Football Manager 2022 (for PC) Review

101 04/08/2022

The ever-popular Football Manager series marches on with another series entry. As an annualized release, it’s not too surprising that Football Manager 2022 doesn’t drastically change the core experience; it’s mostly the same game, and only hardcore fans run out for the new version each year. That (very sports game-centric) caveat aside, FM22 is one of the best, recent series releases. This edition brings advanced analytics, noticeable upgrades to the match engine, and an attractive visual overhaul, all of which heightens the experience. FM22's matches look better and play out more realistically than ever before, with deeper day-to-day front-office mechanics (namely improved Staff Meetings, Transfer Deadline Day, and the new Data Hub). Is the $54.99 Football Manager 2022 the best the PC game has ever been? In short, yes.

An Introduction to Football Management

This simulation series' core appeal remains unchanged: You create a manager profile, join a club as its new manager, and directly control the tactics, training, and player transfers as you try to meet club objectives. There are numerous variables depending on the size of your club, including its goals and budget, but the throughline is controlling the small details and watching simulated matches play out according to your instructions.

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The first game in the series I reviewed for PCMag was Football Manager 2018. I wrote about its more general minute-to-minute gameplay and appeal, as well as the potential of Football Manager as a vessel for emergent narratives. If you’re less familiar with the series and want a better understanding of what exactly you do in these titles, or want to read my full appreciation of what the games can offer, check out that review. These are some of the deepest simulations of any type, though, with an amazing array of real-world data (including real scouting of players to inform ratings), actual club staffers, and miniscule details.

The core game stays the same, so each annual iteration focuses on feature, UI, and player database changes. Therefore, I’ll highlight what’s new for 2022. The main updates in this year’s release involve upgrades to the match engine, improved implementation and presentation of advanced analytics, and new versions of Staff Meetings and Transfer Deadline Day.

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A quick note for new players: The tooltip and walkthrough-based tutorials do a good job of explaining matters, though it can be a lot of information to absorb at once. Despite being an experienced player, I tried these out for a bit to see how far they go, though it's difficult to totally detach myself from already knowing how the systems work. I absolutely understand that this game seems intimidating from the outside, but the core functions of managing and advancing forward are not as complicated as they seem.

FM22 definitely has a learning curve, but there are few ways to permanently ruin your team short of canceling a bunch of player contracts, which would be very tough to do by accident. The difficulty mostly comes in the form of losing track where a certain menu or option is located, or forgetting the quickest way to make a change or check contract information. All of that comes with playing time, and in my experience, before long you won’t remember when the menus were unfamiliar.

The (More) Beautiful Game

The match engine is the core of Football Manager’s simulated games. As the manager, you never directly control the action; you watch it unfold in simple 2D or 3D field views. Your players do their best to execute the formation, tactics, and roles you’ve set between matches, and you can alter the flow during a match with substitutes or a change in style.

Football Manager 2022 (for PC) Review

All the while, the game’s behind-the-scenes engine is simulating the outcome based on your players’ attributes, fitness, morale, how well your tactics fit your players' (and the opposition’s) setup. This manifests in your players' animations and decisions, and the updates to the match engine make the visuals more varied and realistic than in past releases.

There's a wider variety of animations, including first touches, spins, and passes. Plays become more interesting when you don’t quite know what to expect as you’re watching, so a bit of flair makes a difference. The player models and animations also physically look a touch more human as they play and control the ball, which goes a long way, even if the visuals are still on the simpler side overall.

Players even make more mistakes, but I’m not talking about bugs or weird match-losing moments. They duplicated the type of mistakes real players make, such as overhitting the ball and not being robotically perfect. This is especially true when fatigue sets in, as developer Sports Interactive tweaked presses and sprints, and their effectiveness when players are tired. The digital athletes still largely succeed in playing out your tactics when applicable, better than in previous editions, but the simulation is a bit more organic.

There are still some idiosyncrasies, though. For example, one of my teams was intent on spamming crosses despite a narrow, through-the-middle play style and instructions from my wide players to cross less. In addition, the players don’t often enough square the ball in the box for an easier shot (even when it’s the very obvious choice), choosing instead to take a bad-angle shot.

Still, on the whole, the match engine looks and plays better than it did before. As one of the main focuses of this year’s update, that’s a win, even if it doesn’t revolutionize the series. At this point, few individual features will, barring a shocking major redesign to the core systems. The series is much more likely to become iteratively better over the next many years.

A Deep Data Dive

Outside of matches, the most significant addition is the new Data Hub, which is located in a tab on the left side of the screen. Advanced analytics has exploded in real-world football, both internally at clubs, and outwardly in terms of viewer consumption on broadcasts and social media. It's far more common to see a leading metric, such as Expected Goals on Premier League broadcasts, or to hear managers mention one in press conferences. Clubs hire internal teams or consultants to analyze huge amounts of data they collect about players inside and outside the club, and can use it to improve set pieces, tweak a tactical system, or set transfer targets.

All of this is to say that it would be a big blind spot for the game not to put a digestible and versatile data system in the game, and you can go deep in Football Manager 2022. The Data Hub houses an array of metrics about your team's tendencies on both sides of the ball, as well as individual player stats. You can set comparables for players to see where they stack up, and request your analysts pull data for you to check out later.

None of this is strictly necessary to play the game, but it's the kind of deeper experience this series offers over FIFA's career mode. You can look into the data to see where a problem area may be in your attack, or just take it all in and confirm that your results aren't a fluke (for instance, your players really are creating high-quality chances with consistency, meaning that your tactics are working). Expected Goals was added in a recent previous entry, but it and the other metrics are much more digestible and customizable this year, and permeate the game's menus. There's more to the data implementation than I will describe here, but it's useful as both a tool to summarize what has happened, and also project what you can or need to do better moving forward.

More Streamlined Management

Finally, it wouldn't be an annual entry without a UI update, and this is one of the better entries in terms of look and function. The default skin is pleasing to look at, a dark background with pleasing purple and pink highlights. Most major menu pages received minor layout reworks, resulting in menus that are the slickest and most navigable they’ve been yet. Recent editions added too much clutter, and this seems the best balance of the classic and new styles.

The two biggest individual beneficiaries to this year's update are Transfer Deadline Day and Staff Meetings. Neither are essential, but both are improved versions of what existed before. Rather than an unhelpful media day, Transfer Deadline Day (the final day of a transfer window during which clubs are allowed to buy and sell players) is more functional, and features a fittingly dramatic new wrapper. You can pack more negotiations into this day to wrap up your last-minute dealings, essentially moving one hour forward every time you hit the continue button.

This is a good representation of how clubs cram deals in the real-world deadline day, which happens consistently despite the prior months they had for planning and negotiations. You won’t need it every window, but sometimes a late opportunity shows itself, and it’s oddly thrilling to race against the turn-based clock to seal a deal. Combined with the bespoke deadline day visual treatment, it’s a solid, new experience.

Staff Meetings have existed in various forms, too, but this year’s are quite detailed. These meetings are consistently placed on your calendar as frequently as you prefer (unless you turn them off altogether) to discuss various aspects of the squad with your staff. Your coaches—then recruiting team and player development team—bring you issues and advice based on their own statistics and analysis.

These suggestions include specific training focuses for players, new staff hires, and who deserves a new contract. You can act on these immediately from within the meeting with a click of a button, which is doubly useful. You could also choose to ignore it, or have them remind you in two weeks, making this whole process customizable. When I was a couple seasons in with a set team, I found myself skipping through more than I did at the start. Still, you get a sense of what you can skim through, so you only need to act on what you want. Not all of the suggestions are necessary (or good, frankly).

The Big Picture

Given that these are the new aspects in this year's version, they’re the obvious focus for the review of an annual release. That runs the risk of coming off purely as praise for FM22, but my perspective is coming from the fact that the base product Sports Interactive offers is already high quality, and these additions make it better. Some of the series' downsides remain, too; I won’t pretend this year’s version is perfect by only focusing on the new additions, but the negatives are not new to this edition. Other than the quibbles I mentioned, most notable criticisms are pre-existing.

The lack of most licenses, badges, and player images is still one of the biggest disappointments, albeit a quite understandable one. These are very expensive to acquire, usually held by much larger game publishers, and often held exclusively as part of the deal. For the most part, player profiles do not include an actual player photo, club badges are replaced with generic lookalikes, and some competition names aren't 1:1 with the real world (there are some instances where the developers have the rights to photos and official names).

The animations and engine may have gotten better on the whole, but there are still some in-game moments where a player makes a head-scratching choice, and not because of their stats. There are obvious times in real life where any top-flight player would square the ball, or not pass 30 yards backward in the middle of an attack, yet these still happen in game. These instances happen less often in FM22, but they're still frustrating.

Any game AI that’s negotiation or relationship-oriented still has its share of quirks. Your board has some strange, often harsh readings of the situation based off one or two results, even if you’re doing great in the overall picture. As has been an issue in the past, players sometimes get unrealistically bothered about situations that don’t involve them, inserting themselves into situations they realistically never would. These moments, and other insistences by your players that they play more (sometimes despite starting frequently), or demand a new contract not long after signing one, can be irritating to consistently micromanage.

By and large, the transfer AI is actually pretty good, and that’s arguably most important. The developers noted improvements in this area, and I can say it’s noticeable. Clubs are very hesitant to let top players go, often refusing any offer, as they likely would in real life. The same goes for young talents, who you could usually pry free in the past with a decent offer—clubs now ask for sky-high fees for their star prospects. Sometimes it’s a bit much—as a smaller club, you’re really not going to take an €80 million offer for a 19 year old?—but it makes negotiating more difficult, and it’s not as easy to get a bunch of stars quickly.

With a little persistence at a rich club, though, you can assemble something of a fantasy team in a few seasons. Did I mention that you can try to negotiate a free transfer for Kylian Mbappe right away? I may or may not have lured him to my Chelsea side soon after starting the file. This is part of the allure of playing as a big, rich club, but it can lead to those saves feeling samey across clubs, as the same best targets are attainable. That’s when it’s probably time to play as a lower league team and challenge yourself in a promotion bid, with its own set of frustrations and satisfaction.

Can Your PC Run Football Manager 2022?

Visually, Football Manager doesn't look a demanding game, but looks can be deceiving. Indeed, you don't need a discrete or especially potent GPU to run the fairly simple in-game visuals, but the game looks fuzzy and lacks detail with lower-end cards. A high-end gaming rig isn't necessary (the minimum GPU requirement is an AMD Radeon HD 3650, Intel GMA X4500, or Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT), but a better GPU absolutely helps.

It's the processing power that makes or breaks your FM 2022 experience, as the simulation crunches a lot of numbers. The game requires at least an AMD Athlon or Intel Core 2 CPU, but if your PC only hits those baselines, you'll experience longer sim wait times. There's a 4GB minimum RAM requirement, but more RAM produces noticeably better performance. The game also requires at least 7GB of storage and the Windows 7 operating system.

My high-end gaming desktop (Intel Core i7 CPU, 32GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU) is more than equipped to play FM 2022 at maximum settings, but even with that horsepower, the in-game simulation speed rating wasn't maxed out. It was still pretty quick to sim forward, though, and the speed rating depends how large of a player and staff database you load for your game. I also played the game on the couch with a gaming laptop and a laptop with integrated graphics, and it runs admirably well, even on the latter system. Anything too old will struggle, however. In addition, the game's resolution plays a big part in the performance, so lowering it to 1080p if you're playing on a QHD or 4K PC should keep things running smoothly.

Title-Winning Form

Football Manager 2022 delivers the same highs and lows that make the series so enthralling to many players worldwide. To some, the impenetrable string of menus and graphs and numbers seem like the opposite of what they expect from a sports title, but it rewards your investment more than ever.

I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t invest in every release of an annualized series—at its core, each entry is largely the same game—but on its own this edition is one of the better entries in recent years. Whether you’re an annual buyer, haven’t upgraded for a few releases, or are a potential first time player, there’s no debate that its slick look, improved match engine, and advanced data additions make this a deep and robust simulation.

For more Steam game reviews and previews, check out PCMag's Steam Curator(Opens in a new window) page. And for in-depth video game talk, visit PCMag's Pop-Off (Opens in a new window)YouTube channel.

Football Manager 2022 (for PC)4.5Editors' Choice(Opens in a new window)See It$54.99 at Steam(Opens in a new window)MSRP $54.99Pros View MoreConsThe Bottom Line

No single release from an annualized franchise revolutionizes the gameplay experience, but Football Manager 2022 delivers visual and mechanical improvements in multiple areas, making it the best series entry yet.

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