Thursday, November 20, 2008

Football Mogul 2009 Review

Football Mogul 2009, developed and published by Sports Mogul.
The Good: Excellent playbook editor, custom league support, ratings for every player for the 2008 NFL season, lots of small enhancements
The Not So Good: Limited to ten plays per category, needs more than two included playbooks, limited to 36 total teams in a custom league, no online multiplayer
What say you? The play editing alone is almost worth $20 in this quality budget NFL football simulation: 6/8

A personal rule of mine when it comes to annual sports games is to wait two years. Typically this year’s version is a lot like last year’s version, but two iterations might result in some more dramatic changes and improvements. I bring this up because of Football Mogul 2009, a series I initially reviewed a while back with the 2007 iteration. That version has a lot of potential, but came up short overall. Well, now it is two years later and time for the potential to become reality. Does Football Mogul 2009 score a touchdown, or get sacked for a big loss?

The graphics and sound of Football Mogul 2009 are identical to Football Mogul 2007: same interface, same menus, same lack of sounds. A slick presentation isn’t really that important in a text-based sports management game, so I am comfortable with the existing interface since Football Mogul 2009 is, as its predecessor was, easy to navigate.

Since the core of Football Mogul 2009 is (not surprisingly) very similar to Football Mogul 2007, I will highlight the differences and improvements made in this year’s version. The most obvious improvement is the addition of a playbook editor that allows you to design your own plays. While there have been other football games that have allowed you to edit plays, Football Mogul 2009 features the best and most intuitive editor I've come across. For each passing play, you choose a formation, a primary receiver, and the route for each player (of which there are many to choose from). Running plays let you customize the ball carrier and rushing hole (such as between the center and left guard or off-tackle right). Blocking is handled automatically in each case, which is great for novices such as myself that only care about where the “skill position” players are going. It takes only a couple of hours to bang out an entire playbook, partially because of the simplicity of the editor and partially because you are limited to 20 runs (10 inside and 10 outside) and 30 passes (10 small, medium, and long). You are able to edit defensive plays as well (again, 10 per category) in much the same manner. Since it is so easy to make a custom playbook, it’s surprising that the game only comes with two playbooks (obviously the developer is a fan of both the Patriots and the Browns) and there aren’t any to find online. The custom plays also raise the question of whether the new plays actually do anything different or are they simple window dressing. There is probably no way to find out for sure, but it more satisfying playing the game using your own plays and strategies.

Most of the other improvements in Football Mogul 2009 are what you would find in a typical sports sequel. The AI is a tougher opponent that will adjust to your play-calling tendencies. The game simulation performs faster and produces more realistic results. Rookies are generated from a pool of names and will age and decline appropriately. There are a lot of stats to keep track of in thirty categories. You can also play a friend on the same computer (with different keyboard controls), which is one step closer to online play. Finally, Football Mogul 2009 supports custom leagues better, with shorter schedules and unbalanced league configurations, so that’s cool. On the flip side, you are sadly limited to only 36 teams in a custom league.

Football Mogul 2009 takes the next logical step of the franchise, adding in a spectacular play editor on top of an already solid game. My main problem with Football Mogul 2007 was the lack of content, and this version almost completely solves that shortcoming. The play editor is fantastic, and when you add updated rosters, custom leagues, and the host of other additions, Football Mogul 2009 is an enjoyable product. Add in some more playbooks (one per team) and online play and we would have a complete product. Still, Football Mogul 2009’s budget pricing makes it an affordable and satisfying option for those looking for a football simulation instead of a mindless arcade game.