewpoints.
The glory of 3D
The basics remain the same
As a brand-new feature (and considering past attempts from alternative franchises), the 3D graphical engine is surprisingly robust, adding a genuine layer of immersion to proceedings that fans will soon come to embrace. Whilst there is room for improvement in depth of animation, goalkeeper response and presentation, the action (for the most part) flows as you would expect – providing an excellent showcase for SI's uncanny knack of capturing the ebb and flow of the real-life game. It's frustrating, it's exciting, and it's sometimes boring - in short, it's football.
Long-term fans can also breathe a sigh of relief as the usual amount of refinements and tweaks to the match engine and player interaction have crept in, whilst the 3D encounters can be swapped out for the bog-standard subbuteo look whenever you want. Indeed most fans will probably end up utilising both, with a 3D viewing becoming default for title-deciding encounters or derby games that'll end up with a managerial sacking after the wrong result.
Don't expect many changes to the interface
TV angles remain true to real life
Concentrating on the basics, 2009 delivers a host of new functionality that adds to the already complicated mixture of features. Media interaction takes a far more prominent role, with post and pre-match press conferences bearing a far more tangible link to both short-term player morale and long-term tactical planning and supporter confidence. Hand the questions to your assistant or storm out of that media briefing at your peril, unless you have players that'll respond like Terry and Lampard of course. Decisions that finally have some weight behind them.
The expanded role of the assistant manager is also a boon for both long-term fans and newcomers alike. By default you'll receive advice from your #2 on practically every aspect of the game, from team selection to tactical decisions during each match. What you might find surprising is how useful it turns out to be, as areas of selection or in-game decisions that are entrenched in experience suddenly become exposed as perhaps not the best way to approach things – and you'll gain longevity from the variety of play as a result.
Sensible soccer viewpoint
Player and media interaction is greatly improved
Not everything is perfect of course, and FM 2009 contains the usual amount of niggles and small issues that occasionally break the immersive spell. The 3D match engine is unsurprisingly the most culpable offender, as players sometimes float around the pitch or the action halts for a couple of minutes at a time. Elsewhere, processing speeds have barely improved, whilst the interface can become cumbersome and sluggish as the database expands on a long-term game. Despite Sports Interactive's best efforts, 2009 also still holds the power to completely baffle with inappropriate player reactions or media comments, but thankfully these are far rarer than previous iterations.
As you would expect though, FM 2009 comfortably holds the lead at the top of the table that lost sight of competition a long time ago. It's a team based on experience, solid foundations and an almost impenetrable spine that rarely falters. The new star striker isn't half bad either – let's hope he settles in over the next few seasons.
FOOTBALL MANAGER 09 VERDICT
As you would expect though, FM 2009 comfortably holds the lead at the top of the table that lost sight of competition a long time ago. It’s a team based on experience, solid foundations and an almost impenetrable spine that rarely falters. The new star striker isn’t half bad either – let’s hope he settles in over the next few seasons.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Figuring out why your left-back is so terrible… in 3D.