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Championship Manager 2003/04

Football. The most recognised sport around the globe, and the biggest advertised and supported game in every country outside the USA (jeez, when will you Yanks wake up and see the beauty of the game?). Here in jolly England, every Saturday is a written ritual, a government law, the way of the world if you will. Husbands constantly beg their loved ones to run off for a couple of hours to watch the ‘footy’, kids revel in excitement at the chance to see famous players just 30 feet in front of them in the stand and old people constantly moan about how much better the game was in their day. I’ve been a Fulham supporter for the last 11 years now, and I still fondly remember leaving home at 11 in the morning to set off for West London to see the Cottagers play. There will be many people reading this review who aren’t interested in football and will probably not understand how thrilling a Saturday was. As a football fan you are all bound to the same club; you are a family. So walking down by the Thames on a wet Saturday afternoon and talking to a fellow Fulham fan about our chances this season is a customary thing; you don’t actually know the bloke, you’ve never met or seen or even spoke to him before, but because he has a white shirt with the club’s crest on he automatically becomes a ‘mate’. Football has so much passion it’s hard to explain, but imagine how scared you’d be if 20,000 other people in the street on your walk to work all gasped at the same time when it started raining, or a white car went by. It would be strange. But at football, it’s customary. The ball goes narrowly over the bar and we all go ‘OOOOOHHHHHHH!’, if it hits the back of the net then we shout ‘YYYYEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!’. And when the oppositions resident skin-headed madman slides in on your star striker (he’s not really ours, but because we support the club the term ‘we’ is commonly used) the fans surge forward screaming things like ‘YOU F***ING **** I’LL F***ING ‘AVE YOU!’. Sure, he weighs 18 stone and recently beat the living daylights out a cab driver, but we all support Fulham. We’re all together, as a family. We can take him on. See, we don’t all drink tea and tip our bowler hats to passing ladies in London you know…

So that’s a brief run down. Many many people in the world are passionate about the team they support and would die for the club if required to. So if someone comes along and says ‘hey, we should make a game about this’ then it had better be good. Everyone dreams of managing their team and leading them to glory, so when someone like SI Games slapped every football fan in the face with an otter-skinned glove and took up the challenge, we all knew something was up. Indeed, the way football fans and gamers thought about management would change forever, and with that Championship Manager was born. Now this isn’t a history lesson, just a build up to possibly one of the best games ever to grace a home PC. Over the years SI’s Championship Manager has gone from strength to strength, both in terms of gameplay and fan base. Now the database has well over a quarter of a million registered players in around 120 divisions and 39 countries, the largest to date. The amount of fans that follow the series has more than quadrupled, with football players giving experiences of their games in interviews for SI’s official CM4 magazine. There are now countless sites across the Internet giving fans resources on good players, unbeatable tactics and the latest training regime. Called ‘the scene’, from the outside it’s a lot of stuck-up PC gamers talking about their game away from the crowd. Do what this reviewer did and innocently look around for general tips and you’ll end up being brainwashed by the depth of information and creativity of writing available on the various sites. Eventually you’ll be logging on before and after 12-hour CM sessions to report your latest finds and keep inline with the information. So why am I telling you about an internet-based community in a videogames review? Well the scene is basically half of the game. Think of the monthly manager meetings in real life, only these are available daily and at your choosing. It’s magical, unique and will take over your life.

So Championship Manager 2003/04 is the latest in the long running, much loved series and hopes to put right what CM4 destroyed. Yes, I gave the game a high mark, but whilst mentioning how the heritage of the series had been lost it was still a damn good game, although it took 8 months and 5 patches to make it that way. One thing you can be assured when buying the latest title is that SI Games have poked, prodded and evaluated every aspect of the disk for months on end before you got your grubby little mits on it. These guys are perfectionists; and with the world of football and millions of fans to impress they damn well should be. The new incarnation has built on the new ideas thrown into CM4 and taken them to the next level, which means an easier and less confusing training programme. Instead of dragging over routines to your schedule and then assigning players to specific areas by dragging them again, this time it’s all click and scroll. Each day in the week has three training slots and you simply click on the slot you want to change, scroll down the list and click again on your required routine. Assigning players and staff to sessions is also a piece of piss as you click a box next to them to take part. Much easier and less time consuming, leaving you feeling that you’ve got it all sussed. Did you hell. If you were like me then you went in and gave your over-paid playing staff the most hellish routine available whilst screaming ‘there you go, no days off so you can work for your f***ing money!’. You didn’t? Oh…

Another area that has been overhauled is the way the media acts in the game. Now you can declare your interest in a player which will make the newspapers fill their back pages with tons of speculation. Whilst a great way to unsettle a player and his club and basically ensure you get his signature, failing to come up with the cash will have a negative effect on your fans and the media will mock you for weeks to come. The press also seems more willing to ask for your opinions on recent results, but this time there’s more at stake than upsetting your players and staff. You now have stats that change depending on the way you handle different situations. Telling journalists that the team is up for a title fight will raise your ambition whereas constantly applying for jobs whilst at a club will lower your loyalty ratings, as well as create discontent within the board and players. Then you’ll get the media on your back as they create stories of a dressing room split, managers applying for your position and board members discussing a vote of no confidence. By ignoring allegations your ‘ability to handle pressure’ stat will rise as will handling the media, but cave in like Keegan and you’ll be a mess. In fact it’s actually quite funny to see how quickly the press get on your back and create stories based completely on bull****. A great touch by the developers to transform the pressures of management in real life to a game, and many times you will end up shouting ‘Oh just **** off’ at the screen as more articles slagging off yet another loss reel in. Do well however and you’ll become much respected within the media and they will often flock to you for opinions and views on certain goings on at the club.

The 2D match engine which caused a temporary split in The Scene has been added to immensely, both visually and the way it interprets your tactics. The pitch is no-longer Premiership green, but now changes with the weather. In winter an orange ball is used, in spring and autumn big patches of mud form in the penalty areas and in summer dry dust spots linger around the flanks. The way the mixed passing tactic works has been improved on too, as players with high decision ratings will pick out free strikers whereas Sunday league alcoholics will pass to the nearest player they see, then fall over and puke on the floor (not really, but if only eh?). Turning on those speakers at either side of your monitor reveal better crowd noises and songs, although it seems as if the Brazilian National Team Samba Band is still stuck at Kenilworth Road cheering on Luton and mistaking Matthew Spring for Ronaldinho. Ouch. This time round players can be booed of the pitch like Sunderland last year or come off to a round of rapturous applause from pleased fans like at Craven Cottage, which complements the improved media module as you actually feel everyone is cheering the team on or influencing the board to change the manager.

Those who wish to create their own story based on the happenings of a team can rejoice as the in-game print facility has been restored. This is used to print off recent results to make into either a story of fantasy or just to piss off your mates that you are better than they are. The 2D match engine has also been used further as you can now view goal of the month competitions and view past matches and goals to further impress your mates. This being on PC too brings many possibilities as you can email your goals, tactics and training schedules to other budding managers or upload them to webspace for others to download.

If my ranting and raving about how great this game is hasn’t persuaded you yet, you may be pleased to hear that various web sites on the internet are selling this gem of a title for a penny shy of £18, a full £12 short of the high street price. In comparison to CM4 I also found that this latest version is slightly quicker when processing, and doesn’t chug away on my ‘pooter like previous versions.

So you’ve guessed it. I love Championship Manager, the depth of the management is immense, there’s a ton to do and it’ll always keep you coming back for more. There always seems to be a hidden gem of a player who you’ve never seen before, a different style of play to beat teams and a better training schedule to prepare your players for the months ahead. Simply put, Championship Manager 2003/04 is the best game out there for football management freaks. Pair this with Pro Evolution Soccer 3 and kiss your social life away.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2002.

Gentle persuasion

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