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Football Manager 2005

Football Manager

When Sports Interactive and Eidos’ partnership to develop and produce Championship Manager ended, fans of the long-running football management series didn’t quite know where to look next. While SI took the game code and database, Eidos acquired the CM brand, resulting in the development of two new titles; Football Manager 2005 (SI Games, Sega) and Championship Manager 5 (Beautiful Game Studios, Eidos). While the development of the latter stumbled with the task of meeting the fans’ expectations, SI Games stormed straight in and produced quite a game.

Now we’ve never really split up a review before, but the two target audiences are so dissimilar in their approach to Football Manager 2005 that we thought that two opinions was necessary. Veterans of the Championship Manager series can take a look at James’ analysis of the new game’s improvements and changes, while newcomers to the whole football management scene can dive in at the deep end with Philip. Read on and enjoy.

For those lifelong addicts of the Championship Manager series, by James Frazer.

Plenty of times after a game, whether the session a mammoth 9 hour stint or a quick 30 minute thrash, I can wind down. Despite taking on the entire police force (and then some) of San Andreas in the latest instalment of Grand Theft Auto, or a section of the Flood in Halo 2, switching off to do something away from videogames is a piece of cake. There’s no after thought; you stop and move on. However, with Football Manager, I feel like telling everyone I see about my achievements in the game, the ups and downs of the season, that close call, our brilliant cup run, running out victorious against the high-flying premiership outfit, that time we…In fact, a good friend of mine once threatened to walk out of the pub if I kept on ëhurting her earsí with ëthat bloody gameí. I donít know what it is, perhaps the way SI Gamesí masterpiece puts you within the football world instead of above it like other management games makes you feel a part of it all. At the end of the day, the much-improved media engine will make you believe that you are in the same position as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger in that you are the man in charge of a football club. Instalments gone by, especially number 4 and the last ever Championship Manager developed by Si Games, 03/04, promised overhauled media engines but never really got there. Here, right now, we have two versionsí worth of improvements.

There is no escape from the clutches of the media. Regardless of your managerial reputation and your position in the league, opposite managers and newspapers alike will dish out criticism of your title hopes or relegation battles, make tongue-in-cheek comments about recent match results and, most surprising of all, the odd positive comment does comes out and you can make friends with the hot-heads you see on TV. No word on Sir Alex Ferguson being nice though.

Throughout the season youíll not only battle for results on the pitch but also off it too. Players handing in poor performances will get picked up on in radio phone-ins and naturally, defending the player without reason will anger the fans and board. Itís like walking a tight-rope at times, with comments effecting your actions, the morale of the team and board and most importantly the fans. What this does mean however is the way you can go to extreme lengths to unsettle an in-form side prior to a fixture, and you can also increase the pressure on an under-fire manager and, in most cases, this may well go to plan. Expect the odd roasting when it all goes tits-up though, as we canít all be Jose Mourinhos.

Players are more ëhumaní this time round too. Before, you could get away with rotating players every so often to avoid confrontation and let everyone get a game. However, now that just wonít do. Young players will relish going out on loan and getting a few first team appearances, and if their travels turn out to be a disaster they will say so upon return, and chances are theyíll grow to dislike that club and become more motivated when playing against them, so no longer can you bring in players on loan and get to act as cover. As players get older theyíll start looking for first team action, often enough youíll see those in their late twenties dropping down a division or two to grab a first team place. Consistent players also want fair pay, so that Swedish 21 year old super striker you signed for a pittance wonít take kindly to staying on a five year contract at a measly 4k a week whilst someone rots in the reserves at ten times that.

As always, simple tactics will yield the best results, however there are more options available to protect a lead in a game, frustrate the opposition or go out guns a blaziní. Slider bars have taken place of the numerous tick boxes of before which means you can now go halfway between ëmixedí passing and direct, surely every tinkerman’s heaven. There are also more default tactics available for those who wish to change mid game without all the trouble of adjusting sliders.

Where all of this hard work pays off is on the pitch, and there have been a decent amount of upgrades, most not noticeable at first, that further help Football Manager 2005 in our scoring rankings. My favourite is the split screen mode, so whilst the match is playing out on either the right or left hand side of the screen, you can select on which items to keep an eye out for from player rankings, team and match statistics, a live league table and, for those tense last-match-of-the-season promotion and relegation battles, the latest scores.

Players also have different tricks, editable in the editor, which further define each players own unique personality. Certain individuals can take on players, run round keepers, pass with the outside of the foot, prefer playing on the outside of the pitch or down the middle, and even attempt overhead kicks. For those with a more physical preference, options for players to dive into tackles, wind up opposition players and argue with match officials is the icing on a very big and multi flavoured cake.

But not yet. Thereís two more additions I want to enlighten you on before handing over, the best of which Iíll leave till last. Boards now seem much more ëin lineí with the ways of football, which is a relief worldwide. Gone are the days of a board announcing their disappointment with the teams effort over the last four games, when before that you went unbeaten for three years. Now the board seem more willing to offer a helping hand, but only if your reputation is decent enough and youíre a Cool Hand Luke type of guy in front of the camera. Good cup runs generate cash, and with there being two transfer windows in the English game nowadays the board will recognise this by boosting the transfer budget significantly before the window opens. Good results yield good press in the media, however going completely off track by losing your cool in the media and failing to live up to expectations will, like in real life, be met by criticism and the sack. Throughout a season many managers performing badly will lose their jobs, and thanks to the enhanced media engine bookies will line up odds on managers taking up the available positions, and some of those could be you.

And lastly, for a game that has taken over my life since itís release, the issue of speed that has blighted CM4 and 03/04. Weíll never get close to the speed of CM01/02 thanks to an ever-increasing number of leagues, teams and players and such things as goal of the month competitions, but the speed here is back on track to what we have seen before. My machine is far from ëtop endí, with fairly decent specs just above the minimum requirements, yet three seasons in and Iím still zipping along. I could usually make a cup of tea, roast a chicken and run a marathon in the time 03/04 took to process day to day, but SI Games had a trick up their sleeves. Whilst background matches are being played, you have the option to either sit and watch the progress bat sneak along which, to be fair, is still fairly quick, or let them process whilst you go about tinkering with your team or looking up information. Of course, thereís always going to be a time when you get the odd long loading screen, but I am very impressed with Football Manager 2005.

SI Games have taken all of their experience from Championship Manager series and made a game that keeps the fond heritage and history of the famed series whilst implementing great new ideas and some very good changes. The strong bond with the fans of the developer shines through, with most of the player scouts still intact (and can be found in the game), fansites linked to within the game (and not hidden away either- they can be accessed at any time) and one of the ëscenesí top editor writers having made the editor stored away on the disc.

Fans who have played the series right from the early days will definitely not be disappointed with this effort and will feel proud that SI Games had it within themselves to pick up what was left of a great franchise and start off on a new one, and those new to the series like Phil below will definitely find why weíve been shouting from the rooftops about this very game for years. An absolute masterpiece, and then some.

For those whose lives haven’t been abducted by the world of football management just yet, by Philip Morton.

Although I follow football just as much as the next person, my only foray into the world of videogame football management has been in the user- and console-friendly LMA Manager series. While I know about the sport, I’ve never experienced the Championship Manager games that SI Games developed and that have had such a following, so I’m ideally suited to try out their latest title and see how friendly it is towards newcomers like myself.

So, first impressions; Football Manager is comprehensive and complex beast. On starting up a new game, you’re asked to select one or more of the 51 countries, the leagues you want active within these and the level of detail in each. Once you’ve chosen your desired setup, the game begins the task of setting up a database from which to work from, which can take several minutes depending on your hardware and needs. Go for the huge database option and tons of countries at the highest settings and you might as well go away and have a meal while you’re waiting. Even between each day during the normal course of the game you can be waiting for up to a minute if you’re using several countries, although this time can be brought down to practical levels. If you’re looking for a game to challenge your PC, forget the likes of Far Cry or Doom 3; Football Manager really separates the mice from the men.

Now we’re set up and ready to go, how do we work this game? Football Manager handles similarly to a Web browser in its layout and conventions. All you need to use it is a mouse, with right clicking bringing up menus like in most applications, with other navigation aids like hyperlinks also working just as you’d expect. The game has a huge amount of information to present to you but must remain clear and simple to use, so it benefits hugely from using an already familiar navigation system. Once you’ve tinkered around doing whatever you need to, you simply click “Continue” and the game does its sums and then presents the next day or step in time, where you do the same again. The only time that it veers slightly from its main interface is when there’s a match to be played, when the screen is altered to show the pitch in a colourful 2D display. Although it lacks the visual impact of a 3D setting, the match engines still conveys what’s happening on the pitch well and typifies the game as a whole; it may not look spectacular, but behind the scenes there’s a lot of work being done.

Of course, Football Manager‘s main task is to simulate the sport that so many follow right down to its intricate detail, and in this it simply excels. While games like LMA offer a more rounded and simplistic approach, FM is all-encompassing, going that extra mile to make the whole experience realistic. The sheer amount of detail in every single action and feature is incredible; I didn’t even know you could co-own players in real life, let alone in a game. If you spot a player on TV and like the look of him, he’ll be in the game, no matter how obscure he might be. It’s obvious that everyone from the developers to the thousands of researchers know exactly what they’re talking about and they’ve put their passion to work in creating a game that reflects the world of football as accurately as possible.

Playing Football Manager is an intensely personal experience and one that stems from lack of graphical detail and the mirroring of reality. It’s unbelievably engrossing and something you can’t begin to appreciate until you actually sit down and get to grips with it. Before I played FM, I could never work out how people got so addicted to a game that looks like a spreadsheet with some simple graphics added in. I mean, where’s the fun in a game that features no distinct visuals, disregards audio and whose gameplay is slower than the most docile of puzzle games? Madness. Yet Football Manager draws you and once it’s got you, it simply won’t let you go until the wife is holding the divorce papers above your head. “But… the game had me! Don’t you see?!?”

Regardless of its huge reputation, I didn’t really know what to expect of Football Manager 2005. As a newcomer to the ‘scene’, would I be able to understand it all, get into the game and, dare I say, become addicted? The answer to both is a resounding ‘yes’. It may be a little daunting at first with a lack of any tutorials, but anyone with a basic knowledge of football will be able to gradually sink into the parallel world that Football Manager presents so well. Don’t be afraid of its scale and complexity; you’ll fit right in. Just keep an eye on the time, that’s all.

The scores at full time, brought to you by a couple of red-eyed, captivated football fans.

Football Manager 2005 seems to have achieved the task of assuring fans of SI Games’ previous titles that all is still well, whilst still welcoming newcomers to the whole PC football management scene. The media system seen in the Championship Manager games is much improved, the match engine more detailed, players react towards your opinions more realistically, online play is fully supported, the game’s interface is clearer and the speed of calculations between game days has also taken a steep rise. Combine these improvements with the already well established gameplay and you’ve got a game which is ridiculously absorbing and criminally addictive. As it stands, Football Manager 2005 rests at just above the nine mark on the scoring scale, but it lacks that little bit extra to round it all the way up to ten…. But wait a minute! What’s that I see?!?

Cleverly implemented and understated, Football Manager has a hugely significant trump card. Many will never even notice it, but the box states that the game runs on “PC CD-ROM Apple Mac”. Wait a minute, Mac? Yes, FM 2005 runs on Windows and Mac OS X from the same CD, which means that you can get both versions of the game at the same time. What’s more is that Windows and Mac users can play each other in the same Internet or LAN games, even swapping save files between systems without any hassle. This cross-platform harmony is practically unheard of in the world of PC gaming and it’s a step forward that the industry needs to take. SI Games didn’t have to do this, but their commitment to their fans is such that they took the time to do so and that willingness to go the extra mile is the reason that raises Football Manager 2005 up to full marks.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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