You've got to run to stand still in the fast-moving world of football management. The same can be said for the virtual 'soccer' universe, where Football Manager has been setting the pace for years. The latest FM for PC (and Xbox 360) upped the series' canter once again with a locker room bursting with 100 gameplay additions...
But what of FM 2007's chirpy sidekick - the Keegan to the PC version's Toshack, the Beardsley to its Cole? Surely an improvement list as long as Lee Bowyer's rap sheet is beyond even our plucky PSP. Yup, of course it is. And, as for running just to stand still, FM 2007 handheld barely breaks a sweat.
You see, titles are always a lot harder to retain than they are to claim the first time round. The original FM for PSP was so welcome to those of us who dreamed of playing SI's unsurpassed masterpiece on the move - without lugging a glorified typewriter around - that we forgave its shortcomings. Heck, who could expect the glorious detail and unrivalled depth of a game that has taxed many a half-decent PC to port in fully-featured form to Sony's black beauty, anyway? Even stripping out the 2D match engine - which actually provided a welcome reminder that life before semi-decent visuals was little worse than what we have now - didn't bother us. Nor did the absence of detailed finance sheets and a bag full of subtle features.
This time round, the same tech limitation-driven process of slicing down the key features of FM 2007 means you feel you're not only getting a diet version of the latest game, but a cutdown 2007 grafted onto an already skinny 2006. The result? A game that looks decidedly antiquated next to the PC FMs. Which, ironically, isn't a wholly bad thing.
Not even the most demandingly bratty of football fans would expect the latest FM's interactivity options to make it into the handheld game in all their glory. Chatting with any player in the football universe to help prompt a move is hardly the most crucial aspect to miss either. But why haven't team talks been included? Surely such a basic interactive option would be a must-run feature?
The game's shortcomings certainly don't end there, with a few reminders of the previous FM handheld's irritations turning up like a nasty hangover the night after a cup win. Managerial tools experienced PC bosses take for granted are noticeable by their absence. There's still no 'offer to clubs' option to help you take a more proactive approach to chipping away at your wage budget, for instance. While the user interface has been improved in line with the advancement in SI's other version of the game, it's still galling to note that there's no player comparison tool, either. Weighting up players against your own is a case of crudely eyeing them in the player search list or relying on your memory.
Other minor gripes will not deter every budding boss. Scrolling a signing-on fee offer clause to Ł0 takes too long, for example, but that only matters if you're a tightwad with principles about such issues (like us). Similarly, not being able to skip loading screens will only get the goat of highly strung coaches who can't wait a few seconds for such intermissions. Those who haven't touched SI's games since the Championship Manager 2 era won't even notice them...
Strangely enough, those players will also find themselves surprisingly at ease with a game that 'pays homage' to earlier SI offerings - or so says development honcho Miles Jacobson in part 2 of our exclusive interview (hunt it out - it's definitely worth a view). In truth, the technical limitations FM is straining under means the series has regressed to an era in which the game was far simpler, more crude, but in some ways more 'pure' and fun.
Trinkets of later development faffing such as the 2D match engine and an almost ludicrous, exponential extension of the player database - which now tips the 300,000 mark (how long before my brother's five-a-side team's in there?) - are compromised. The former is removed in favour of retro text commentary and the latter is pared down to a manageable size that will still throw up some names that will be new to even the most nerdy of football geeks.
The truth is, underneath all the superfluous (and the many brilliant) advances in the game, FM's nigh-on slavish realism when it comes to depicting the challenges faced by a proper manager is knitted into the fabric of every release. That's something on which SI will never compromise, and a fact that means, for all this is nowhere near as complex or expansive as FM for PC and 360, you'll still lose yourself in the dark recesses of a addictive and compelling game.
In fact, FM handheld is still more ambitious than your average management sim. And besides, for all our Scroogey gripes, some improvements have been made for this title defence - with two scouts, a better player search system and board requests as well as more news stories meaning there are some tweaks to acknowledge, if not celebrate... With a handful of nods to the PSPs own repertoire of silky skills - network challenges, data editing and downloadable team logos - this is a classy, if not world class addition to the FM family.
Even with the previous Football Manager for PSP it was clear SI had just about reached bursting point when it came to squeezing the most realistic boss sim on the planet onto a UMD. 2007's tactical reshuffle inches the series forward without threatening to revolutionise handheld management. Luckily, the heart and soul of this game is drenched with the spittle (metaphorical, mostly) of a dev team who are in love with the beautiful game. Such passion is gloriously infectious.
8 / 10