Football Manager 2020 Review: Subtle tweaks and new features take FM20 to the next level

Put on your best suit and get ready to pace the touchline. FM20 is a worthy next step in the franchise.

Toby Durant by Toby Durant

Football Manager offers a completely different take on sport compared to other games like FIFA, Madden or NBA 2K.

You don’t kick the ball, you lay out your strategy and attempt world domination. It is chess, not checkers.

However, it is also locked into the annual release cycle that all sports games suffer from. This often leads to players feeling taken advantage of, that it is just “the same old game with a roster update”.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Football Manager 2020

So is Football Manager 2020 just another game in the sporting cycle that shuffles names round and changes little? Or have Sports Interactive tweaked the formula enough to create a truly fresh vision of what life is like in the hot seat?

Familiar feel

WELCOME HOME: The layout of FM20 is not much different from last year

The layout of FM20 has a familiar air to it, but that’s no bad thing. It’s not a struggle to find your way to the transfer market or assign your coaches and scouts with new tasks.

If you played FM19 then the training system will be as you remember it and implementing your own regime will be simple enough.

READ MORE: Best wonderkids in FM20 ahead of release

These facts alone will be enough for some to criticise, but not me. Sports Interactive have a user-friendly layout and changing things for the sake of it would only spoil a very effective interface for players.

For those new to Football Manager the sheer amount of information on display can be overwhelming, but the induction system for tactics, transfers, training, and basically everything is superb and is there to guide you through anything you are unfamiliar or unsure about.

New features add realism

CLUB VISION: Every board has a plan, and you have to stick to it or find another job

The first new features you will come across in your managerial journey are the Club Vision and the Code Of Conduct.

These are two documents that you can negotiate on and agree with first the board and then the players, and they both help to add a layer of realism and accountability to the game that was lacking last year.

The Club Vision brings depth to your set of targets and a long-term aim for the club. A team like Manchester City will want you to keep them a dominant force in the Premier League, while Tottenham want you to push them up the league and challenge for that elusive league title.

READ MORE: All the best players on FM20 ahead of release

In the lower leagues, the ideal path to the top is plotted out over the course of five years, with promotion, survival, competence, and more promotion all glistening in the eyes of the Chairman.

You can negotiate this, and ask for the board not to judge you on competitions like the FA Cup if you are a big team, or that you be allowed to play a more defensive style.

It adds accountability for your role, and this is something you then pass on to the players.

Gone are the days of your combative midfielder getting annoyed because you fined him after a sixth red card. Now you can lay out just what each transgression will cost.

A straight red? That is half a week’s wages fine for a first offence, and two weeks for each one after that. Sent off for a two yellows though, well that’s just a warning.

READ MORE: Every new feature in Football Manager 2020

As long as you stick to this agreed Code of Conduct the players will have no reason to become upset with your discipline.

There is also a much more in-depth set of squad roles for players, from star to fringe squad player, and this helps prevent the playing time complaints that plagued FM19.

Added input from backroom staff

There is a lot to do in Football Manager, which means delegating tasks and listening to feedback will be crucial to saving time and letting you advance through the seasons.

DELEGATE: There are loads of tasks to hand off to your team

This may well be a feature that is more aimed at the new player than the hardcore FM fan, but the increased importance and impact of your backroom staff is much welcomed.

FM games used to be about employing the best scouts and coaches to find and train up players, but now you need staff with the tactical nous to see how a player fits into your scheme and an assistant manager with the insight to know what tweaks you should make for each game.

READ MORE: FM 20 Mobile: New leagues, languages, and features

It again adds to the realism of the game and makes you feel more submerged in the managerial role than ever before.

Match engine

SMARTER PLAY: The match engine improvements create better highlights

One of the main issues that crop up year on year is the match engine. Players don’t knock the ball around the midfield, no matter how many times you select tiki-taka and short passes. Obvious passes to an open player are missed in favour of a ridiculous shot or dribble by a player without the stats to even try it.

Football Manager is a game that can be run on low-end PCs to keep it accessible, which is something that makes it stand out on the Steam Store. This means it will never have an ultra-powerful match engine that can re-create a true football game.

READ MORE: 5 things we learned playing the FM 20 Beta

However, there have been improvements this year at both ends of the pitch. Forward players make more intelligent runs off the ball, within the context of your tactics of course, while wingers will exploit space or shift the ball to their dominant foot before a cross or shot.

Defenders are more spatially aware, so there will be fewer frustratingly unmarked strikers heading in a late equaliser.

Goalkeepers also distribute the ball more realistically and the physics of their parries is more consistent and true to life.

Verdict

PROGRESS: As you go your board will keep you up to date with their opinions

The true test of any Football Manager game is how playable it is in your sixth season, or when the regens start to take over, and that is as-yet-unknown.

From the start though, Football Manager 2020 feels a more complete universe than ever before. From the board and player interactions to media questions and staff discussions, FM20 is a world that you dive into rather than a game you play.

Every decision you make counts somewhere, from opting to send a star youngster on loan rather than give him limited first-team minutes to braking up the chemistry of your midfield with a pair of new signings. Little things matter more this year than before.

READ MORE: Best ways to cheat in FM20

There are a few issues. As ever, you can’t manage Germany internationally, and thanks to their PES 2020 deal Juventus is called ‘Zebre’ this year. The transfer market still feels a little skewed against the player, but after Joao Felix made a £100+ million move this summer it is not surprising to see young talent get valued so highly by clubs.

However, this year’s game is everything you could realistically want or expect from Sports Interactive. It is engaging, while the new features don’t distract of alter the flow of the game.

FM20 will certainly come in for the usual “it’s the same” criticisms, but when the formula SI has is so good it doesn’t require an overhaul. There are a few tweaks this year that really help take everything up a notch and as a life-long FM player, they all work.

It’s a must-buy for new and old managers alike.

RealSport Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Toby Durant