There are few games that have consumed so much of my life as Football Manager for the PC. Too many times have I been caught by my girlfriend in the middle of the night, staring with bloodshot eyes at the parallel universe of raw football data (then guiltily trying to cover it like a secret porn stash). Thankfully I put those difficult times behind me, but when I saw an iPhone version pop up for a mere £6.99 the old urges came back. Once an addict always an addict, I suppose.
FM Handheld allows you to manage any league club from 11 different countries. After picking your club, you’re presented with a simple-but-effective menu screen from which you can modify tactics, training, squad selection etc. The database is surprisingly large, and I rarely felt restricted in my search for new players or staff.
There are some notable omissions from the PC version; no individual player instructions, no press conferences and a much smaller database. For the most part this is understandable as otherwise your fingers would seize up from all the tapping and dragging you’d have to do. While it may be a simplified version of FM, it’s still more in-depth than the majority of football management games out there. The only element that I strongly feel should have been left in is the ability to create your own formations; the conventional 4-4-2s, 4-3-3s and their variations just don’t cut it for me.
For a game that largely relies on dragging and dropping, FM Handheld could have been more refined. While basic tapping of the screen is responsive, trying to substitute players or changing their positions by means of dragging can be a nightmare, leading to some costly tactical gaffes. On a couple of occasions I would get halfway through a match wondering why I’m losing 2-0 to a team two divisions below me only to find that my goalie was playing at up front. As you inevitably start racking up the hours invested into the game, you become wary of these things, but it’s still a fundamental flaw that will hopefully be patched sooner rather than later.
The playing out of the football season is as gripping as ever, as there is less time between matches than in the PC version; appropriate considering there’s less micromanagement to toy around with. Board and player happiness levels are always in sync with your management of the club and from my experience there haven’t been any sudden sackings or random transfer requests.
The in-game match engine is decent, but its lack of fluidity means that it just doesn’t have that much strategic purpose. Thankfully, you can switch to text commentary (familiar to Champ Man veterans) which feels more dynamic and allows you to imagine the match to be a whole lot more exciting than the table-football match engine suggests.
FM Handheld is easily the best football management game for the iPhone. It feels casual by FM standards, and is a nice game to dip into on dull commutes back from work, plane journeys, or any other stagnant moments in life. The developers also seem to be listening to the game’s community, as it has already received several performance-boosting patches since its release.
I feel obliged to add that that playing FM Handheld has made me crave going back to its all-consuming PC ancestor; the bane of many good men’s social and sex lives. Recovering addicts be warned.