Alongside our team-selected 2017 Game of the Year awards, each member of the PC Gamer team gets to champion one favorite from the year. We'll continue to post new personal picks until the end of 2017.
Similar to the likes of PES and FIFA, sports management simulator Football Manager is judged each year against its previous instalments. Which new features has this season's iteration added? What existing mechanics has it reworked and/or improved? Why can't I carry over my 200-hour save files into each new game? That last question is a long-standing bugbear of mine—and is something Sports Interactive's Miles Jacobson addressed when we spoke prior to FM 2018's launch earlier this year. Looks like I'm out of luck on that last one.
As for the others: a homogenised Medical Centre, an overhauled 3D graphics engine, a reworked Scouting hub, and a new story-generating Dynamics system combine to make Football Manager 2018 the most ambitious instalment the series has ever seen. It's also my favourite of the lot. And as an FM devotee since the mid-'90s, I don't say that lightly.
Of the game's new features, the Dynamics system is its best. Here, you're tasked with managing your players' behaviours both on and off the pitch as you consider team cohesion, dressing room atmosphere, and how much confidence your team has in you as a manager. You'll also oversee a hierarchy of influence where players band together in social groupings relevant to age, time at the club and nationality, among other considerations.
As outlined in my review, I almost lost the Celtic dressing room to a revolt after failing to keep my word on a particular problem. My most influential players took issue with my conduct, which inspired my squad's most impressionable guys to also take the huff. Before I knew it, I was staring down a media frenzy, and it took some uncomfortable behind-the-scenes arse kissing to set things straight.
Another playthrough saw me in control of French Ligue 1 side Nice—home of the unruly Mario Balotelli. Within weeks of starting the job, the man who once set fireworks off in his bathroom the night before the Manchester derby had fallen out with some of our key players and disagreed with my style of management. My players and the press called for his dismissal, and, despite Mario being our top goalscorer, I listened. In the absence of his goals we quickly lost our form, crashed down the table and I was relieved of my position shortly thereafter. To quote Mr Balotelli himself: Why always me?
The scope for story-generation that FM 2018's Dynamics system offers is huge. And despite already being my favourite thing about the latest instalment, how the feature expands into future entries is exciting—particularly against Jacobson and Sports Interactive's ever-increasing reach into the real world game.
During our chat in October, Jacobson described SI's access to professional clubs as "frankly ridiculous". I found this excerpt particularly interesting in how it relates to Dynamics and its potential:
There are clubs that I can phone up the day before and ask if I can go to training and the tactics meeting the next day and they go: Yeah, sure. I'm regularly going to training sessions at clubs around the world and you get to see a lot of team dynamics and squad dynamics from that. If you travel to a game with players, for example, you get to see who's at the back of the bus or the plane watching foreign films or reading a book.
You get to see… You get to smell which players are farting and which players are laughing about it, and which players are trying to blame everyone else around them even though everyone knows it was them. You get to see which players are playing cards, you get to see which of the players are playing FM.
If Football Manager is about reflecting the realities of running a football club, then this level of research combined with new features such as the Dynamics system stand to improve FM well into the future. My maverick and evidently inconsistent style of management will always have detractors calling for my head, but after 200+ hours with any given game that's something I've gotten used to. Why always me, indeed. And I wouldn't have it any other way.