You're either into football or you're not. And if you are, and you're reading this, the chances are you'll have played Championship Manager at some point over the last decade - so no need for us to tediously go over old ground explaining what a football manager is. The chances are you'll have already guided your bunch of no-hopers to multiple Champions League titles, as well as lost your girlfriend/job/mind to the insanely addictive nature of the seemingly innocuous statistic filled nature of the game.
Briefly, for the benefit of those who have somehow missed out on the delights of Championship Manager during its long, glorious reign as king of the football manger genre, it's a defiantly non graphical experience that allows you to take charge, mould and get involved at a minute level with every facet of controlling a football team. At the very basic level, you get to take charge of a club of your choice from just about any club team in the known universe, pick the team, buy and sell players, decide on your tactics and send them out to play season after season until you a) get fired for being crap, or b) you get good, and - in all probability - become totally, ridiculously hooked to the point where you'll be playing Champ Man (as it's affectionately known to the fans) for every spare minute of the day.
It just works, ok?
Anyone looking at the game for the first time will wonder how a game that is entirely text based, and has a commentary system consisting of sentence strings, can be exciting. All we can say, is that it just works, ok? It shouldn't, but it does. Every year, it sells over 300,000 copies on the PC in the UK alone, on a platform where hit games struggle to sell a third of that. Truly, it is a phenomenon.
One of the secrets of its success is its ability to run on a wide variety of PCs, due to its relatively low system specs. Its reliance on text, rather than graphical frills means that you're never going to be worrying whether your graphics card is up to the job. And compared to most modern PC games its other system requirements, such as memory and storage space are quite generous too - although it takes full advantage if you have the kit, especially when you're running multiple leagues at the same time.
Until earlier this year, all 'new' versions came out exclusively on the PC and Mac, thanks to the game engine's reliance on the hard disk to process the bewildering array of stats. But then the Xbox came along, and its similar PC style architecture allowed developer Sports Interactive to produce a quick and dirty port of its Season 01/02 edition (released in the spring of this year), minus some of the lesser leagues. At last, a version that allowed users to just pop the disk in and play, without the hassles involved with disk space, unreliability and all the grief that goes with PC usage.
Exclusive? But why?
So here we are, approximately eight months down the line and Eidos has just released yet another 'new' edition - except this time it's exclusive to the Xbox. But why? Well, simply because it has the all-new Championship Manager 4 nearing release on the PC in February (it didn't want to upset its PC fan base by releasing an update to the old game so close to the issue of the new version), and it was a relatively quick and easy exercise for SI to update its ageing CM3 engine to include the new season stats, a new league (South Korea), and the new transfer rules that FIFA has recently introduced.
To the untrained eye, this plays pretty much the same as the previous version, with the same interface, the same bewildering array of options (some of which you may never bother using once if you want to just dive in and play some matches), but like all of CM3's spin-offs, they're there for when you're good and ready to up the ante and get deep down with everything this wonderful, horrendously addictive title has to offer.
Laughably, the pad now vibrates like an industrial digger every time a goal is scored, but enhancements to the recently released version are hard to spot. If you bought the 01/02 version, it would be tough to justify parting with Ł45 for some new stats, but for a Champ Man virgin with no PC, and a passion for footy, it's one of the most insanely alluring gameplay experiences ever.
Control system woes
But, a word of warning. As seasoned CM veterans, we did find the control system a real bug bear after years of using the mouse. While the cursor control is acceptable initially, once you start getting proficient with the game it can feel like a major faff compared to the freedom that a mouse offers you. And believe us, you'll be wishing for a keyboard as well once you start indulging in some heavy duty transfer wheeler dealing. Entering names in manually with the joypad is a bit like text messaging compared to typing on a keyboard. We understand it's not SI's fault, but Microsoft really should have thought about giving users the ability to plug in their own USB keyboard and mouse - and be able to play games like this properly - instead of vetoing them stubbornly to protect the console's "not a PC!" label. After all, Sony doesn't seem to have a problem with letting PS2 owners do just that…
Also, we wonder just how suitable CM is for in-front-of-the-TV play. The secret of its success is that it has a design that is perfectly designed to play to the unique strengths of the PC and its high resolution display and versatile input system. Replicating that on a console, fundamentally, just doesn't feel 'right'.
But it's the best console footy management game out there
These criticisms aside, it's still by far the best footy management game on a console, and if you don't own a PC, and have no intention of purchasing one, then its an essential purchase if you can live with the less than perfect control system. Other attempts at making a dumbed down 'console' version just seem lame after playing CM, and - to be fair - suffer from exactly the same control issues we've discussed.
But if you want to be true to yourself, and the budding football manager within you, we'd highly recommend you save up your sheckles for a PC and Championship Manager 4 when it arrives in just over two months.