I love sports. I love video games. That doesn't mean I automatically love sports video games, because as a non-American, most professional and polished titles don't really appeal.
I love my football games, though, from FIFA to Pro Evo, and that means I've also got a soft spot for the Football Manager series, games that are little more than glorified spreadsheets with what feels like the world's largest sporting calculator buried within.
It's been a while since I've really played one of these games, maybe 2-3 years, but I've been hooked on the latest version, Football Manager 2013, for a few weeks now.
This is both a good and terrible thing.
It's good because, for the first time, the game includes an all-new mode—practically a game within a game—called "classic", which strips away a lot of the really time-consuming and stat-heavy stuff, leaving you with a simplified version that's more suitable to the time-starved fan like myself who just wants to buy players, fiddle with tactics and click through a whole season in an afternoon.
It's bad, though, because boy, this game is broken. Not the "main" game, the screens where you navigate fields of numbers and arrows and buy players and talk to the media and tell your physio he's a bit shit so you're replacing him with a fancy Italian. That's fine.
But for years now, a key part of the FM experience has been its match day engine, when the spreadsheets give way to a 3D representation of your team's game, where you can watch the action unfold and give real-time instructions to your players. If you want to win at FM, you have to use it, since simulating a match is so arbitrary, but in using it you leave yourself at the mercy of a game engine which seems to think bloopers are as common as highlights, and that your goalkeeper and defenders are running around with blindfolds on while tap-dancing on two left feet.
Never before have I seen a sports video game be so cruel with its glitches and hiccups, robbing you of victory with an engine failure (ie, a complete failure of the game to accurately model the behaviour of a human footballer) every chance it gets. It's crushing. Dispiriting. It's like the bad old days of cheating AI have returned, only you can't even credit the AI with that, because your goalkeeper kicked the ball into his own net by accident.
I hope developers Sports Interactive can patch the game soon, because as it stands, my heart is breaking every time I play this game, lured in by the promise of sexy menus and football nerd minutiae, then spat on as a defender spins 360-degrees on the spot instead of kicking the ball that's sitting right at his feet oh God just kick it.
UPDATE - Seems turning the 3D engine off, but still simulating the match in 2D, removes most if not all of these kinks. A handy workaround, but still a little disappointing that you have to go back in time ten years just to get a working game of football.