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Championship Manager: Season 02/03

First Impressions - Kristan picks apart CM02/03, and questions Sports Interactive about it - back of the net!

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

With Championship Manager, you either get it or you don't. And frankly, having followed the game ever since the very first version over ten years ago, we can safely say we get it. You've heard it all before, undoubtedly, but once you embrace this game into your life, you may as well forget any plans to a) conduct any sort of normal relationship b) play as many games as you used to c) function like a normal healthy happy human being.

After intensive therapy circa 1998, we (we, as in our multiple personality striken Ed) were weaned off the game, and now can appreciate its insanely popular annual updates without locking ourselves away for months at a time while we guide Norwich City to Domestic and European glory for the 22nd season in a row.

South Korea makes its first appearance

John Leslie should play this game

To say it's addictive would be akin to saying that John Leslie has a problem keeping his hands off the ladies. But you know all that, and you probably also know that the latest version of Champ is exclusive to Xbox (although there is a free data update for PC owners for 01/02 that patches seven of the top leagues) - the first edition ever to not be released on the PC.

But there's a simple reason for this sudden alliance with Microsoft. With the PC release of CM4 just around the corner (February 29th next year, to be precise) Sports Interactive had to avoid upsetting its loyal PC fan base, and with the (as yet unconfirmed) Xbox version of CM4 probably a year away, it had to work out how best to service the non PC owning Xbox user base.

Think long and hard

But if you're one of the lucky CM fans that owns both a PC and an Xbox, then you're without doubt not going to be too interested in what is, to all intents and purposes, a £40 data update to the recently released (i.e. less than eight months ago) Xbox version of CM Season 01/02.

And even if you don't fancy a hefty download to patch 01/02, the data update is also included for free (for the PC, mind you) on the cover disk of the recently published Official Championship Manager Magazine, which includes a wealth of exclusive info on the forthcoming CM4 as well as a guide book to becoming the next managerial god.

West Brom versus Charlton - the highlight of any footy fan's season!

Subtle changes

But, despite the structure of the new Xbox version of CM being essentially the same, subtle additions have been made. This time around you get the following updates: a vibrating joypad when a goal is scored (a very powerful rumble by all accounts), all the up to date squads, and the new FIFA transfer window system that only allows you to buy and sell players in set periods of the season (making the job of wheeling and dealing a stricken club out of trouble even more of a challenge).

And in addition to that, (deep breath) the game features all the latest competitions, awards, philandering managers (probably), 27 (fully updated) worldwide leagues (including Korea for the first time), escalating wages feature, 100,000 players (of which at least some, apparently, have personalities), and all the usual bewildering array of options that anyone reading this will not need reminding about. Fortunately, for the newbie/casual player you can turn a lot of the really anal detail off.

Where's a mouse when you need one?

So what's it like to play? Well, as a seasoned PC veteran, it feels slightly irksome having to navigate the menu with an Xbox controller compared to a mouse. The analogue stick enables you to steer the cursor around the screen in much the same way as usual, except without the speed and precision. Alternatively you just move the cursor around digitally, which can take ages, sadly. Hard disk access, meanwhile, is swift, and you're never left waiting around too long, although we'd imagine that turning on multiple leagues at once will make things creak somewhat.

The text size has been bumped up accordingly, meaning it's easy to read on even a small TV, although the sacrifices are easy to spot, as it's not possible to fit quite so many columns on each screen, and certain words break up slightly untidily. Not that it makes much difference. The core of the game is pretty much the same as before, although it would have been nice if Microsoft allowed users to plug in a USB mouse and keyboard to allow you to navigate and search the numerous menus at speed.

The underlying issue we have is that while the game is almost flawless in so many respects, it's so deep and has so many intricacies (and therefore menus) that for the seasoned old hand navigating is much slower than on the PC. Having said that, that's probably because we're not used to controlling it this way.

Surrender your life

Suffice to say if you're even vaguely into football, don't have a PC (but own an Xbox or are about to buy one) and don't have Championship Manager, it would be almost rude not to buy what is the single most absorbing piece of digital entertainment (it's hardly what you'd describe as a mere videogame) that you're ever likely to come into contact with. If you value having a life, then stay away. This game is dangerously addictive.

But don't take our word for it, here's what Sports Interactive's managing director Miles Jacobson had to say….

Eurogamer Why should Xbox owners be excited about CM 02/03?
Because it's the best simulation of football management on the Xbox.
Eurogamer If you already own CM 01/02 on Xbox, why would you want to buy the updated version? What has been added?
There's a new league (South Korea), all the data has been updated worldwide, all the new rules of football are in there, including the new transfer system windows. Oh, and the joypad vibrates when you score a goal!
Eurogamer Does CM work as a console game?
Yes. A game is a game is a game is a game - it shouldn't matter what machine it comes back from.
EurogamerFrom the feedback you've had, what proportion of Xbox CM owners are 'newbies'?
It's difficult to quantify as a lot of people come to our messageboards whilst playing the game, which is a lot easier to do on a PC than an Xbox.
EurogamerDo you think you'll be able to convince a whole new non PC owning audience that CM works as a game you can play on the couch?
Err, most people I know who play CM play it on their couch whilst using a laptop. People can make their own minds up about the game - those who are more used to graphical "arcade" management games might prefer them to the indepthness of CM, but it's their loss if that is the way they think. Most people seem to be very positive about it, so we're happy too.
EurogamerFor the purists, is it possible to use a mouse to control the game (via a USB adaptor). If not, why not give people the choice? (Editor's note - all Xbox debug kits come supplied with a USB adaptor that plugs into the joypad ports)
Ask Microsoft! They are the ones who haven't released a mouse or a keyboard for the Xbox. I actually really like the control system on the Xbox for the game.
EurogamerHow easy was it to port CM to Xbox? What compromises have to be made?
The main compromise is a lack of memory compared to what we are used to working with on the PC. And having to make the text look OK on a 14" TV with very low res.
EurogamerAre you planning on releasing CM on other systems?
I really want to do a retro version for the Degenatron console that is making a comeback, but we're struggling to get devkits for it.
EurogamerHow far behind CM4 PC will the Xbox version be, and will it be a Live game?
I don't believe we've announced any forthcoming releases apart from CM4 for PC and Mac. Watch this space. Sports Interactive is very interested in Xbox Live, so I'm sure it's something that we'll look at in the future.

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