While other sports such as football, rugby and ice hockey have been well served with managerial games over the past decade, motorsport management simulators have been hard to come by, but have developed a staunch following.
Grand Prix Manager 2 (1996) and EA’s fantastic F1 Manager (2000) games have significantly outlasted their shelf life thanks to a devoted modding community, who produce annual updates to satiate their team boss fantasies. Now, after well over a decade of waiting, the launch of Motorsport Manager seeks to offer racing fanatics the chance to live out their dreams of sitting on the pitwall and guiding their team to victory – but has it been worth the wait?
It is important to preface the review by stating that the following opinions are based on a pre-launch copy of the game provided by Sega, and therefore may not represent the finished product in its entirety.
Sega’s Motorsport Manager is set in a fictionalised world complete with three championship tiers, allowing players to progress from the European Racing Series (GP3) up to the World Motorsport Championship (F1). The game does not have any licenced content, such as teams or drivers, due to the prohibitively exorbitant amount that this would cost – although the game will support modding following launch.
As with any game, first impressions are delayed while getting to grips with the basic gameplay mechanics, and the pretty 3D track renders are quickly overlooked as you manage your drivers’ strategies and coach them through the pack. Sadly, the tutorial that eases players into the game is less than helpful, popping up too often to allow enjoyment of gameplay and yet offering very little information on how your decisions will impact your team in either the long- or short-term. Skipping this and finding your own way around is highly recommended.
Having been dropped straight into your first race without any time to prepare for the new season or familiarise yourself with the team, the first few rounds of the championship can be rather baffling and take some time to get to grips with. A pre-season testing schedule, as adopted in F1 Manager, would have overcome this issue and allowed the player to get to grips with the game without impacting on their title chances.
Sadly, by cutting straight to the action, the game is less immersive and doesn’t encourage you to establish any meaningful relationship with the team – something that is essential when you aren’t able to play with your favourite, familiar real-world race teams. However, this could be readily overcome with the introduction of in-depth team biographies or the ability to create your own team from the start.
Finding a winning strategy
Within a few rounds the learning curve will plateau and the game becomes more fun, as you feel that your strategy calls and driver management can have a genuine impact on the outcome of races. The team’s first one-two finish elicited a real fist clenching moment after a decisive switch to intermediate tyres as the rain suddenly came down.
Yet Motorsport Manager can feel uncomfortably devoid of strategy at times, leaving the player feeling isolated. In a world where Football Manager (also a Sega title) has created such an immersive experience where players are support in their decision making by a wealth of coaches and performance stats, Motorsport Manager rarely offers such assistance to players.
Furthermore, while F1 Manager and Grand Prix Manager 2 allowed players to implement their pitstop strategy before a race and determine the optimum strategy based on the team’s feedback, decisions are made on the fly in Motorsport Manager. This can lead to some frustrating race outcomes and lacks realism.
As such players must constantly micro-manage their drivers’ performances and pit-stop strategy in real time, which creates an over-riding sense of isolation – ‘surely there must be other people sat on the pitwall alongside me who can offer their input?!’ Coupled with a lack of data to show how pitstops would impact the overall outcome of a race – gaps are only shown for the driver directly in front and behind the player’s drivers – early races can be tricky and progress can be frustrating.
Building a legacy
Away from the track there is a stripped back approach to R&D and personnel. Players can develop and hone parts to avoid scrutineering penalties, which is a nice touch, and invest in infrastructure to aid future car developments.
Unfortunately the game once again focuses on providing 3D renderings of buildings and attempts to prettify the presentation of these important assets, instead of providing tangible and welcome information about how these changes will improve the team.
That said, the opportunity to increase the marketability of the team is a very welcome addition, as is the ability to edit the car’s livery. F1 Manager set the benchmark for the commercial side of the sport, allowing players to schmooze a wealth of sponsors in the marketplace and benefitted from a full FOM licence. While Motorsport Manager has some room for improvement here, it is certainly an area of the game that is clear and concise in supporting the team’s progression.
Another nice touch is the ability to rise through the ranks, taking your team from the lowest championship to the pinnacle of the game’s motorsport pantheon. The single championship approach adopted in Motorsport Manager’s predecessors has been a major factory in limiting the game’s longevity when players tire of domination.
As motorsport, like football, increasingly focuses on talent development, it would be great to see a feeder team option added to the game in the future, allowing team personnel and drivers to develop in lower Formula, which would lend further depth and longevity.
Motorsport Manager has also turned back the clock to reintroduce a great feature from Grand Prix Manager 2 – the ability to change the game’s rules as seasons progress. As in the real world, team bosses will be able to vote and bend the championship’s rules to suit their strengths or create new opportunities. This adds genuine excitement and long-term interest to the game as the player can shape the world around them over time
Mid-grid but pushing for points
Ultimately there is a feeling that a ‘style over substance’ approach has been taken with the game, and this may well be a hangover from its mobile gaming roots. While the attractive 3D track renders are the best seen in a motorsport management game, they could gladly be sacrificed for a greater depth of information – something that is so abundant in Football Manager.
The game does not offer the balance of fun, insight, progression and information that the likes of the excellent F1 Manager game brought to the genre, but it does bring some interesting and exciting new features that will appeal to players and swallow up hours of free time.
While there are some obvious flaws, the game offers a real platform for improvement while also satiating the desire of hardcore racing fanatics who dream of running their own team. If this becomes a hit with the modding community, then it will certainly be worth the investment.
Motorsport Manager retails for £24.99 on Steam and launches on 10th November. More information can be found at www.motorsportmanager.com