30.11.2011 - This football manager game claims to be the intelligent one, and at their front page tour they show an exercising brain and refer to the game as a skill game where the manager actions make a difference. Almost like chess. Is this true? And if so – is it fun?At first glance this is a somewhat old school online football manager game where the owner of a virtual football (soccer) club takes all decisions when it comes to what players to buy, how to train them and which ones to field on the pitch. Income from games played and sponsor rewards are used to pay salaries and invest in new talents.
FreeKick is a complex game.
In a world of Angry Birds and Farmville, such games can be seen as daunting and my guess is that many that register at Freekick simply back away with a “woooh, that is a heap of numbers and rules, man!” But for us strategic gamers that might also enjoy both the direct and subtle world of football this game unfolds to be a very interesting experience. The reason for this is that the game follows the simple rule that is true for literature, movies, economic systems and game dynamics; if it’s complex it also has to reward you with depth. And FreeKick does.
There is a tutorial that helps you grasp the basics. There is a thick manual that gives all the information if you know what to look for. You receive your personal mentor (one of the experienced managers in the game), that can share their knowledge and give advice. But after that it’s your own journey with the help of the friendly community in the forum and curiosity, hand in hand with healthy patience, that gets you far. I strongly recommend using the “Quick Match” feature that is especially useful for new users. It will give you the first insight to the match simulation, which can be seen as the core of FreeKick.
The virtual players are very varied with either eight outfield skills or five keeper skills. The diversity in skills like Scoring, Offensive Positioning, Ball Control and Aerial makes (for example) the attacker role complex and open for many choices by the manager. Do you want your attackers to try to find the space behind the defenders or keep the ball by superior technique on the ground or in the air? The attacker needs to get past the defence as often as possible (with the help of his team mates) and then beat the keeper with a skillful shot.
As players have both a current and potential in each skill, what height of skill each player can reach differs. To combine different types of players and use their strengths optimally in the match is the key for success. Although Freekick is a manager game, it stands out as a tactically challenging game in a jungle of almost pure building games. With player orders, team tactics and studying your opponent you can turn inferiority in player quality to superiority in result.
A game for real people, with real lives.
Freekick doesn’t force you to login very often to be successful as it’s a game about making decisions. The training system rewards you each day as you can see your players rise in their skills, but if you login once a week to adjust training you will be okay. A fun detail is that the potentials of players rise from age 15 to 21 so you can follow their progress both in their currents and their potentials.
As if the developers wished to put focus on the football and tactical part of the game, many other parts are stripped down to their essentials. The economy is logical and balanced in it’s dynamic, you don't need to spend time with micromanaging player wages or ticket prices for the stadium. It’s all about strategic choices before the matches, and tactical choices for each match.
FreeKick isn’t about whom you know, it’s about how skilled you are. Of course it’s nice if someone is there to see you perform. The community is supported by a standard forum and federations in the game. The users can make their own tournaments which makes it possible to play with your friends. Additional positive sides are that the game is free to play as long as you want and that becoming a VIP manager (only €25 a year) mostly is ceremonial and adds useful tools – in other words: no extra bonus to win matches or anything like that. Loyalty to the game and convenience gives that many top clubs support the game anyhow. Each new manager gets two months of free VIP, predicting matches or recruiting new managers are also rewarded VIP credit – which gives a fuzzy warm feeling of generosity.
Lack of smooth graphics vs. great game dynamics
FreeKick is indeed an intelligent game with depth that rewards your decisions as a manager. But it takes time to get into, and the lack of cool graphics demands much of the user to visualize the text feedback from the game. I would like to see more graphics and more instant gratification features from the development crew. FreeKick is a game that I can play matches with chess like enthusiasm, and introducing too much player vs. game aspects could corrupt the vision of the game. Because the developer seem to have a clear vision what they want to achieve that they stick with, almost like you would aspect Steve Jobs did in the early Apple years. There are good and bad things about that, but when it’s good, it’s good.
Again, the worst parts are graphics and at times the interface. How hard can it be to make a picture of the pitch so that I can place my players on it? Telling the game with a drop down menu that I want a player to be a forward doesn’t diminish the brilliant match simulation or the strategic values, but it does makes the game a tad awkward.
Still, if we are talking manager games, the game has to be about managing. I have played many manager games and this is the first where strategic building works together with tactical challenges. The top clubs know how to manage their economy and recruit new players from other clubs in the open transfer market, but they also know how to use their squad well. Although my club is relatively new and I mix losses with victories, I do have fun! And having fun in a game while losing is rare.
The navigation is logical and there are few glitches. I would like to see more graphical elements instead of text links here and there. And the lineup should be graphical for better view and more functionality. Overall, a quite reasonable interface with room for improvement.
With focus on your actions as manager for each match, I would say that this is the most tactical football manager game I ever seen. The building part is still essential of course, but it’s quite possible to best your opponent with better quality of players if you have the better tactic. Your settings is both about optimizing your own players and countering the opponent.
The diversity of the players give many player choices like asking for high passes or firing long shots. Conditional orders give me control of what happens in the match. If my opponent only uses one forward I will in the 62nd minute (for example) change to 3-4-3 formation. Although you can make a quick lineup you can also spend a lot of time analyzing your opponent and make the right tactics.
Building the club is always important in a football manager game. FreeKick has more emphasis on Tactics than any other game, which shows in how the strategic phase is constructed. Players are so diversified that there is no squad that looks the same, nor is one building strategy the overall best. If many managers go for attackers with high Positioning (for example) you can be sure that clubs will go for defenders with high Positioning to avoid the attackers to be totally free with the keeper.
The building is long term and you may have a player from 15- 45 years (although most players loses much of their charm at 33+ years old), which means a couple of real life years! Planning ahead is your best friend, but a buzzing transfer market will allow for complementing your strategy.
This is the strongest part of FreeKick and what gives the high tactical rating. It’s so intelligent that it allows you to see exactly what it does without hesitation. If your attacker makes a Superb pass it’s because of his passing skill and the challenges the match report explains happens in the engine like it’s explain – no nonsense. It’s complex in a good way.
I would like to see a graphical viewer here to quicker get an overview. For the tactical nerds, the text information will be perfect, but for many other users something to look at will make the game more interesting.
A stable economy without unnecessary pitfalls. Nothing fancy, but nothing bad. The transfer market is honest and looked after by volunteer Game Masters. The game is free from most micromanagement of the economy as it’s about football. But you can earn a fortune by sport success, but also by strategic buying of players and training them smartly. A tip is to not sell players during the European night as most buyers live in Europe and are at sleep then.
As any football manager game, this isn’t a simulation but a game. It does give a good feeling of being a football manager, and the match engine gives a feel of football. The developers have several times chosen Game Play in favor of things that happens real life. So there are no drugs, no career ending injuries, no diving players or faulty referee decisions. But there ARE injuries, suspensions, set pieces, rebounds, keeper fumbles and unfair results. It’s your duty as a manager to make decisions to lower the risk for failure.
Not as big as some others, but friendly and passionate. It’s easy to get help from your own mentor, the newbie federation or open forum. Recently the developers have started adding discussion boards on matches and similar items to improve community interaction even further. There is 14 clubs in each series and national leagues, World Cup with real managers leading the national battles. Thumbs up for the community!