Football Manager 2006 Xbox 360 Review

In the first release since SEGA bought Sports Interactive in April 2006, Football Manager has arrived on the XBox 360. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be crying in frustration before you even kick off your first game.

The 360 version has one of the most badly designed, inconsistent, and counter-intuitive control systems ever. It could only be more infuriating if each button directed you at random through a succession of totally unrelated screens.

It starts simply enough with the left and right bumper bringing up the two main menus. Then you have to use various combinations of the left and right stick to navigate through sub-menus and screens. The manual is no help at all so, after several hours of wondering where certain bits are, it’s left to you to discover huge sections that can be accessed only by using the directional pad (this only applies to little things like, you know, a player’s stats).

To make things a little easier, the face buttons are given context-sensitive assignations displayed at the bottom of the screen. It might have been more useful to give them fixed functions which don’t change from one screen to another. For example: at the team selection screen, you press ‘X’ to select a player but ‘A’ to select from the list of positions that pops up. If you press ‘X’ again, you’ll go somewhere completely unexpected (and if you press ‘B’ to go back, you’ll go somewhere even more unexpected because they use the left trigger instead). Eventually you’ll get used to it, which is what the developers must have thought when they designed a system that ignores what every other XBox game has hardwired into our brains.

The 360 version contains almost everything from the earlier PC version – it’s practically a direct port – but, along with a mouse and keyboard, it’s missing one vital thing. The PC version spawned a massive online community providing regular updates of kits, leagues and, most vitally, transfers. On the PC, the FM editor lets you make changes yourself (and, if you’re so inclined, cheat like buggery). This not only means you could still be happily playing last century’s Championship Manager 2 but, on the PC, Football Manager remains the most richly detailed and effortlessly authentic footie management sim ever. Though Sports Interactive anticipate downloadable ‘theme packs’ via XBox Live, it’s unlikely we will see anything like the same customisability on the 360.

The devil, as they say, is in the detail, and the addictiveness of Football Manager lies solely in the mesmerising depth of its database. While most 360 games are so far just better looking versions of cross-platform releases, Football Manager’s popularity was never anything to do with graphics – it’s a game whose fans got excited when Sports Interactive introduced a match screen with a 2D pitch, coloured dots with little feet, and a totally unrealistic, table-football style ball. No, Football Manager is all about information content. And that means words. Lots of them. And lots of words do not look good on a TV. In fact they can be very painful on the eyes.

But for all its problems on a console format, Football Manager 2006 is still an engrossing and completely beguiling game. It’s great to be able to put aside the controller and take your place on the bench (sofa), pace along the edge of the technical area (the rug in front of the sofa), or run onto the pitch (across the sitting room) to celebrate a goal. It’s certainly more comfortable, and less likely to lead to lower back problems, to be playing on a console than hunched over your PC.

It’s difficult not to get completely carried away playing Football Manager, whatever you’re playing it on. But the chances are that anyone who can afford an XBox 360 has probably got a reasonable PC somewhere nearby and, however nice it is to be able to play flat on your back on the sofa, there are many more reasons to buy the PC version instead.