Football Manager (FM) is the long-running football management franchise that lets fans play out their dreams of managing a football club. And FM 2019 is the 15th and latest iteration.
Like the typical yearly iPhone updates, annual FM iterations have been about incremental improvements. However, this year's FM 2019 - the 15th iteration - represents a major overhaul from its predecessors like the giant leap from iPhone 8 to iPhone X.
First, the tactics have been totally revamped. You no longer can just import a tactic from previous iterations and hope to deliver the same results like before. Even as an FM veteran who has played every single FM game, I find myself needing a tutorial.
Thankfully, the game will take you through a step-by-step walkthrough, called tactics induction, to create the tactics you like. You first choose a preset tactical style, whether it is Jurgen Klopp's Gegenpressing, Pep Guardiola's Tiki-Taka or Jose Mourinho's Park-the-Bus.
Being a Liverpool fan, I obviously opted for Gegenpressing. But this is just the start. You next choose the formation from three preset formations most suited for Gegenpressing. Or you can create your own by tweaking these preset formations.
You can set up to three different formations for your players to train and familiarise. So when you make tactical changes during a match, they know what to do.
Furthermore, the tactics is now broken up into three parts - in possession, in transition and out of possession. Clicking on each part allows you more flexibility in giving specific instructions during these different phases of gameplay. For example, you can instruct your goalkeeper how to distribute the ball during transition for a fast counter-attack.
Training has been reworked to suit the changes in the tactics. There are 11 categories and 40 different sessions, including counter attacking, goalkeeper handling and distribution and set pieces, for you to choose from to train your players. There are also team bonding sessions, mentoring groups and even sending your squad to community outreach events.
PRICE: $55 (Mac; PC, version tested)
GENRE: Football management simulation
Another new feature is the players' ratings during these training sessions, assessed by your assistant manager or coaches in charge of training. You can select your first 11 on match day based on the players' training performance, which turns out to be quite an accurate gauge. For instance, when I played an extremely talented playmaker who didn't perform well in training, he played awfully. I substituted him with another player who performed well during training and he went on to create the equaliser and scored the winning goal.
Not to mention, your medical staff will warn you about a player's potential of getting injured based on the intensity of your training sessions. While more conditioning is great for the players' fitness, especially for a high-intensity tactic like Gegenpressing, they might get injured more easily from over-exertion both in training and in matches.
The player dynamics mechanism from FM 2018 remains unchanged in this iteration. In essence, the players are categorised based on their influence in the team. So if you sell or offend a highly-influential player, you might upset many players. This in turn will affect their performances on the pitch. You walk a tightrope trying to ensure everyone is happy.
The match-engine is slightly improved with the better-looking graphics. The players move more naturally and passes and crosses look more realistic. There is even goal-line technology and video assisted referees for offsides and penalty incidents.
However, goals seem to happen more often from crosses, which seems unrealistic. And the goalkeepers' jumps and moves still look awkward.
The press conferences whereby you select preset responses to journalists' questions remain virtually unchanged from several iterations before.
Verdict: Football Manager 2019 is the best iteration of the franchise. Instead of providing incremental upgrades, the overhauled tactics and training provide fans with something new for more hours of Claudio Ranieri-like tinkering to lead your team to glory.