Motorsport Manager – The Switch Island Review
I can still remember the first time I sat down to watch Formula 1. It was 1998 at a rain-lashed Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium (a grand prix that I would eventually attend nearly 20 years later).
The race opened with a massive 13 car pile-up and ended with underdogs Jordan scoring a historic 1-2 finish and their maiden victory. The race was eventful from beginning to end and I immediately became a fan of Jordan – after all they were a little more rock ‘n’ roll compared to all the other stuffy teams that made up the grid. And their cars were yellow.
My newly-found love for the sport would very quickly extend to videogames. Picking up the management game Grand Prix World for the PC, my excitement quickly turning to anxiety as I was tasked with balancing the books, hobnobbing with sponsors, devising race strategies and preventing my drivers from crapping the bed on race day. It didn’t go too well and I very quickly went back to playing F1 97 on my PlayStation, swearing to never revisit the management genre ever again.
Two decades on and I see Motorsport Manager listed in the eShop. The game looks polished, word-of-mouth appears to be positive and it’s only 12 quid. Do I set foot back in the paddock and give this management gig another shot?
Before I begin, let me break it to the F1 purists out there that Motorsport Manager does not carry an official license of any kind. All teams are fictional and circuits are either entirely original or ‘inspired’ by real life venues (20 different circuits and 65 track layouts at the last count).
Otherwise the game offers a pretty accurate depiction of not only single-seater racing but GT and endurance series as well.
Within the first 30 minutes of firing up Motorsport Manager, any fears I had of a Grand Prix World repeat were put to bed and I felt immediately at ease as the game’s incredibly well put together tutorial guided me through the day-to-day responsibilities of running a race team. This game is deep but never once feels overwhelming, though you’ll most likely fudge your first season like I did as you settle into your role and get acquainted with the game’s intuitive menu system. Massive kudos to developer Playsport Games for doing such a great job in that regard and offering entirely touchscreen controls for those of a more casual disposition. If you have any concerns that this is a straight mobile port though, you’ll be pleased to know that Switch owners are actually getting an enhanced version with tweaked controls and 3D car models being included to add a little flair to the on-track action.
Upon starting your debut season you’ll first be tasked with creating your own identity. Everything from the manager’s name, appearance and even backstory is customisable (regarding the latter – sadly there is no ‘former race driver consigned to a wheelchair’ trope – it’s limited to the pretty standard ex-driver, engineer or financial). These backstories aren’t just window dressing and will reward you with relevant bonuses as you progress through the season.
Next up is the important matter of your actual team as you choose the discipline in which you wish to compete and then edit your team name and livery. Drivers and staff are assigned to you automatically but can also be edited, or if you’re feeling ruthless then they can be fired and replaced with new hires of your choosing. I would recommend not messing around with the lineup early on as you develop your understanding of the game and look to maximise your cars’ performance. Cycling out drivers and mechanics willy nilly will impact your championship points total and also reset the relationship that both a driver and their assigned mechanic have developed over the season so far.
Developing parts to improve the stats of the current season’s car is one of the most satisfying aspects of the game outside of the actual race weekend itself. Everything from the engine, gearbox, suspension and front/rear wing can be improved upon, and as mechanics get older their ability to develop the best parts will improve until they reach their peak and then hit that sad, inevitable decline. In-race mechanics are also crucial to your success as they are responsible for ensuring that both cars are suited to the track conditions and providing you with valuable performance boosts.
Obviously you’re going to need funds to run a successful race team and that means striking some lucrative sponsorship deals. In exchange for slapping their branding on your cars, you’ll receive some much needed coin either upfront or on a race-by-race basis, but keep in mind that the latter is reliant on your team’s performance on the track. Failure to achieve the desired result and you won’t receive a penny and will be forced to dip into your own pockets to absorb the cost of running an entire race weekend. The people you employ also impacts your desirability to certain sponsors. If a driver isn’t exactly media-friendly or says or does something that could be deemed damaging to a brand, this could turn off certain sponsors and even drive away some fans.
Upgrading your headquarters and establishing a far-reaching global supplier network both play a crucial role in being successful. Expanding your homebase provides you with permanent driver perks and also opens the literal doors to new facilities from which you can develop greater upgrades for your cars. The supplier network allows you to expand your influence across the globe, starting from a single hub you can acquire additional suppliers and transportation links resulting in additional bonuses for your cars and an improvement in your current mechanics.
Just like in real life, as a team boss you will also have to plan for the future. At the halfway point of each season you will unlock development for the next year’s car, and as tempting as it is to plow your resources into your current car to improve or maintain your championship standing, it’s recommended that you invest in the performance of the next year’s challenger or risk falling behind the rest of the field.
Planning ahead also extends to talent with the young driver program being introduced at the end of the first season. From here you are given the option of investing in three young hopefuls, from esport champions to country bumpkins, you get to watch them develop (and sometimes have humorous personal crises) as the year progresses. At the end of the season you are given the option of signing them to a full time contract or cutting them loose if they fail to make the grade.
Managing an actual race remains the most fun and satisfying part of the game as you sit back and watch the action unfold. Deciding on when to bring your drivers into the pits and experimenting with different tyre compounds can make or break a race – ask your drivers to push too hard and you risk them running out of fuel or wearing their tyres down to such an extent that an additional pit stop might be on the cards. Failure to read the weather forecast correctly can result in you sending your drivers out on the wrong tyres and costing them valuable time and positions. Thankfully, your drivers will give you a nudge if they feel the need to change engine mode or that they wish to come into the pits, so this should come as a bit of a relief to players not necessarily clued up on the more strategic side of the sport.
As the chequered flag comes down on this review, what are my final thoughts on Motorsport Manager? I bloody love it. It’s polished, incredibly satisfying, and I should say…. a little addictive. The feeling you get from watching your car and driver stats max out over the course of a season or seasons, to building a HQ and supplier network from which you can grow your influence and your bank balance is immensely rewarding. The race weekends are as exciting as they can be without jumping into the car yourself, and scoring that first win makes for an incredibly proud moment, especially when you know it was down to you making the right call and not just luck.
Even if you wouldn’t necessarily call yourself a fan of the sport, if you want the best management experience on Switch then I can’t recommend Motorsport Manager enough.
Game: Motorsport Manager
Developer: Playsport Games
Release date: 14/03/2019