Football, bloody hell. Two minutes into my tenure with “Manchester U”, I was already questioning where Premier Manager 2012 fits into a genre dominated by the consistently excellent Football Manager series. As a budget title, it should be able to outline itself as the option you take when you want to indulge in a football management simulation, but can’t quite justify spending full whack on the latest chart-topping release.
In the sport itself, quality players cost money. If you want your star striker to pull off a stunning bicycle kick against the neighbours, it’ll set you back a few quid. Just like spending out on a world renowned talent, a management sim should be an investment that continues to pay out over the course of the year.
Sadly, this title doesn’t make a good first impression. Overlooking the cheesy ’90s music and dull presentation, the game immediately reeks of an unprecedented cheapness. With the transfer window open upon my arrival at Old Trafford, the lure of strengthening my squad became too much. Within seconds, I had landed Mario Gotze, one of the brightest young stars on the planet for cut-price. Sweet, I fluked that one.
I open talks with the Brazilian starlet Neymar, who in real life, has been tracked by the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea. There’s little doubt he’ll travel to Europe for a fee in the £40 million region. I snapped him up for free. Nada. Seconds after selecting to negotiate, we were high-fiving in the manager’s office. Something isn’t right here.
Alongside the transfer market’s charitable goodwill, plenty of other niggles quickly make themselves known. The menu system is absolutely atrocious. Publishers Urbanscan have waxed lyrical about how easy to use they think it is, but this just simply isn’t true. In reality, it’s a clunky and continually confusing mess. Even simple tasks such as altering your formation can lead to needless frustration. No imagination has gone into it either, essentially it’s an uglier version of the PlayStation 3’s XMB (cross-media bar).
It’s fine that you are left to explore the game for yourself, with no introduction or tutorial to get started, but when you’re forced to trawl through menus to find what you want, there’s a major problem in the design. Nothing is clear, nothing oozes confidence, and there’s no fun to be had when dealing with the everyday problems of a manager’s life.
Therefore it’s fair to say that, while this game will probably make you moan uncontrollably, your staff will reiterate the sense of misery. Two games into my first season in charge, and Federico Macheda announces he’s unhappy he hasn’t started a game. Once again, I can’t escape thinking what would happen in reality. This young fringe-player, who currently makes most of his appearances in the League Cup, has piped up after two important games.
Four games in, and something even more drastic happens. Rooney injured for over a month. De Gea injured for over a month. Gotze crocked for six months. All in the space of 90 minutes. I wish I could say this was feverishly unlucky, but once a player returned to fitness it seemed someone else would take his place on the sideline. It almost seems as if the team behind this title want you to struggle, as they’ve produced a system that sucks any entertainment out of controlling your chosen team.
This is never more apparent during a match. We’re all used to the top-down view of the pitch, it’s been tried and tested successfully for years. In Football Manager, this doesn’t take away from each match, as it still provides a decent sense of how your team are performing. Here, it’s executed abysmally. It appears as if a team of midgets have been commissioned to lie under the pitch, magnetically controlling 22 identical sticks that represent each player. These midgets haven’t been told to replicate some kind of football, and have obviously been lavished with extreme amounts of booze just before kick-off.
The end product bypasses the ‘so-bad-it’s-funny’ mark, as proceedings on the pitch are comfortably outplayed by the text commentary of Championship Manager from over a decade ago. To add insult to the considerable amount of injuries, the two speed settings are bizarrely paced. While the normal setting is far too slow, switching to fast is far too quick. You either watch every second of your match, or none at all. When you consider that your team’s performance is never represented accurately, it’s obvious which speed to progress with.
I’d like to say the silliness stopped there, but as you can probably guess, it didn’t. Sure, the game isn’t costly, but plenty of free-to-play titles manage to eradicate fundamental errors. When changing your formation during a match, there’s no room to make a mistake. I decided to make all three substitutions while comfortably winning a game. I chose who to bring on, only to change my mind at the last second. Before confirming the alterations, they were already set in stone.
Initially I was bringing on Welbeck, but then decided to opt for Owen. No chance. Once you’ve made the change in the menu screen there’s no freedom to go back, even though play hasn’t resumed. Plenty of moments like this arise and serve only to remind you that you’re playing a terrible, terrible game.
Imagine my horror when I go to check the appearance of my stadium, only to realise the famous Red Devils are playing at a blue-seated arena that echoes Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium. Looking to change this, it shocked me even more that an Old Trafford model is included in the game. Eh?
To be honest, I’m surprised the developers haven’t included a montage of England’s missed penalties over the years. Poor design only incites frustration and hate towards a title that could have found its place on PSN. At £9.99, it speaks volumes that you’ll be feeling hard done by. If you’re looking for a cheap management sim, I urge you to re-visit an out-of-date Football Manager. They say taking control of a football team is one of the most stressful jobs in the world, in the case of Premier Manager 2012 that’s as accurate as a David Beckham free kick used to be.