The Divine Game
Is it really a year ago now that I wrote my "Championship Manager : 99/00" review, also my first review for EuroGamer? Time sure does fly when you are having fun!
If you had to name three games that are guaranteed to be released close to Christmas you would choose FIFA, the next Lara Croft adventure, and of course the latest update to the Championship Manager series. This is without doubt the most successful football management simulation on the PC, constantly outdoing and improving over its closest competitors. So can you expect to see a completely new menu system, enhanced graphics, and maybe even FIFA style in-game footage? Not on your life mister!
CM00/01 is not a brand new game, but more of a data disk, continuing on from where last year's 99/00 edition left off. Not much has changed, but not much needed to be changed, and it is still the same life-sappingly addictive game, just with a few added refinements. Those of you that are veterans of the series will be instantly familiar and at home with the way the game operates, but the nice thing is that by maintaining a uniform format through the game it makes it just as easy for someone who is new to the series to leap in as it is for the die-hards.
If It Ain't Broke
Your first task is to select the football team you are going to manage, which can be any of the teams from the Premier, Nationwide or Conference leagues as far as the English sides are concerned. It doesn't stop there though, with the ability to choose from virtually every league you can think of throughout the globe!
If you are a glutton for punishment, or simply want your seasons to last a whole lot longer, you can opt to manage more than one team at a time under different guises. Unfortunately you still can't take control of any of the teams lower than the Conference league, but you can scour them for talent and snap them up for nominal fees. This can be an excellent and inexpensive way of bolstering your side if the team you have taken control of is riddled with injuries or suspensions, or if you just don't have a big squad.
The difficulty level has certainly increased in CM00/01, where I have so far not been massively successful in my management efforts. The game is logical though, and taking control of Arsenal or Manchester United provides possibly the easiest of routes to success. To appreciate the game fully you really should try taking control of a Conference team though. Previously guiding them up through the leagues was a reasonably easy task to perform, but now you will need strong management skills to succeed.
Commentary speed was something I always used to ramp up to the fastest to get the games over with more rapidly in previous versions of the game. Now I find that it is almost a necessity to watch each match at the normal speed to work out problem areas in the team, or to weed out the weak player who is bringing the rest down. It is extremely satisfying to make mid-game decisions that actually have an effect on the outcome of the match, and equally depressing for the decision to make things even worse!
I may be paranoid, but I am also finding I have to pay far more attention to the numerous player statistics than I did before. Buying a player that has a full twenty rating for shooting, you would be thinking you have got yourself a match winner. But not when his passing and teamwork attributes are about as useful as a chocolate teacup!
The New Season
One of the most impressive additions to the game though has to be the interaction with the national and regional media, along with football web-sites. It gives the game that extra buzz to have the media questioning your recent signings, or asking for your comments about a first team player's age. You get to choose whether you agree, disagree or have no comment for them, remembering that it is not just the press this effects, but the player's morale also.
Leagues are now calculated live as your game is in progress, which enables you to see at a glance how well the teams above you are doing. If they are losing and you need the win to take top spot, you then know to increase the attacking nature of your side to secure the points. Another really useful addition is your staff's ability to provide feedback on all of your players, including reserve team members. The physio and coaches will all give their opinions on any player you select, and from here you can assess whether to keep the player on or sell him at the next available opportunity.
I think one of the most fun new features though is being able to complain about the referees! Should you have lost the last game due to a dubious 90th minute penalty decision, you can now get your revenge by filing a report against the ref! You can also ask to postpone and rearrange fixtures, which can be useful should your friendly and league match schedule be affecting player stamina and causing injuries.
It's a little unfair to judge this game on its graphics and sound, as that's not what Championship Manager is all about, so I feel it more pertinent to provide an overview of the presentation.
The game works around a text based menu system with still background graphics of various footballing heroes to spice things up. Every effort has been made to make the interface as simple as possible to navigate, with very few moments where you are left scratching your head wondering what to do next. Menus are neatly laid out and in a logical order, and although there is an initial familiarisation exercise, you will soon be wearing the comfortable slippers of Championship Manager like the rest of us!
You can play the game in full screen mode or in the rather more convenient windowed option. This makes the game one of the best for playing at work, where an Alt-Tab takes you back to that important documentation you really should be working on! Not that I would condone such irresponsible behaviour. Not me, no way.
Ultimately what you have here is CM99/00 with a few added features, a more up-to-date database, and very little else. But there is method to the madness - releasing the annual updates as data disks would have necessitated owning the original Championship Manager 3 to play. This way not only the existing fanbase but also new disciples can enjoy the game, and CM00/01 still retails for a significantly lower price than your average stand-alone game.
There can be no denying that Championship Manager is still the chairman of all football management sims, and with the additional modifications of the 00/01 edition it is made all the better still. Top stuff!
9 / 10