Version tested: Xbox
Anything you can do I can do…
When you think about football management simulations, which game comes to mind first? Championship Manager. There's no disputing the fact that it's the genre's pinnacle, the very bastion of footy management games, and with each new release it gets even better. The other day we talked about accurate player statistics in Pro Evolution Soccer, but Championship Manger is so thoroughly researched that even in small-print the list of contributors is longer than my arm, and the results it produces are respected not only by fans of the game but fans of the sport.
There are 26 leagues from around the world, and detailed profiles and histories of the more than 100,000 players, managers and coaches that take part in them, and it's into this accurately simulated worldwide sporting industry that you are thrust. Your position as manager allows you to bicker over transfers, tussle with the press and the club's board, and marshal your players as much or as little as you want, delegating aspects of management and coaching to your second in command, or just taking full control and responsibility, giving players individual marking jobs, changing tactics at half time to try and overcome a one goal deficit and resting those vital players during quiet games.
There's no such thing as Game Over, so long as the board is confident in you and the players and fans aren't calling for your head on a stick. Thus the fact that some seasons end in triumph and others in dismal failure is fairly unimportant. You are guiding a team of your choice and your decisions make the difference, and they do so realistically.
Change of scenery
The game's transition to Xbox has been relatively painless. In fact, there are only two major changes to the CM formula in this Xbox incarnation - the number of leagues you can run concurrently, and the interface. The limitations of processing power require that you manage a maximum of three teams in different leagues during a season, whereas PC owning gluttons for punishment can do the full 26. But how many of you honestly want to manage that many teams? It was an option there for completion's sake more than anything else, with most high-spec PCs struggling to do a good job of it in the first place. Nope, that's not a problem.
The other big change has been to the interface. In the absence of a mouse, the cursor is controlled with the analogue stick, or you can switch directly between menu options using the directional pad. In the absence of a keyboard, you can't edit the stats of the players in the game, but they're so accurate that we can't imagine many reasons to do so besides cheating... Other than that, this is to all intents and purposes Championship Manager Season 01/02. Although some early Xbox reviews this year highlighted a slowdown problem, there is no evidence of this in the release version of the game, and the developer tells us that it was because of a bug - the very bug that subsequently held up the game's release.
It may not differ much in terms of composition then, but how about timing? One of our only worries was that arriving just a few weeks prior to the end of the season, it might seem a little outdated. Most fans of the game have stories to tell about how closely it imitates real life, and if you play through to the end of the 2001-2002 season - and if you buy this it will be something you find it very difficult to pull yourself away from doing - the reality of the situation you face will dawn on you. It's almost spooky the way that the real life Premiership managers yank the same players from the same foreign clubs as they do in the game. A powerful message, too. As you would expect, all the latest competitions (including B-team and Under 21 team competitions), awards, transfer and disciplinary rules (not to mention fines and appeal processes) for the last season are included in the game, just as they were with the PC version, along with the recent EU regulated transfer system. The wage structure is practically perfect, and the role of players' attitudes, personalities and opinions is naturally important, along with those of the national and local media.
So it's thoroughly accurate, an excellent port of a game which was already excellent to begin with, and the only debate is whether or not you should buy this instead of or as well as the PC version. For me, sitting on the comfy sofa downstairs is infinitely preferable to burrowing into my PC hobby hole for hours at a time. Some people are so fanatical about CM that they buy stupidly expensive PCs just to play it; now you can buy a relatively inexpensive console and get the same experience.
9 / 10