Version tested: PSP
Just imagine... You've just spent the last six hours attached to your PC, navigating your team to the summit of the Premier League in the latest release of Football Manager. The championship is finely balanced, glory awaits and your team's fans, starved of success for a generation, wait in breathless anticipation to see if their underachieving team can finally bring joy to their otherwise soul destroying lives.
But time is against you. You've got a train to catch. With a single button press you wirelessly transfer your game data onto a handheld console featuring an identical version of Football Manager. An hour later, you're being escorted off the 5.35 to Waterloo by some jobsworth ticket inspector, just because you're warbling We Are The Champions while standing on a seat and holding aloft a coffee cup like a cardboard trophy.
One day, my friends. One day we'll be able to enjoy the full, unadulterated Football Manager experience on a handheld, one that can be seamlessly transferred from your PC with no compromise on features or depth. Until that day, we have Football Manager Handheld 2008, which is currently as close as you can come to playing Sports Interactive's superb management series while on the move. And you know what? Given the technical limitations of the PSP, it ain't half bad.
For those of you who've yet to experience the joys of the previous two FMH games, here's a brief intro to get you up to speed. Football Manager Handheld 2008 is a streamlined version of Football Manager 2008. The PSP version is more akin to Championship Manager 2 or 3 than it is to the gargantuan football management sim that is Football Manager 2008, resulting in a far more focused experience that places a greater emphasis on coaching rather than the exhaustive list of responsibilities placed on modern day managers. You can choose to take the helm of a team from one of ten countries, including England, Spain, France, Holland, Scotland and Italy, while all of the latest squads, players and stats have been lovingly added and updated to mirror the real world. A few new cup competitions have also been injected into the mix.
Straight from the off you'll find a number of tweaks and improvements that elevate this year's iteration above 2007's offering. The skin has been changed and is easier on the eye, while navigation has been tightened up, ensuring that you're rarely left forlornly searching menus to find the correct screen. Cosmetic yet helpful changes such as these permeate the game. Your strategic options have been slightly bolstered, allowing you a smidge more flexibility when trying to outfox your opponents, while faster load times and smoother matches make for an overall less finger-drumming experience.
However, while there are tweaks aplenty, major changes and additions are sparse. Perhaps the most notable and commendable new feature is the inclusion of a reserve squad, which substantially bolsters your long-term squad and financial options, allowing you to nurture emerging talent and introduce starlets into your team at virtually no expense. The ability to promote and demote players also impacts on transfer dealings, especially once your chairman starts preventing you from delving into the market until you've reduced the size of your first-team squad.
While the real-time 2D action from the PC version may be absent here, FMH2008's matches are still enjoyable. Preceded by some impressively deep yet intuitive strategic options - that allow you to set your formation, pick your team and issue the collective and individuals with a host of specific instructions - matches prove to be highly entertaining affairs. The text-based commentary and wealth of stats ensure that you're never left in any doubt as to how your team is fairing, while some intuitive tactical tools enable you to always feel in control of your team's strategic set-up.
Sadly, not all areas of Football Manager Handheld 2008 are quite as impressive. One of the most entertaining parts of any FM game is dabbling in the transfer market, but here the experience of negotiating for new players is rather limp, despite the staggering size of the player database.
All too often you're left playing a guessing game, forced to continuously and blindly raise your bids for players. The lack of feedback as to why your bids aren't being accepted is highly frustrating and negotiations are virtually nonexistent. Football Manager Handheld 2008 also has an annoying habit of linking you with players you've never even considered buying. This may reflect real life e.g. agents linking their clients with certain teams in order to bolster their worth, but it's been done so clumsily here that it could prove highly misleading to newcomers.
It's also a shame that there are no player-comparison options, as attempting to memorise countless player stats when scouring for new players is a real chore. Training is another letdown, with its bar-shifting mechanics and lack of feedback making the feature feel rather tacked on.
Football Manager Handheld 2008 is certainly an impressive and entertaining piece of software, and a definite improvement over last year's version. Considering the technical restrictions enforced by the PSP, the game possesses just about enough tweaks and additions over its predecessor to warrant another 8/10 score, even though it's only really the new reserve squad feature that'll fundamentally change how you play the game. If you've yet to dip your toe into the management-on-the-move genre, then don't hesitate to pick up a copy. It's highly strategic, never overwhelming and massively addictive. As handheld strategy games go, it's currently one of the best your money can buy.
8 / 10