Football Manager 2023 review – the most realistic FM yet

The latest edition of Football Manager features a host of new features and options but what difference do they really make?

The newest instalment of Football Manager is finally here, and we’ve had plenty of hands-on time with the game during the beta period. Newcomers and veterans are in for a treat with added statistics, more realistic engagement during matches, and the addition of the Champion’s League all making a huge impression on the overall feel of the game.

We played through our campaign as though we were completely new to the game, so started with a popular team we had plenty of knowledge about, namely Manchester United. With plenty of budget to hand and big goals to meet, the first objectives in the game include creating tactics, checking in on the club’s vision, and monitoring the supporters’ confidence in the manager.

Helpfully, the game gives you the option to arrange the squad screen anyway you want, bringing in columns of information that you might find more helpful than the standard view. The useful colour-coding of players means you can quickly and easily see who’s available to you, who’s on loan, and who’s injured. Ability and potential star ratings, along with the best position column, are included to help get the best performance from each player. This can be combined with the squad planner, which clearly shows strengths and weaknesses and will help yield the best results for your blossoming management career.

The squad screen also gives the option to view the strongest players by position, so you can identify specific areas of weakness and launch a recruitment focus from the same screen. You can then select where you want the player to be based, what standard they’re playing at, and their age – amongst other criteria.

One of the biggest overhauls to the game itself is the match engine, as well as recruitment. In squad management, percentages have completely disappeared from Football Manager in favour of more user-friendly graphics that are easier to understand and makes it feel much less like Microsoft Excel: The Game.

The squad planner is a very useful tool, giving the option to see up to two years into the future, as well as having the ability to add players to the squad planner from a shortlist of scouted footballers. Star ratings for players also increase realistically when viewing the squad screen in future seasons, which definitely helps with forward planning.

In terms of the actual scouting process, the frustrating assignment system is gone and instead scouts are given the option to focus on certain players. This helps towards reducing the amount of reports that end up in the manager’s inbox – and we certainly found ourselves not feeling the need to just breeze through them without paying attention, as we might have done (definitely did) in previous Football Manager games.

Scouts instead provide helpful summaries of everything they’ve learned about a player and then leave it to the manager to make the final decisions. The entire process takes place over four stages, which provide a little bit more information on each player and begin to whittle the list down to a more refined list of players and data.

After identifying a player to sign, there’s an additional option to haggle with their agent before the official contract negotiations begin. This gives an easy and informal way to find out what the player’s expectations are before coming to the club. Whether it’s useful or not is debatable but it’s certainly fun and adds a more immersive feeling to your role as the club’s manager.

The UEFA licensing, whilst it doesn’t add much to the mechanics of the game, does end up feeling like you’ve really achieved something great when your celebrations are on Champions League or Europa League branded podiums. The group drawing screen feels more premium than an average press conference, which adds weight to the importance of qualifying for these more prestigious leagues. Ultimately, though, they do often just end up with you frantically hitting the space bar to progress the drawing process.

Staff advice on actions to take within the club and recruitment seems more finely-tuned than in previous games, and a handy tick box next to the advice means it can be automatically actioned, which is very convenient.

The match engine overhaul is invaluable to the overall feeling of the game. The most intelligent AI managers yet are able to respond quickly and realistically to changes in the game, making each match a genuine challenge.

Another change is the ability to play more defensively, which increases the opportunities to counter-attack and absorb pressure from difficult opposing teams. This means that opposing AI management tactics lead to players quickly intercepting your chances; breaking through an opposition’s defence is more challenging and the games can end up feeling more chaotic and leave you wishing you could jump in and take control, as in FIFA.

It’s not all sunshine and roses though, as despite the overall improved feeling of the game these are still micro improvements. An animation engine improvement does create a smoothness that hasn’t been seen to this level in Football Manager before but compared to other current games it’s still falling short in terms of the visuals during the matches. Admittedly this is not the focus of Football Manager at all, but it’s still something that can and should be done better by this point.

Goalkeepers, in particular, do seem more engaged, and are absolutely improved from previous instalments, but they can still occasionally be looking the wrong way during a save, or appear to save without physically touching the ball at all. In short, the general look and feel of the game during matches still hasn’t changed significantly in the last five years.

The changes are minimal, but Football Manager 2023 is an improvement on its predecessors and so by default the best sports management simulator ever seen. That still doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a must-have, if you already played last year’s iteration to death but, let’s face it, if you’re in that deep there’s no way you’re going to say no to even this minor upgrade.

Football Manager 2023 review summary

In Short: The most realistic and engaging instalment of Football Manager yet, even if its improvements are extremely minor in themselves.

Pros: The most intelligent AI so far means that opposition managers react quickly and realistically during matches. The Experience Matrix gives a valuable insight to the makeup of your squad.

Cons: It’s basically a copy and paste job from last year’s Football Manager, with all the changes and additions being very minor.

Score: 9/10

Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, iOS, and Android
Price: £44.99
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sports Interactive
Release Date: 8th November 2022 (PS5 TBA)
Age Rating: 3

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