As noted in passing this morning, Football Manager 2006 will be hitting PCs and Macs ahead of schedule on October 21st – and to help celebrate its completion Sports Interactive's hitched its shirt up over its head, run toward the crowd and flung a spanking new "gold demo" toward the spectators. You can grab it from various mirrors, of which we'll be one just as soon as we've completed the warm up (witlessness aside: when it's finished crawling toward our FTP).
So what's in the demo? Weeeell, before we go there, we ought to note that there's a vanilla version and a strawberry one (their joke). Both versions let you take on half a season in somebody else's hotseat, but vanilla's a smaller file featuring English and Scottish league with English language support only. It's for folks whose bandwidth can't be measured in the sort of Abramovichian quantities usually associated with the beautiful game. Strawberry, meanwhile, is actually a host of flavours – 16 leagues and 8 languages, at some 200MB more than its partner in 'bud-whetting.
But why should you care? Because, as ever, SI has poured its heart (and more importantly the contents of its thoughtful brain) into the task of renewing (unlike Championship Manager, which acts more like that bloke from Logan's Run who just can't accept he's 30). We're loath to actually count the new features (okay fine it's 34 – detailed in long-form over on SI's site, but we'll skip through a few of the newly announced ones to help, er, incentivise you, since we can't think of a better way of putting it.
It ought to be a smoother more manageable (ha!) experience, thanks to things like reduced loading times, network packet optimisation and save-game compression options, and that's just technically – those who've always felt a bit daunted by the FM series' depth and girth will appreciate the 30,000 words of tutorage that can be drawn into focus whenever you're curious about what something means on a given screen.
It will be smoother in terms of navigation too, with interface tweaks that should make a big difference to those who play it regularly – including "quick flicks" at the top of the screen for easier browsing of your resources, and the ability to edit a group of players' tactics rather than having to set them individually (perhaps best likened to the way iTunes lets you change info on multiple tracks simultaneously).
Meanwhile, fans of GRAPHS are well sorted. You'll be able to switch numbered stats over to graphical versions this time, with graphs for finances too helping you to literally get a better picture of what's going on. And that's going to be needed, because there's more to consider than before – including the height and weight of players (useful to know if you're of a mind to manage Peter Crouch of European Champions Liverpool, to pick an example totally at random), and how fairly your team plays. Play like Blackburn, then, and you'll upset the brass. Play like the perennial nice-men at Spurs (except that Mido, the playboy elbow-chucker) and you might be rewarded somewhat.
Whatever you do, it's good to know that you can play it first and find out how all this affects things, so be sure to avail yourself of the demo at the first opportunity, and we'll be back with our verdict on the game closer to what is now it's much closer October 21st release – some days after European Champions Liverpool conquer the evil Chelski on Sunday, presumably.
And don't forget there are Xbox 360 and PSP versions due next year. Pip.