Football Manager 2021 (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 06.01.2021

Review for Football Manager 2021 on PC

With Covid-19 impacting football around the world and many fans still itching to actually see their local team in the flesh, it seems like the perfect time to dive into yet another Football Manager addiction. Fans of the series know what to expect with the simulation behemoth - expert level of detail and statistics across vast reams of real-life football data, superb drama while building a football team and finding the best young players to turn into world superstars. Having been in beta release the last few weeks, fans have already got the chance to start their new annual addiction and so far the noises about the state of this year's game have been pretty good. New UI elements, a better graphics engine and improved communication with players and the media are just some of the additional features in FM2021. Now launching on Steam as version 1.0, Cubed3 has the lowdown on this year's release.

Annual simulation titles like Football Manager 2021 are a tough gig, let's be honest. Football is football and trying to change the fundamentals is impossible. And at the same time, why fix what isn't broken? That's very much the mantra here with FM21 and it isn't to diminish what a good game it is, simply to stress that this year's edition is very much an attempt to refine the good, rather than a complete revolution.

For anyone unfamiliar, FM21 allows a player to take control of one of any tens of thousands of real-world clubs or international football sides and jump into the role of first-team manager. From buying and selling players, setting up training, working on set-piece routines, and winning matches on the pitch - the scope of the game is immense and all encompassing, with hundreds of thousands of real-world players and coaches as well as an abundance of tactical options. Building tactics and a winning team does indeed require a mixture of actual effort, good common sense and a fair deal of luck.

As for new features this year, there is a bundle to discuss. The most obvious and arguably most successful is the improved match-engine. It is a feature that is regularly touted by developers Sports Interactive each year. This year however it does genuinely feel like a decent advancement.

The animations are pretty impressive on release and unlike previous years, there seems to be no issues with goalkeepers doing odd things, or defenders choosing to make ridiculous decisions on a regular basis as a result of a fault of the animation. On top of that, the most striking improvement is the lighting system, which does bring the action on the pitch to life in a much more realistic way. Generally, things just look more pleasant. Finally, the action on the pitch does represent the team off it. Where there could be improvements in the future is more variety in stadium types and also crowds could use a bit more work.

Screenshot for Football Manager 2021 on PC

While things have improved on the pitch, there have been further refinements to the UI and features in the backroom as well. As usual, the UI is brilliant in FM21, with the series now having perfected the model that all similar simulation games should follow. Clear, quick and intuitive to use - with explanations aplenty for any stat or tactic that needs a bit more clarification.

There is a definite theme among some of the UI and gameplay changes to tap into an increase in realism. Take the new 'Condition' display. Previously this was a percentage figure that determined a player's level of match fitness and performance. Overtrain them, play them too often or rush them back from injuries and this would decrease throughout the match until a likely injury. Now, this percentage figure has been replaced by a heart.

While some possibly wanted the exact statistics that a numerical figure gives, in many ways it is more attuned to real life football analysis that this display is more organic and less black and white. Too often before it was simply a case of subbing a player off when he was at 29% with half the match still to play. With the heart system and condition metric alongside it, as well as advice from backroom staff, choosing when to make the right tactical decisions feels far more organic than ever before.

It also ties in much more neatly to the increased role of sports science within the game, which now gives a rundown on the 'Injury Load' that various players are operating under. It means that real thought must go into team selections and training schedules, where before this was slightly less of a necessity.

Another attempt to increase realism is in the scouting, and a new regular interaction with the board that pops up every few months in game. Now, the owners and chairperson of a club will take an active interest in identifying weaknesses in the squad and sit down to suggest additional players to scout and buy. This addition is a little less successful. Not because the additional interaction is unwanted, but rather that the fuss of having to go through a whole load of unnecessary clicking and a menu that could have been trimmed down, feels a tad wasted.

Screenshot for Football Manager 2021 on PC

Interactions with players and media have also been given a significant boost this year and again, marks a step forward in trying to craft more realistic conversations. Take press conferences with the awaiting media for example. Now, also with a snazzy new 3D background, it is a much cleaner interface. The addition of new 'Emotes' (which also feature in discussions with players) such as pointing a finger or sitting with arms folded, means that the emotional impact of answering a question is more easily identifiable than the vague way previously.

It also adds nicely to the role-playing element of being able to act as a manager in exactly the style of personality that matches the player. From tough-talking disciplinarian to arm-round-the-shoulder coach - all styles can be catered for.

The media interactions, while not revolutionary, are also made more interesting as a result of a new press officer who will direct particular questions and advice on how well they were answered in a post-conference summary. It would be interesting to know how much a particular answer or style of interaction with the press honestly has on the performance of players and it feels like the next step for Football Manager is to really make this transparent in the way it ties into gameplay beyond touches of realism.

Screenshot for Football Manager 2021 on PC

Where it does have implications is with the board now taking a much closer interest in answers given to media questions, with said answers potentially impacting on job security and performance reviews. Make a big deal about a board takeover or how they haven't invested enough and it can get their backs up. Individual journalists also have specific relationship statuses with the manager now and this can be improved or worsened depending on the style of interaction.

The new 'Quick Chat' feature with individual players is also a much-welcomed addition, with this handy tool allowing the manager to give instant feedback to his players; if for example they trained well or have done something positive to help a teammate. While this isn't revolutionary, in the sense it was an option in previous games, the expanded context-sensitive topics and the intuitive access means it is far more realistic to take an active role in all players without having to jump in and out of menus.

In terms of the detail in stats available, FM21 is certainly not lacking. The new 'Expected Goal' stat is just one of a number of additions on that front. What 'Expected Goals' or 'xG' shows more visibly, is the measurement of goalscoring chances a team has created. It's an invaluable tool within the game to see how efficient and effective a team is at converting chances. It is no surprise that real-world teams often come to Sports Interactive for their statistical base, as absolutely everything the rookie manager could ask for is on show here.

Screenshot for Football Manager 2021 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Football Manager 2021 is a continual improvement over its predecessor. While not doing anything that radically shifts the dial, this latest addition further improves the user experience and gives even more ways to set up and run a successful football team. With a 3D match engine that is really starting to do a great job at bringing the action to life, and further touches of realism to player and media interactions, there's enough innovation here for fans to jump onboard. Social life be warned, FM21 is a fantastic time sink and once stuck inside, it's hard to get out.


Sports Interactive







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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