A bit of context before I start: while I’m a long-time football fan, I haven’t touched a management sim for about ten years. I have an excuse, promise – I’m more of a fantasy football man. That might not make me ideally placed for some reviewage (I will make sure the new features are given some focus), but you should probably consider this a ‘taking stock’ review; a more zoomed out take on a new player’s experience. Last time I played it, it was on the Vita, so – yeah – it’s probably come a fair distance.
There tend to be two kinds of Football Manager player, so I did both: I did a bit of wish-fulfilment, playing as Liverpool and immediately going in for Haaland (too expensive, nothing in the transfer kitty). And I started from the bottom or thereabouts, playing as Dover Athletic, hoping to build the Crabble so that it became the home of football. It didn’t.
My first reaction was how far Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition had come and, in many ways, how far it hadn’t. In the ‘hadn’ts’ camp, I was surprised at how presentationally hokey a lot of it was. The character creation system is emblematic. Once I’d gotten over the surprise that I could actually create my manager’s face, I was a little disappointed that they’d bothered. Saints Row this isn’t. There’s no way of getting close to creating a Neil Warnock, which was my first aim. Everyone came out like demon butlers played by Eddie Howe.
Also in the ‘hadn’t’s was the match day itself. While I wasn’t expecting FIFA-like realism, or Sky Sports-style swooshes and matchday slickness, I don’t think I was expecting it to feel so wooden, either. Crowds have always been the bugbear of a management sim, and it’s true here. It’s a Mexican Wave of cardboard cutouts. Even more surprising was the audio, which felt more like the 2020/2021 season than the current season. It was empty and unrealistic, like the stadiums were empty due to Covid.
The football flows reasonably well, but still has the stop-start judders of a game working to an algorithm rather than an approximation of football. This is one of the back-of-box bulletpoints for Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition, an improvement that it’s heavily promoting, so it’s clearly gunning for an experience better than 2021. It’s miles from the little ice-hockey pucks and text ticker that I was used to, sure, and it must be one of the Holy Grails of football to convincingly portray a football match through AI. The players do the odd Cruyff turn and sell a dummy, so it’s almost there. But it’s also clearly processing commands, rather than showing football in full flow. We found it all a little uncanny.
We’ve only got one grumble left: we kind of missed the ability to access core, important elements at the touch of a button. Everything is so situational in Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition, as you react to events with a sequence of RT presses. But the simple ability to check an entire squad, or start throwing money about on players, was buried a little more than we would have liked. It’s gone from a simulation to a conveyor belt of choices, which is absolutely suited to console, but it does have its compromises.
These are all mud stains on an otherwise pristine piece of kit. What impressed me more than anything about Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition was how much it made me feel like a Tudor king. Perhaps this is what it was like to be Mike Ashley. Rather than expect me to anticipate all of the elapsing contracts, reserve team star players, scouting opportunities, press conferences and all that gubbins, there’s a parade of scouts, coaches and agents all approaching the throne and asking whether I wanted to intervene. The default is that these individuals will manage everything for me, but they will occasionally deem something important enough to bring to me, and I will make simple decisions by pressing A or Y.
It’s a superb system and a minor work of genius, like a game of Reigns: The Football Edition. Of course it’s been this way for a few years now, so excuse me for marvelling at something that most of you are used to. There have been improvements in this area for 2022, though: there’s a greater orientation to managing the media, which I could have taken or left, but it’s the believability of the interactions that are a true mark of the work that’s been done. In the Haaland transfer, for example, I was gunning for him but the agent fees made the transfer untenable. Once I’d sold a couple of players in the next window, freeing up enough cash, the agent was unwilling to talk to me because I’d messed him around. The fact that personal bitterness can make its way into a management sim is a sign that Skynet has arrived and we’re all doomed to death from AI. It’s amazing, and a hell of an achievement for this year’s edition.
The tactical knobs and dials are all superb, too. They’re all in the modern parlance of gegenpressing and transition phases, and you can interact with them in as shallow or deep a degree as you fancy. As Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition progresses, you always get a sense that it is being made for two, opposing types of football management fan. The shallow fan, who wants to automate everything, can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the various suggestions put forward from coaches, or they can change things wholesale with labels like ‘be more balanced’ or ‘be more aggressive’. Meanwhile, the Statto can dive into some incredibly deep Big Data systems, playing with the now-one-year-old xG system to identify whether the team are manufacturing realistic chances. Both styles of management are viable, and Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition absolutely lets you pick your path.
The presentation of the interfaces, which could easily have been a bewildering, heaving mass of options, is also tight and slick. Again, they’re presented simply, but with the ability to dive a little further with a touch of a button. It also helps that – unlike match day and the character creation – the UI is industry leading, rather than more mid-table.
While we might have sneered at the visual representation of the matches, the results feel completely believable. We had a couple of seasons with Liverpool, and the foibles of the gegenpress and high line were incredibly clear. Our players would get crocked more than we’d like, and their stamina would crash to zero over the course of a game. And while we could steamroller teams, there would still be that ignominious defeat, that Aston Villa 7-2 trouncing, that showcased what happens when your lines get exposed. And as soon as we changed the dynamic football to something more cautious to preserve our players? The media and board came after us, and Mo Salah started talking about Real Madrid with wistful tones.
Football management has always been about managing the compromises, acknowledging that you won’t get Haaland, so you may as well give an extended contract to Thiago Alcantara. And it’s in the compromises that Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition excels. As you counterbalance one problem, another rises up. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Diving back into the footie management sim has been a bit of a treat. Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition may not have achieved an exalted state where its matches look ripped from FIFA – and it may never happen – but it became less important the more I played. It was something that I thought would be important before I picked up the pad, and it turned out to be secondary.
What was important was how well Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition adapted to my footballing mood. If I wanted to kick back in the terraces, occasionally buzzing in and changing things via earpiece, then I could. It allowed me to just enjoy the results. But if I was in the mood for being a new-age manager, controlling everything from the media presence to the reserve training, I could do that too. The micromanagement is real, and the Antonio Conte in me started bubbling to the surface.
Whatever your management style, Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition has your back. It’s one of the most adaptive and slickly designed simulations out there, full stop. Kick around in its shallows or dive down deep, and they both feel as satisfying as the other.
You can buy Football Manager 2022 Xbox Edition from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S