Ever bitten off more than you can chew?

I sure did. The opportunity came up to review FIFA Manager 09 maybe a month back. I thought, hey, I’ve never played one of those manager type games before, maybe I’ll discover a previously untapped gaming genre for myself. After all, I like micro management aspects of RTS games, I’ve enjoyed the odd multiplayer FIFA 08 game, and it’s a PC title for once (that’s right, Ed, let me guess who gets to review Diablo III?).

It would seem the powers that be didn’t take a shine to my cheeky hints at getting another PC game. I got the world’s best menu simulator. Every button I clicked brought up a new screen, or half screen, with more options. It felt a bit like I was setting up the graphics and audio settings in a typical EA game. It didn’t fee like I was actually ‘playing’ anything.

The reality is you’ll spend most of your time in menus, changing options. I was waiting for the game to appear. I was missing the point, it was a simulation game, effectively a statistics number cruncher. My hopes of some sort of Sims-style game had been dashed.

I tried, I really did. I made a manger, set up his back story and all his details, including his marital status. Unsure how any of this was relevant (read the manual? Nah!). I plodded on, and promptly got stuck.

Personally, the measure of a good interface is one you can use intuitively. This wasn’t quite the case. I seemed to move ahead days in the calendar, without actually achieving anything. I discovered that I could change my team philosophy, training styles, management styles etc, But I couldn’t get anything to actually happen.

It wasn’t long before I realised that this was going to require the use of the worst cliché in the reviewing world. But more on that later.

Let's be clear. I didn’t dislike the game, as I didn’t know enough about how it was supposed to work. I just didn’t understand it. I had had some joy, as I discovered that even the dirty old Waikato football club was in the game. Hamiltron represent. Even better, one or two of those names were people from my High School. I suddenly felt endeared to FIFA if my home town, oft mocked and unknown internationally, could be found deep in the bowels of a billion dollar franchise simulator.

But I knew it was futile. I don’t get football management games, I just don’t. They are surely an acquired taste. I’d wager many people won’t even read this review, simply because it’s not their cup of tea.

However I can’t do the developers, nor the genuine fans a disservice, so it’s only fair to do a proper review. There was only one thing for it - rope in one of the lager lads I knew in Auckland who was football mad. I’ve summarised his football geek rhetoric into relevant points of view about the game. Yes, he was English. And yes, it cost me a beer. That’s right, I bought a beer for you.

So, in the words of someone who actually plays football management games:

FIFA Manager 09 is good, but not worthy of greatness. It’s detailed, full of options right down to the nitty gritty things most people would care less about. This is both good and bad. Good, in that hardcore fans will no doubt love the minute details. Bad, because only the hardcore fans will love the minute details.

The graphics and 3D soccer engine are pretty swish, allowing you to see your team in action. It’s been touted as a big feature of the game, and does a good job of letting you see your work in progress. Though it’s more fun making your team useless and watching them fail miserably.

The online extras and stats are also nice, although somewhat expected to be in a game like this in 2009. You can get the latest players and standings to download into the game.

The game takes a long time to play a full season, again great if you have the time, but it’s not going to be something casual players will want to play.

There’s also some odd features. You have a wife who in her own right also needs managing. She’ll get upset if you don’t spend enough time with her. You can play golf to endear yourself to important figures, and certain game modes require your character to be a male of a certain age. This I just didn’t understand. At some point you have to wonder; are these necessary features or a case of the kitchen sink approach to game design?

Thus ends the sense I could make of my soccer loving friend.

Football Manager is for those who want the details. All the details. If you’ve never played a soccer management game before, honestly, there’s probably a reason why that is. My advice, stay away. Not because the game is bad. It’s that this type of game just probably isn’t for you.

That said, if you love the concept of running your own club, right down to the way your wife relates to your management style, FIFA Manager 09 has it all.

So there it is. Much like Microsoft’s Train Simulator, or a super accurate flight sim which recreates every button in the cockpit of a Russian Fighter Jet, including having all the words on the buttons in Russian, this game has a particular target market.

I’m going to review hell for this: You'll like it, if you like that sort of thing.