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Football Manager 2021 review: Series improvements make FM21 more detailed and immersive than ever

Football Manager 2021 review, FM21
(Image credit: Sega)

Ten minutes into a new career mode on Football Manager 2021 and FFT can be found pointing a finger, assertively, at Portsmouth striker John Marquis. We're not a fan of his conduct, and we're letting him know.

Marquis isn't one to shy away from a row and the discussion ends with FFT backing down, sheepishly. It's an inauspicious start to life as a League One manager; we have a lot to learn if Pompey will taste the rarefied atmosphere of Premier League football again before this save is over.

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FM21

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

The finger pointing is just one of several new options available to managers when interacting with squad members. Each carries its own weight and should be considered carefully. The next time we have any dealings with Marquis, for instance, the "arm round the shoulder" option might be better. Or we could beckon him in, all friendly-like, using our hands at the start of the meeting. Anything but the the finger. He doesn't like the finger.

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The overhauled interaction options are also applied to match days, meaning you can convey a far broader array of emotions at a simple click. During a pre-season friendly against French second-tier side Havre AC, FFT tests a couple of them out. 

We take the pre-game talk with our hands on our hips, giving off a sense of self-assured superiority. We're intrigued to see our encouragement and advice can also be directed at individuals or sections of the team, so after geeing up the entire squad, we swivel towards the midfielders, slip our hands into our pockets and let them know, in an overly chummy way, that there's no pressure on them today. We've never felt more like Alan Pardew and it's oddly satisfying. 

In fact, almost everything around match days has been given a gratifying lift. As soon as FFT arrived at Fratton Park for the aforementioned tester with Havre, we were excited to find the team sheets delivered in the style of a proper match day programme. For football fans who have been cruelly exiled from grounds in 2020, it's a bittersweet touch. 

FM21

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

As Sports Interactive had been so keen to tell us, the match engine has also been given a solid revamp. The players look more realistic when they're going about their business. Your subs are lined-up along the bottom of the screen, too, as if they're on the bench with you. 

Throughout the match, you can deliver instructions to your players or just leave them to it. FFT lets assistant manager Joe Gallen take care of the effing and blinding. He also suggests subs and will carry them out for you if you approve. It's a sleeker, more engaging match experience and the designers deserve credit for improving such a crucial aspect of the game. The decision to continue offering the classic 2D match engine is also commendable - FFT is an old soul, deep down, and appreciates the option of doing things the nostalgic way. 

At half-time, you're invited to chuck a water bottle in a fit of rage if you want. We excitedly exercised the option, only for our players - who were 1-0 up in a non-competitive fixture - nonplussed by our actions. It's a lot of fun.

FM21

(Image credit: Sports Interactive)

Back to the office again and we're impressed with the scouting improvements made to the game. You can now hold proper sit-down meetings with your talent-spotters, who will advise you on squad depth, suggest new players and let you know where new contracts should be offered and, of course, where they should not. It's engrossing and we felt a bit like Brad Pitt's character in Moneyball the first time we attended one. 

Selling players has also been made a lot easier. We randomly selected youth teamer Gerard Storey for sacrifice - three offers were made (wait, is he actually worth keeping?), and with the touch of a button we could accept the highest bid while simultaneously sending a "match-it-or-hit-the-road" ultimatum to those who offered less. One of the things that annoyed us most about last year's game was the fiddly clicking you needed to do when sifting through incoming offers. Voila! That's gone now.

As we navigated through the game, tutorials greeted us at every turn to make sure we knew what we were doing, and offering advice. It was at this moment, FFT realised just how grateful we were to already know how to play this game. The sheer number of explainers required to map out all the buttons and drop-downs is bordering on the insane. 

Football Manager has evolved into a complex point and click game. Sure, you can choose to play the more streamlined version, but the fact you even need one tells its own story. You wouldn't choose to do that with FIFA, would you? Or Call of Duty, or just about any other game in existence? The advanced version of Football Manager really is a unique experience. 

Have newcomers and sporadic players been frozen out a little? The game's healthy sales suggest not, but we do wonder as we lose ourselves in the myriad of options.  

That's not a huge complaint if you're a regular of the series, but we imagine a review from a first-time gamer might read a little different – which is a roundabout way of saying: if you love the insanely detailed world of FM, this is the best one yet. If you haven't played before - we don't even know what you'll make of it. We recommend assistant manager Joe Gallen, though. The hardest working man in virtual management. 

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