Review Price free/subscription
Platforms: Mac & PC (PC Version Reviewed)
Sports Interactive's football management games are a British institution. Given that football is the national sport and SI has been making football management games for over a decade, there can be little argument about that. They are, as we've known for a long time now, the games that footballers play, the games whose worldwide database of players is so comprehensive that clubs and managers use them for scouting. Even when it lost its beloved Championship Manager brand to Eidos it has continued to succeed, finding a new home with Sega and a new name: Football Manager.
Of course, like any football title, a new version arrives every year and as such the series has settled into a comfortable and consistent evolution; every year bringing with it a slurry of new features, some large, some very small indeed. It's still the case with 2009 but one of the new features is a particularly important one. So important, in fact, that it's writ large on the front of the DVD case: "includes new 3D match view".
Anyone who has played Football Manager games will know this is a pretty significant development. It took long enough for SI to develop a viewable match engine at all and it has stuck with its perfectly capable 2D effort for a while now. It is still in the game, so those with lower power machines needn't worry, but the new 3D match engine also brings with it a new "TV View" from which to view games.
It's a massive improvement, too. In fact, the elegance of the TV View brings to harsher light the inadequacies of the old system. When we weren't enjoying the simplicity of the new presentation, we were constantly frustrated when the game forgot to switch between our default split view and the 2D pitch when displaying action, leading to us regularly missing important incidents.
In the TV View, however, this is never a problem since the whole screen is utilised properly - something aided by long overdue support for widescreen monitors. Along the top of the screen is the score, with a shortcut to the tactics screen, then there's a drop down menu where you can select to display various widgets, such as player ratings, match stats and all the other various bits of information. These can then be dragged around the screen, closed and re-opened whenever you like, giving you quick access to the stats and facts you need without ever leaving the action.
As for the action itself, the graphical presentation is fairly basic, so any notebook with discrete graphics should have no problem and even integrated graphics should be able to cope, but the extra immersion it provides is invaluable. Compared to the 2D view you get a more thorough perspective on how the match is developing, how your players are interacting and also how your players compare physically against the opposition. So, if you find your central midfielder is being out jumped by his opposite number you can quickly shuffle your team to reflect this. A multitude of different angles mean you can follow the action from different perspectives, too, and provided your PC can handle it this is the best way to experience match day.