Review by james2

"Simply fantastic"

You know those sayings and phrases that make the youth of today cringe when an 'old git' comes out with one? 'Don't bite off more than you can chew', 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger', 'back in our day we had to make our own entertainment' and 'the trouble with the world these days is it's not like 1942'. In fact, the same could be said at work. When an argument breaks out, usually about the Xbox being better than the PS2, Jim will regularly step in with a phrase that sends everyone running out the room, jumping from fifth floor windows and attempting death by changing a light bulb with the electricity still on. One phrase that does stand out however is 'if it ain't broke, then don't fix it', for this should have been said many times to SI Games, developer of the infamous Championship Manager series.

Looking back at the timeline of CM, it's hard to see where CM4 needed to come in. Several 'updates' stemmed from the original CM3 game engine, each increment retaining it's heritage whilst throwing in new ideas and correcting errors to keep the experience fresh. A place where SI do score highly is public relations, where the entire development team log into the forums at their website (www.sigames.com) daily to read new ideas posted by the public. Evidence of their close relationship with owners of the series comes in the games which host a CM Community section, a simple listing of many fan sites. And it's here where the Championship Manager brand has gone from strength to strength; nicknamed 'The Scene', various websites have been set up with tactics to download, player recommendations, fantasy stories (including the amazing 'no milk, no marks' series on www.thenorthstand.net) and forums for users to gather information from. The close bonding of each site creates a sort of family scenario, with webmasters giving hints to others and various links to interesting articles. From the outside it appears a bit sadistic with thousands of fans logging in every day to gather new information and give out opinions. But once you are grabbed by the might that is CM you'll find yourself doing the exact same thing; logging in the find a better tactic, that striker your team needs or to voice your praise of that star defender you brought from Torquay.

Problem is The Scene felt hurt and was pretty annoyed with the release of CM4. Whilst the new title keeps it's heritage many feel too many ideas have been implemented in a bid for a fresh experience, the main topic of conversation coming from the new 2-D match engine. All of the previous titles have had a text-based match system, in which players use their imaginations thanks to the very descriptive 'commentary', but now the fantasy element has been ripped out thanks to the new system. Whilst still a great feature for new gamers, followers feel let down because it takes the experience and fun from imagining your new signing bombing down the wing to swing in a cross. Now you see him 'move' down the wing and then the ball curls in to the area. Not the same when you've been used to watching text, but after a while you do become accustomed to it, and when you find out how much help is when developing a new tactic you'll never whinge again. The alternative to the system is to turn it off, but the text accompanying the engine is rather stripped down from before which forces you to watch the match. More good points are the ability to go back and impress your mates with highlights of your goals; being able to watch a teenage prodigy single-handedly destroy the opposition is a sight to behold, as is the ability to pick out the flaw in your system as their striker pops up for his third of the match.

What is also annoying is you must have t'internet to play CM4 properly; SI Games have rushed their new title to get it into the shops earlier, and so as a result commonly seen with PC games they have released a staggering five enhancement packs to fix bugs and errors. An un-patched version, for example, allows you to buy players for free, the captains armband is never set to a player and winning away games is easier than those at home (rather unrealistic). The patch to get is the fifth and most hopefully final pack, which fixes the above bugs and completes the experience. Luckily SI Games relationship with its fans means the patches are free, but take about two hours to download. The best alternative is to buy the official CM4 magazine (a high price of £5.99) which features the latest enhancement pack and takes about two minutes to install. Piece of piss to those rich 'uns out there.

Those without a clue as to what the last four paragraphs are on about and have no idea what or who Championship Manager is will quickly discover the best ever football management game around. There is no objective; just have fun. Many will argue that you must aim to be the best manger around, but this is not the case. Whilst gaining poor publicity, getting a top team relegated to division three is much more fun than winning the champions league, then again the next year, and again, then again, and again. The beauty of CM is the depth in which you can go. Buying players, naming 11 men and winning matches is only the very tip of the iceberg. Below the crystal clear waters is training schedules, contracts, the media and player personalities, to name but a few. The point of this is to give more variety to the player, so you don't get bored and to give the best experience. Playing the same tactics week in week out will lead to you getting 'cracked' by the games AI that will hamper your teams performances and league position. Whilst at first this may seem unfair, it happens in real life too. Notice how Manchester United have switched from a flat 4-4-2 to a 4-5-1 to keep up with the times, how Beckham used to just stand and cross the ball to dribbling at defenders in an attempt to create gaps for the forwards, or the way mighty Fulham have gone from third division strugglers to giant killing Premiership kings. Times change and with it you need to keep on top of your game. Those who want to play a tactical approach in contrast to 'sexy football' may study team sheets and scout reports for weaknesses in the next opposition. If their left back has a high aggression rating then you may want your winger to run at him in order to get him sent off. That's the magic of Championship Manager.

The way the press interlocks with the day-to-day running of a football club has been revamped. Often speculation that a top player is leaving a club will go on for weeks before he either reacts or the club in question steps in to quieten it down again. You can create media frenzies yourself with the new option of praising or criticising a player. Praising will improve morale but too much may cause them to become complacent, whilst the opposite can cause a player to dig in deep and lift his team or he may take it the wrong way and want to leave. The way this is determined is in the complex database of player stats. Instead of being individual numbers, they all link together to make the players personality. For example, for a player to chip a keeper he must posses the ability to see the keeper off his line, then think 'hey, I could chip him'. That's the mental side, which is when the technical skills kick in. you'll need good technique, long shots are a must plus a flair rating essential. Just because a player has a good pass rating doesn't mean he will become the next Zidane. Speaking of becoming, there are also specific ways of nurturing your young stars. Throwing them into first team football may shatter their confidence and they may 'burn out', which means their potential is zapped away and they won't get much better. By releasing them on loan to gain gentle first team experience, then bringing them back and indulge in training sessions followed by a few low-key cup games will slowly improve their skills and eventually prepare them for the task ahead.

The way Championship Manager creates the atmosphere and pressure of football is amazing. Lose games and the fans will get on your back, the media will start questioning your ability and players will lose confidence in you. On the other hand, winning games also wins over the fans, players become happy and the media start to praise your good fortunes. These are also apparent when playing a match, as losing yet another home game will result in the fans booing the team off the pitch, whereas a win over better opposition makes the supporters go bananas. The downside to the in-match sound effects is all matches sound like a World Cup Final, which is fine if you are watching Man Yoo play Arsenal, but in a Division Two fixture you wonder if the Brazilian National Samba Team lost their way to Rio de Janeiro and somehow ended up stranded up at Kenilworth Road in Luton. Saying that, having been the man in charge of a struggling team holding out for the last half an hour 2-1 up, hearing 5,000 fans cheer at the final whistle is enough to bring a tear to your eye.

So why should you choose to love Championship Manager 4 more than your job, family, friends, pets and special lady friend? It's the variety; the experience and the fact there are millions out there all sharing the same passion on their PC's. Your star buy whinging? Remind him who pays his wages by taking a portion of them back in a fine. Lacking creativity up front? Chuck Juninho in behind the forwards at the expense of a lumbering buffoon of a defender. The possibilities for fame or ruins are endless; the feeling of satisfaction you get when taking a team from rags to riches is unique. Do yourself a favour; book a month off work, send your girlfriend to her mum's for the weekend, lock the doors and draw the curtains. Then play CM4 to your hearts content.

The changes to the series might seem drastic in the first few plays, but after experiencing your first title win you'll ignore all those gripes and instead play the game using all the new gadgets and options to your advantage. Bringing in the 2-D match engine was a direct response to Codemasters LMA series- don't diss the king. Championship Manager has ruled the football management scene for the past decade, and whilst many welcome change, SI Games series is one exception. Simply fantastic.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/08/08

Game Release: Championship Manager 4 (EU, 03/28/03)


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