If you are not aware of the previous Football Manager series of PC games I can only assume you have been hiding under a rock for at least a decade; the 2012 version is an upgrade on 2011 and by far the best of the SEGA collection so far. If you like the idea of being a soccer manager that is as close to real as possible, then there simply is no better game for you.
I will begin by informing you of the options the game gives you, however Football manager 2012 has so many elements that it's difficult to even comprehend where I should start this review?! I will begin with the teams you can choose to play as; with a few exceptions i.e. Primera Division Apertura (the Bolivian League) and the Primera Division Clausura (the Venezuelan League) you can pretty much be the manager of any professional team in the world. Being a Football Manager addict I have tried my hand in nearly every league; a range that includes spending days on end trying to get Scottish Third Division outfit Peterhead into the Scottish Premier League to trying to win every trophy possible in one season at Real Madrid. The saved data this game has on every player in every team is simply astounding.
At the very start of the game you choose the team you would like to manage and the leagues you would like to manage within throughout that particular campaign, the game will then keep updating scores, tables and player development from each league you select. I often choose two or three different leagues to keep my options open as the years pass by; I'm a sucker for a new challenge. However if you are impatient it might be worth only selecting one league as the continuous data of three or four leagues concurrently does take a lot longer to load resulting in longer pauses.
You will also need to create your basic manager profile prior to your new career taking place. Name, age, nationality, profile picture and your previous playing skill level, I often choose National, as I feel it automatically commands respect from your players; but that's merely a psychological thing which I'm sure doesn't actually make a great deal of difference.
I am now going to choose the English Championship side Leeds United, in order to give you a step by step guide of the game. The game begins with a personal message from your chairman, in this case a Mr. Ken Bates, welcoming you to the club, your boss is also curious to discover how you value your chances within the coming season. You have options, should you choose 'league winners' for instance, you have more spending money to play with; however piling a lot more pressure on yourself and your team in the process. Due to the limited funds at a club like Leeds United it makes much more sense to ease the pressure and offer slightly lower expectations, perhaps 'a playoff finish' would be a more sensible ambition.
You are also required to meet the media within your first day on the job. Here you are given a variety of questions; such as 'what position are you looking to strengthen for the coming season?', with a selection of possible responses you can give which includes a no comment option should you not want to leak any plans to the papers but should you continue being cold to the press throughout the game there is a possibility you could become a media scapegoat, you have been warned.
The media plays a big role in the game creating rumors and mind games very similar to those you would read in the national press; an example from the game would be 'Millwall manager Kenny Jacket has made his feelings clear that he does not like *insert your name here* very much' giving you the option to catch the bait and choose to also share your feelings about Mr Jacket with the press or alternatively your preference could be to completely ignore the criticism; either option can work in your favour depending on the situation and the style of manager you hope to portray.
Whilst the press is a big section of the game, should this side of things not interest you there is an option under your team name in the top navigation to give the responsibly to your assistant manager, click on team policy and then edit your settings so that your assistant attends all Press Conferences in your absence; limiting the amount of press you are required to deal with.
Team policy is a great section of the game, if you want to shun many of the 'non-glamorous' responsibilities that a manager is often required to part take. Here you can leave your assistant manager to re-negotiate contracts, decide on youth intake and arrange pre-season games amongst over things. The game requires so much of the manager that I would be surprised if you don't use your assistant for at least one or two of these issues. I would urge you to carefully check your assistant manager's skill levels before giving him all responsibilities though.
Should you handle contract talks yourself, there is the dreaded agent you are made to go through first with some being more flexible in negotiation talks than others. The demands of new players are often double their respective contracts at their current clubs as the game is made to match the realities of the modern game; agents want improved deals. You have to carefully negotiate all sorts of deals such as goal bonuses and agent fees within one contract, to ensure that you gain the player but don't damage future options in the transfer market and believe me there is a fine line.
Within my first pre-season as Leeds United manager, the press had linked my star striker Ross McCormack with a move to Premier League outfit Wigan Athletic. The following day the player's agent demanded an improved contract at the club; while I was able to offer the contract the agent was seeking, there was one clause I was unwilling to give this particular player, which was to 'match the highest earner at all times'. For example should I gain promotion I wouldn't want this player to match the wages of the Premier League players I bring in.
The player went to Wigan within the same week and I brought in two experienced out of favour Premier League players with the money made from the deal. This game is all about risks, some work and some don't, this particular decision didn't work for me but that's the realism of the game. With a club like Leeds United funds are very limited and you have to be very shrewd in the transfer market, should you choose to play as Manchester City or Barcelona I'm sure you wouldn't have the same problems.
The game goes beyond the correct players though; it is also down to you to build the right backroom team. You can keep the team you start with or look at affordable replacements with better stats; you can get new assistants, physios, and a variety of different style coaches, an example being a fitness coach. At Leeds due to the lack of transfer funds, I found that it was important to focus on getting the right scouts and sending them to countries that I may be able to find bargain talent at discount prices. My scouts are currently searching for hidden gems in the Norwegian League.
You can have as much control on the training ground as you desire, should you have a defender who is not great at heading the ball, you can create training patterns ensuring that the defence focus on high crosses in training. However should you have top class coaches, you can perhaps feel more comfortable leaving them to improve the players in the ways they know how, which the game labels as the hands off approach.
As pre season progresses, amongst the wheeling and dealing in the transfer market and playing a few friendly matches, which I would encourage taking an experimental approach for particularly if it is your first season with the team, you will be required to choose which players you would like to register. At Leeds this process was fairly easy having such a small squad but not so at Tottenham Hotspur where I was forced to leave Tom Huddlestone amongst other big names out, so if you have the funds try to register at least two in every position would be my advice and don't forget under 21's don't require being within the 25 men registered.
Ok now to move on to the most exciting part of any football management game, which of course is match days. You are required to give instructions to your team prior to each game, first of all you select your formation and playing style, then you advance on to seeing the oppositions starting lineup, (often prior to the game your assistant or an old club legend will have advised you on any players they consider to be dangerous, so you already have an indication on who to target). You select the player/s you would like your team to target and can pin instructions on that individual; for example should you be playing against a winger that can only play on one side you have the option to instruct your full back to guide him on to his weaker foot throughout the 90 minutes restricting his strengths.
You are then taken to your own starting lineup where you give further instructions to the starting eleven; here you can seek guidance from your assistant if feel unsure about anything. You have a variety of tones in which you can issue instructions; assertive, passionate and cautious to name a few, remember to be careful though because should you use the wrong tone at the wrong time it will more than likely have an effect on team moral. The guided instructions within that team talk are also vital in guarantying a positive performance; potential instructions include 'ensure the fans get their money's worth' or 'today the pressure is off, go out and enjoy yourself'. You will also need to give your assessments to the players at half time and full time.
Then you select the style of play you want to play; attacking, control, counter etc. This is also followed by a large selection of game play options, such as do you want to retain procession or get the ball forward? Work the ball into the box or shoot on sight? Exploit the wings or exploit the middle? As I said this game will have your brain in over drive and you will love it.
You can play the game at any pace and watch as much or as little of the match as you desire, in either 2D or 3D. 3D is far better in terms of imagery but perhaps a bit slower if you want to track your players for an entire game. I usually just play in commentary mode and view the highlights; this way I get a view of what my players are doing right/wrong in the key areas without needing to watch an entire game.
As the game plays you have the option to look at match statistics, ongoing scores from the other games and the current league table. Though concentration is key in this game and when you get a goal/vital win, the feeling almost equals the floods of emotional ecstasy you feel when your 'real' team beats their nearest and dearest rival, you maintain your buzz for days. The most frustrating situation to occasionally occur on a match day is a disallowed goal; you'll be jumping in the air with a fist pump only to realise seconds later you are still 1-0 down.
This game is a straight 10/10 and will take over your life, every spare minute you have will be taken up by Football Manager. All that is left to say is good luck and enjoy the ride it will be one of the greatest you have ever been on.