If you want to play Football Manager, then the PC version is the way to go, but Football Manager 2021 Xbox edition will still get its hooks into you.
My memories of playing Football Manager over the years are primarily of being hunched over a laptop, shouting expletives at AI players while mostly under the cover of darkness. It always felt a bit isolating and underground, like I was conducting illegal deals as I clicked and clicked and clicked my way through tactics, training, transfers and all the rest, before praying to Martin Jol or whoever was the Spurs manager at the time as I started a match. Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition feels different. It feels like the whole world can see how bad I am – and not just at using the controller to navigate.
First things first, Football Manager 2021 Xbox Edition (I played on) is based on the Touch version, which is the more streamlined game that is designed to get you through seasons quicker than in the standard game, and the version that’s appeared on Switch and tablets for a few years now. For those not in the know, the full-fat FM experience can take hours, if not days, simply to make it through pre-season. Here you can breeze through matches faster, although there’s still depth there should you look for it in menus.
It is these menus, and general navigation, that present the biggest stumbling blocks for players keen to give FM a go on Xbox. With a controller rather than a mouse (or a touch screen), there were also going to be quirks, and the initial hour or so I spent with the game proved to be a little clunky. Moving forward in time (or through items of note) is all handled with RT, while a tab system of sorts can be cycled through with the shoulder buttons. All simple enough, but the meat of the menus, the stuff that covers the bulk of the game screen, requires a bit more fiddling around.
The left analogue stick acts as a way to switch between zones on the display, a purple outline showing which zone you are focused on. From here you use the d-pad to navigate within a zone and various buttons to change settings or confirm choices. This made for the clumsiest first 10 minutes I’ve had in a game for quite some time, but the road to a better understanding and more fluency is relatively short. Alternatively, you can click in the left stick and have a cursor to move around the screen, but this feels both too slow and too fast, and I preferred the default control scheme.
A good chunk of hours into my save as Tottenham manager, predictably struggling to score goals despite having the best squad of all time, and I felt happy. On a console, with a gamepad, you’re never going to get the same ease of use as on a PC with mouse and keyboard, but this is a solid effort that I’m sure caused numerous headaches during development. Incidentally, I couldn’t test it, but you can plug in a USB keyboard, which is no doubt handy for searching the transfer market, and although Sports Interactive says otherwise, users have reported that a USB mouse works too, albeit not perfectly.
Jumping back to the game itself rather than the control scheme – I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s been a few years since I played a Football Manager, so improvements such as the match engine stand out to me more than they might for some. Sports Interactive has also done a great deal in recent years to make you feel the part, especially if you’re in charge of big clubs, thanks to better reports and in-game social media.
As I touched on at the start, playing Football Manager on a TV feels vastly different to the PC experience. Even with no one around, I felt more judged, the game broadcasting my failures (and a few nice wins) to anyone who fancied a look. It’s fair to say that given the choice I would always opt for the PC version (incidentally, the Xbox game has Xbox Play Anywhere so you get the PC version of Touch, too, with cross-saves), perhaps even the iPad game, but FM on Xbox is still easy to get addicted to, and Quick Resume on Xbox Series X and S means you can jump in relatively quickly to knock out a game or two. Now, I must get back to trying to figure out why a front three of Kane, Bale, and Son have only scored two goals in five games.
Version tested: Xbox Series X. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this article.