(This is another guest column while I regain my health: Thanks to FOFC Member Groundhog, who actually owns this title, I was able to answer a request in comments for a review of this game. As such, it is not graded)
If you have even a passing interest in video games, you have probably heard of the Football Manager series. It is in a league of its own as far as sport management sims go, managing to create a fairly realistic simulation of what it’d be like to manage a football/soccer club in the international world of football. Perhaps the one sport that is equally well suited to the global-style of the Football Manager brand of management sims, it’s basketball – scores of single and multi-tiered competitions in most nations on the planet, international free agency, etc. – so it doesn’t come as much surprise that someone would attempt the Football Manager of the basketball world. Enter Pro Basketball Manager 2016!
Football Manager was not built in a day however, with the first release way back in 1992 under the ‘Championship Manager’ moniker, so it’s an ambitious undertaking for the development team. Having said that, this is not their first attempt either, with I believe four versions prior to this as far as I can tell. So, how’d they do this time around?
As with Football Manager, starting a new game presents you with around 40 leagues to choose from across the world – even the option to include both men and women’s leagues, which Football Manager does not have – and which to set as ‘active’ – meaning you’ll get actual simulated results, with more leagues making a deeper game world at the expense of simulation speed. Although there’s no licensed leagues or teams, you can edit most information easily enough during the game setup process. It was this process that I experienced the first instance where I feel like I’m ‘fighting the UI’ – It’s clunky switching between screens, some fields I update aren’t reflected unless I exit/re-enter a screen, numerous spelling mistakes in the English translation, etc. There’s a lot of good things here, it’s just lacks a couple of coats of polish.
Football Manager can be a daunting experience for new players – there is an absolute ton of information spread across dozens of screens, and it’s not immediately obvious what everything does or, more importantly, what youshouldbe doing. Similarly, Pro Basketball Manager 2016 is also a daunting experience, but for different reasons. There is less information spread across fewer screens, but it’s a lot harder to figure outwhere. It’s not always obvious where to find basic screens like free agency and league statistical leaders, and much of the presentation in general looks unpolished, and again the numerous translation problems – especially European-styled acronyms that will not be familiar to the average NBA fan – make things confusing.
Pro Basketball Manager 2016 adopts the same method of tweaking player names that we used to see back in the 80s/90s ‘Mick Jordache of the Chicago Bulls’ era, but a look through a couple of leagues I know and the rosters look better than I expected out-of-the-box – basically a mix of players from the last handful of years, but mostly up-to-date. The player ratings are the familiar Football Manager-esque 1-20 rating system, and again some of the ratings seem unusual or out-dated, but I don’t expect a small developer to have the resources to accurately rate every player in the world. I hate to harp on it and I won’t blame a developer for not speaking English as a first language, but the same awkward English translations exist for the rating categories in the Steam version, and should be quite easy to resolve – especially considering this is at least the 5th release of the series.
The tactics screen is really the meat-and-potatoes of a good management simulator, and it’s here that Pro Basketball Manager 2016 really falls short of a beat like Football Manager – or even the NBA-centered sims like those from Wolverine Studios (DDSPB) and Grey Dog Software (FBPB). The strategy settings are simple to a fault – you set your depth chart, choose from three roles (Go-to guy, Defensive, None), and set desired minutes on the court. And that’s it. Maybe it’s jsut me, but if I were a player and I asked my coach what role he wanted me to fill on the court and he told me none, I’d probably be a little disheartened. You can set these roles yourself, or delegate to your assistant to choose for you. Worryingly, the assistant seems to give you different advice each time you ask.
One of the features touted on the Steam store is the 3D match engine. This is probably one of the best features of Football Manager – set your strategy, and then watch it unfold… for better or worse. Well, we’ve seen that the strategy settings are bare, but the match engine itself? To call the on-court play ‘rigid’ would be kind. Each possession is heavily scripted, and most possession involve one guy running a cut while everyone else stands still. Missed shots rebound directly to guys wherever they were standing when the shot went up, and fouls just happen without any indication. I think I prefer the 2D engine, but it suffers from the same issues, looking more like the playbook screen in NBA 2K than a live match engine. I don’t know if I expected too much from a small developer, but in my view a text-only representation would have been better than this, as it needs a lot more work.
If strategy is the meat-and-potatoes of a simulator, statistics are your sense of appetite – much more so in basketball than in football – and if they don’t look realistic, you’re probably not going to worry about the rest. A quick glance reveals reasonable statistics for both the NBA/USA league and a handful of foreign leagues, but it’s when you dig a little deeper that things look a bit off. It seems that a lot of work was put into making the overall team and league leader stats look on-point, but not nearly as much attention paid to the individual performances of players. I think it’s largely the fault of the scripted game engine, but there always seem to be guys who shoot a crazy amount of threes, based on their success. A lot of plays I see unfold in the match engine are guards running off picks for jumpers, and I think that’s the reason behind a guy shooting nearly 10 threes a game, despite knocking them under 20% of the time. In real life I’d like to think either the coach or the player would not last too long in that situation. FG% also looks high, but I believe this uses the European method of tallying 2pt and 3pt FGM/FGAs separate.
Despite all the negative comments above, this sim does have a lot of nice features – international play for one, which as far as I’m aware is unique among all basketball simulators – it’s just that whenever I dig into any of these features I get the exact same impression that it needs more work. I think this is a good example of what can happen when a small development team spreads its focus too wide, a ton of features yet most of them feel half-finished. If it were the first release I would be more willing to forgive them, but after this many they should really be shutting down any thoughts of adding any additions and just really ironing out the ones they have already.
I find it a hard title to recommend in this state. In theory, this is exactly the title I’m looking for. In practice though, I spent more time playing because of this review than I would’ve have otherwise. Draft Day Sports Pro Basketball and Fast Break Pro Basketball both don’t have nearly the same depth as far as foreign leagues go, but both are much more polished and enjoyable to play. The Pro Basketball Manager series might eventually surpass these titles and become that elusive ‘Football Manager of Basketball’ that I crave, but based on this year’s release I think that day is far beyond the horizon.
David "SirFozzie" Yellope is the operator of the "An 8 bit mind in an 8 Gigabyte World". (an8bitmind.com) While not QUITE yet at the stage of waving his cane and telling the kids to "get off his lawn", he does admit he owns three canes.