This must be what a tempestuous marriage feels like. Kurt and Courtney. Burton and Taylor. Clough and Taylor. (Not the same Taylor, obviously, although that would be some sequel to The Damned United). I love it, then I hate it; I hate it, then I love it. For every thing in Football Manager 2012 that delights me, you can bet there's another thing that has me spitting feathers, vowing never to play it again. Twas ever thus.
Let's start out with something to love: that database. You name them, they're here – and it's not just comprehensive, it has such authority too. Take wing whippet Theo Walcott. Played out wide for my youthful England side, he frequently got past his full back but struggled to supply useful balls – true to life, say my Gooner mates. Play him as a poacher up front, though, and that quicksilver pace sees him in one-on-ones with the goalie, bagging a goal or two every game.
Now something I hate: the player interactions. Not so much the intent but the lurching unpredictability. In attempting to add variety and further subtlety to talking to your charges, a new 'Tone' feature has been added. Sadly, it has just further muddied the waters, leaving me treading on eggshells with most of my touchy prima donnas. With morale such a key aspect of the already fluctuating player and team form, another level of obfuscation is hardly welcome.
I still love the tactics. For a country in which 4-4-2 has been a mantra for decades, one of the abiding strengths of the FM series is the versatility of its tactics. The new orthodoxy of two defensive midfielders and an attacking front four works well, but FM 2012 likes square pegs in square holes, so you'd do well to play your best players in their best positions – making forays into the transfer market essential for tactical regime changes.
I have come to hate the drudgery that still pervades FM 2012, though. So many mouse clicks to get through so much news – and I can't risk filtering a lot of them out in case I miss something crucial. And the more that's bolted on to the core FM engine – the more screens there are to click through to get to matches, to get through transfer and wage negotiations, to do just about anything – the more annoying it gets.
And most hateful of all is the amount of time wasted staring at an advancing progress bar waiting for the word “processing” to disappear. Come on, it's 2011 – can't this stuff be done in the background?
But I love the matches. The 3D engine may have some clunky animation and may look like a '90s FIFA/PES also-ran, but matches are genuinely enjoyable to watch. More importantly, they're an ever-improving diagnostic to see what is and what isn't working in your team – how on earth we used to cope with the CM-era text commentary to figure things out is anyone's guess.
The thing I love most about FM 2012? That moment when I get it absolutely right, when I outfox the opposition and prove my innate footballing genius to the world. And when it all goes wrong? That's when I can't figure out whether I should be hating FM 2012 for not making things clear enough, or hating myself for just being so useless at it. Twas ever thus.
FM 2012 has seen off all its rivals but even before this, the FM series was the only choice, with its sheer depth and freedom compensating for the flaws that accompany it.
Review by Chris Buxton.