The Football Manager series has always been infamous for its complex menus and seemingly countless background mechanics, but that level of unabashed realism has also proven to be the franchise's main success. Now in its 15th iteration, the main focus of Football Manager 2019 has been to enhance key gameplay mechanics.
This high-stakes gamble paid off: Football Manager 2019 feels like a natural evolution of the franchise with better mechanics than its predecessors. These engine upgrades may not be flashy, but the long-term payoff has resulted in one of the best Football Manager titles to date.
Related: Read our FIFA 19 Review
With already-complicated game mechanics now extending even further, the steep learning curve of the franchise has only gotten more mountainous with each passing year. To combat this, Sports Interactive has finally introduced an in-game tutorial mechanic. This step-by-step guide appears in the form of various in-game popups. These helping to guide new players and train them how to interact with the game's many mechanics. There are a lot of cogs churning in the well-oiled machine that is Football Manager, and running a club requires a lot of effort and know-how. The new tutorial system reduces the traditional trial-by-fire method that new managers typically partake in, while veteran managers can skip the tutorial process entirely.
The tutorial mode goes over new mechanics like the new training module, which has been upgraded from an underutilized pre-and-post game focus mechanic. Training now has a daily schedule split between several activity focuses, allowing players to fine-tune a focus on particular attributes. With 40 training modules to pick from, managers will choose between things like ball distribution, match tactics, and even team cohesion-increasing things like community outreach. These training modules have up to three different main focuses which help improve player attributes, but come with inherent injury risks. It's a lot to take in, though gamers are still free to let their assistant managers take over the scheduling if they don't want to dive deeply into this mechanic. For everyone else, it's a nice expansion of details that make the simulator even more realistic.
The tactics module was already one of the most layered mechanics of the Football Manager series, and it's gone through a complete overhaul too. Players now pick a general philosophy like catenaccio, tiki-taka, or parking the bus, which prompts some starting mentalities and formation recommendations. From there, Players now choose how their teams act with the ball, without the ball, and their mentality during transitions between those two stages. FIFA 19 made a similar adjustment this year, and this has resulted in a net improvement for both titles: managers are free to put more of their personal imprint on team mentalities, giving them yet another tool to leave a personal touch on squads.
The overhauled tactics module is the most significant change in Football Manager 2019 simply due to its huge ramifications. Many players will feel like Pep Guardiola when their plan to overlap a wingback on a high press nets them a 90th minute derby win. It's this personal pride for in-game achievements that keeps players coming back to Football Manager, so evolving this key mechanic was a smart move from Sports Interactive. After all, where else will you see players brag about a 10-year journey taking Sutton United to a Champions League title?
Longtime Football Manager veterans will be quick to notice that regens - the colloquial term to computer-generated players that begin to populate the world once users start playing - finally have new facial graphics. The previous iterations of the franchise managed to produce some horrifying Frankensteins in their day, with players that would even change skin color throughout careers. Football Manager 2019 boasts more ordinary-looking blokes, making long-term games much easier on the eyes as regens slowly take over squads around the globe. Sports Interactive has finally secured the Bundesliga license this time around, too, so the glaring sore-spot of a generic German national team has finally been fixed. In a game which prides itself on absolute realism, this licensing acquisition has been a long time coming.
Football Manager 2019 might not look much different than its predecessors at face value, but the training and tactic module enhancements have some deep-lying ramifications that allow players to fine-tune philosophies of their choice. With long overdue additions like an introductory tutorial, Bundesliga licensing, and better regen faces, there's been some hefty quality-of-life enhancements behind the scenes. While longtime complaints like tedious interviews and odd-looking highlights remain, Football Manager 2019 still comes off as a highly polished and immaculately detailed football management simulator.
As with any annualized title, many fans will boil it down to a simple question: is this year one to skip, or is a must-have for the franchise? The answer is the latter - Football Manager 2019 has evolved by a great leap this year, and Sports Interactive has dug in deep to improve mechanics that were already quite detailed to begin with. This year's additions aren't flashy, but then again, neither is Football Manager itself - and that hasn't mattered yet.
Football Manager 2019 is available now on PC and Mac, with a simplified Touch Edition available on Nintendo Switch. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.