As the curtain finally comes down on, what for me was a terrible season, I cannot help but feel that I hate football. The Scottish league like many is a mess, with many clubs facing an uncertain future and I’ve suffered a football television overdose, football is everywhere and its fast becoming boring. Championship Manager offers you the chance to correct those wrongs, take your team to the top, vanquish those bad memories of seasons past and I’ve got plenty of eradicating to do.
Football management games first began with the classic Football Manager for the Spectrum (reviewed in our retro section), which ruined many a school mark and continued up to the present day with LMA Manager and Premier Manager. These catered for console owners offering options, which went beyond the remit of a manager morphing into chief executive or director manager. Championship Manager until the arrival of the Xbox was a PC exclusive due to its vast amount of data, statistics and raw power need to run the virtual football management simulation. It does not concern itself with fancy extras such as building stadiums or setting advertising or ticket prices, instead what it offers is the most realistic and time-consuming game since Phantasy Star Online.
You are an employee of the club and like everyone else must answer to the board of directors and chairman. Unlike most other football management games there is no skill level as true simulation does not allow for such a thing, you must rise to the challenge or end up managing some backwater foreign team harbouring dreams of what might have been. You can at first feel intimidated by the level of control you have over the players on your books and the tactics that you can impose. Sports Interactive understands that most Xbox owners will know of Championship Manager but few will have tasted its addictive juices. Therefore your assistant, who can earn his wage in other ways as well, can take control of the reserve team. You can also specify tactics for each individual player but again these can be left until you feel confident enough. Some may never go this deep and if you decide against this don’t worry; it will not affect your chances of success.
Given Championship Manager’s roots in PC menus and static backgrounds this game isn’t going to win any prizes for graphics. The look of the game has evolved over the years and its plain and simple style hides a liner full of options and commands. The transition from PC to console has resulted in an impressive conversion and one that runs much more smoothly and faster than its desktop counterpart. I have played the PC version and the speed that the Xbox calculates and formulates everything is remarkable. The game shuns another trend of showing match action via graphical replays and instead solely relies on text to keep the player informed. Some may complain but I always found that the graphical approach constantly showed repetitive replays. The text approach enhances the immersion and does not stop you jumping or punching the air for joy when you score or pull off a famous victory. This is the first time that the game has had to use a controller with the mouse and keyboard option being currently unavailable. It works well enough and isn’t as complex as the system used by LMA Manager, if its on screen simply point and click. It may not look groundbreaking on your television but Championship Manager shows off the power of the machine in another way apart from graphics.
You have the opportunity to manage a team from any one of 26 leagues from around the world and the game doesn’t cheat by offering only the top league from each. Thankfully for fans of smaller clubs Championship Manager provides us with the possibility of taking control of your favourite lower league Scottish team for instance. Whatever team you select, the game will last for 20 seasons and depending on your performance you can ditch your learner plates and move onto bigger and better clubs. The joy of the game for me is that whatever club you pick, no game will ever be the same, the range of players (over 100,000 compared to LMA’s 17,000) and interaction from other clubs means that unlike rivals you can drown in the depth. To do justice to it all would take a review bordering on dissertation size.
Managing a team in Championship Manager is no fairytale experience, I won’t lie to you, it can be extremely difficult depending on your current club. What it does is immediately bring home the difficulties that the manager of the club in real life faces and you may reconsider shouting abuse at the dugout next time things go wrong. My own adventure is ongoing at Raith Rover’s FC but already I know some of the pain previous managers have experienced. I have no money to sign players or even offer a signing on fee; I did try once to buy an old defender for £10k but couldn’t afford him. Therefore I am limited to scouring the depressing ranks of free agents, looking for a gem before someone else snatches him. My current squad are unhappy, several unsettled or wanting new contracts and those I have on the transfer market have yet to attract interest. Believe me it sounds more difficult than I could ever explain but like Marquis De Sade I love the depravity and sickness of it all.
The main problem with Championship Manager is that it will only appeal to a select few who consider such games enjoyable. It takes a special breed of gamer to sit down and beat the game, an altogether different beast from those who enjoy the odd game of Evolution Pro Soccer or FIFA. There are modes included to allow friends to compete against you but it is overall a solitary experience. Sports Interactive employ researchers to ensure that the game is bang up to date and on the face of it, Championship Manager is. Football is constantly changing but minor details such as last season’s physio and players who departed months previously mar the overall feel. The big clubs will no doubt attract the attention and deserve respect but don’t forget the little clubs.
Those wanting to succeed in the game will soon realise that preparation is the key, forget all those previous football management games you played, here a formidable AI is at work and you must evolve to keep one step ahead. Championship Manager is worth buying an Xbox for alone, yes it is that good but don’t blame me when you start thinking like a manager night and day. Wonderful.