It must be difficult being a developer and setting out to create a football management game, knowing that no matter how hard you try there’s always going to be that unshakable giant looking down on you, decimating all challengers that come it’s way; the Football Manager series.
Maybe this was why Geniaware tried to go down an altogether different route with Lords Of Football, eschewing the hyper-realistic stat-fest approach of Sport Interactive’s monolith and instead taking a much more light-hearted route.
If you’ve flicked through the screen shots here and thought to yourself “This looks less like Football Manager and more like The Sims,” then you’ve pretty much caught the gist of Lords Of Football. This is less about spending endless hours fanatically tweaking your formations to the nth degree while scouring transfer markets for up and coming superstars-to-be from the far flung reaches of the planet, more about keeping your ragtag bunch of footballing deviants happy so they don’t sink into a depression, much like The Sims or, somewhat more accurately, The Movies. You’re not the manager shaping their careers, you’re the God that’s shaping their lives.
The majority of your time in Lords Of Football will take place with you looking down upon the training pitch and the surrounding area, comprising of other football facilities such as the physiotherapy office and also a variety of entertainment buildings, such as restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.
Your time in the ‘day cycle’ of the game will be spent scooping up the players and dropping them where you feel they need the most work. For example if a player is feeling tired after recent exertions on (or off) the pitch you’ll want to send them off for a massage. If you want to train your goalkeepers and strikers together you can set them to take part in a penalty set piece or free kick routine. There’s other options too, such a penalty drills, weight lifting session in the gym, or tactical awareness session complete with chalkboard.
Throughout the game on completion of certain milestone goals you’re handed upgraded facilities and training regimens. This allows you to train more players more effectively at any one time. It’s the only real sense of progress you get through the game.
Come nightfall the players pack away their training gear and hit the town to satisfy their urges. Each player has certain personality traits and you need to cater to them in order to keep them happy. For example, some players are fond of fine dining, so these are the ones you’ll shepherd into the restaurant. The players who are fond of a drink need to be placed in the local pub and the sex addicts (yep, that’s in the game) should be sent to the nightclubs or speed dating events. There’s a variety of different desires and each player needs have these whims catered for.
The training and night time sections essentially boil down to a balancing act. Train the players right and they’ll improve, but train them too hard and they’ll sulk and be tired. The same idea goes for the night section too. Sending the players who like a beer off to the pub every night may seem like a great idea at the time, but keep going it and soon you’ll end up with your star midfielder being less like Gazza in his early days and more like his current condition.
If your players develop addictions it can negatively impact their performance in training, sometimes to the degree that they just don’t turn up and instead wander the streets in a variety of states, for example the alcoholics will drunkenly stumbling around and, my personal favourite, the party animals will grab passersby and start performing a conga through the streets. There’s a couple of ways to bring your errant players back in line. You can send them to therapy for them to talk out their issues, or alternatively you can punish them with humiliating regimes that can see them cleaning boots or being forced to train on Dance Dance Revolution machines.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a football management game without the big match itself. If you’re more interested in the god mode aspect of the game you’re able to simulate the matches but alternatively you’re able to watch and influence the game from a 3D viewpoint. Throughout the action you’re able to change tactics and issue certain commands to the team, such as telling them to demand or counter attack. In a very nice touch you’re able to click on the player and tell them to pass to a specific team mate or make runs into a gap you’ve spotted, meaning your own observation of the game and tactical nous are invaluable to the win. It’s an excellent and intuitive addition to this style of game.
It should also be noted that the 3D engine itself works very well. The players have enough detail on them to be individually recognisable, plus you’re close enough to the action to see tricks such players scooping the ball over oncoming tackles. The AI doesn’t make bizarre moves either, one of my regular bugbears with Football Manager is watching a player doing something inexplicable like running backwards for 20 yards despite having the space of available players to move forwards. None of that is seen here.
It’s always slightly disappointing to be find a lack of official licensing in any football game. Don’t expect to be taking over as manager of Manchester United and spending your entire summer dealing with the tedium of a certain Liverpudlian trying to tease another pay rise out of the club. Instead you’ll be taking the reigns of the likes of the Manchester Reds, the Liverpool Fighters or the (brilliantly named) London Queens. Similarly, the player names are completely made up to with my Manchester Reds team comprising of players named from the normal, like Levi Arets, to the completely bizarre, such as my midfield destroyer who was aptly named The Cyborg.
The reasons for the absence of licensing is understandable though. For one, the costs involved must be absolutely astronomical. Secondly, I’m not sure how many players would want to be portrayed with the variety of personality disorders present in Lords Of Football. I can’t imagine Ashley Cole or Ryan Giggs taking too kindly to a game suggesting that they’re womanizing sex addicts, a far cry away from their wholesome real world images. Oh. Wait.
There’s a distinct lack of the deeper elements of football management, for example the transfer market is nearly entirely out of your hands. All the input you have into player acquisition is requesting a certain type of player, after that the chairman takes over and finds one for you. Similarly, you have no input or control over the contract negotiation side either.
Lord Of Football falls short because it never fully delivers on either on the game styles it tries to use. As football management game it’s anemic, missing several of the crucial aspects needed for that genre. It fails as a life simulator too as you feel your actions account to little more than just dragging and dropping people where you need them to go in order to satisfy whatever requirements there have. It’s quite the shame, because somewhere in here is the basis of what could be a quite wonderful game. Maybe, somewhere down the line, we’ll see a sequel and hopefully the developers will have the experience to flesh out the decent concept that’s been set out here.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 05/04/13
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Lords of Football for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.