Review by xanxus

"El Conquistador"

It should be downright obvious, but I'll still stress on that single BLATANT fact for the finical: You need to be a HARDCORE football fan to enjoy Championship Manager 2000/2001, Eidos's power-block that has single-handedly been ruling the sport's managing simulation genre ever since it was wonderfully conceived. And by 'Hardcore', I really mean it. Granted, I reckon even those who have a slight interest in the sport may want to at least try the title out, and I'm sure they'll enjoy it for a couple of hours or so, but the fact remains that Championship Manager 2000/2001 (which will be simply referred to as 'CM' throughout this review) is essentially meant for all the football fanatics around the world, which makes it somewhat different.

Where games are meant to help you forget about the daily routine and hence enjoy yourself, CM does quite the opposite. Now, I'm not saying it isn't enjoyable; it is (stating the opposite would be dumb!). However, this game also flashes out as being mind-numbingly stressing, to the point where you simply cannot stop playing the game although you know deep within yourself that you should take a break. However mercilessly your ass may be handed to you by the AI (I mean, just imagine yourself playing with Real Madrid and losing to a weak team like Paris St-Germain, and you'll understand - indeed, things like this DO (and WILL!) happen in the game), however often you'll have to restart from scratch simply because you were not able to build a proper squad, you WILL always come back to this game if you're a football fan. I also rule at run-on sentences.

Maybe the reason as to why CM is so genuinely interesting (and frustrating if you're just goofing around) is how it's so damn realistic at the task it sets to emulate. It lets you control a team or any number of teams, build it/them as you desire, and play through championships and cups, which depend depending on what team you chose. Of course, the way you manage those teams is what really matters, as that's the whole point behind the game, but the realism behind the whole game is ingenious, brilliant, and at the same time so unobtrusive one never realizes how CM is ever so slowly turning you into yet another CM-addict.

CM doesn't just emulate the task of a manager; it goes as far as implementing everything that has an effect on football in real life. Remember how Alaves appeared out of nowhere to make a magnificent run through the UEFA Cup in 2001? Or how about how Real Sociedad has been opposing the brute force that Real Madrid is in Spain while not boasting the constellation of stars the latter has? You can do all this in CM. Hell, you can do anything provided you take a proper approach to the game, and heavily invest time in it (this requirement is however slightly detrimental to the game, but not even enough to tarnish it in the eyes of football lovers). The main feature is how it indeed implements all the functions and features associated with managing a team while remaining fantastically realistic all the time.

The game begins by letting you choose among any team in any championship while supporting multiple choices. This means that it is even possible to play in different championships at the same time. You could choose to play in the Portuguese, Spanish and Scottish leagues at the same time, handling a team from each country. Whichever team you choose is your call; there is absolutely no restriction as to what you can control and what you cannot. CM goes further by letting you choose to play in inferior divisions as well - you are not forced to play only in the first division. As an example, you could play in the Nationwide Division instead of the popular Premiership in English, and opt for the second or third divisions in Germany while totally scraping the Bundesliga.

Of course, one may think that such an option has no purpose whatsoever, but this actually holds a very important place in the game. It allows the gamer to take a team and have it go up through the divisions (by being among the top three of the current division at the end of each season) until that same club is ruling the country's first division with a nine-foot pole, along with the European (or American, depending on what that team is) cups. This will certainly appease all those who support teams that were not among the elite in 2000, as would be the case for a Nottingham Forest aficionado (although that example still holds, but you got it, right?). One should also keep in mind that this edition was prepared with the 2000/2001 roster such that it will actually respect whatever happened or was due to occur before that particular season kicked off. As a result, Ronaldo isn't yet in Real Madrid (although, of course, nothing prevents you from selecting the most capped team in European history and from eventually buying him at a stupendous amount) and Bayer Leverkusen still wonderfully relies on Micheal Ballack and Ze Roberto. Similarly, some players are either suspended or injured, and every other facet, from age to close terminations of contracts, has been brilliantly included to make CM as up-to-date as possible (again, as long as 2000 is concerned).

Managing the team occurs by making choices among a multitude of options, and everything is done via the mouse. CM is a text-based game. The only real 'graphics' you'll be seeing throughout the game are pictures of players and past events that make the whole background of the game, along with pictures of pitches when the matches are played. In the latter case, you still won't be seeing a real match (such as in FIFA or any proper football game), but the fixtures are instead presented as highlights with each noteworthy action being written before being replaced by the next. Otherwise, CM isn't a game that concentrates on graphics, or even sound - its beauty lies elsewhere.

Its true brilliance lies in the game play where everything has been so finely crafted it's hard for a dedicated football fan to ever grow tired of it. The managing part may at first seem complicated and tedious with its never-ending array of options, but the game is actually quite beginner-friendly although, as I already stated, a profound knowledge of football is required to understand all that's going on. The core of the game, other than managing the whole team by assigning yourself the position of head coach, involves buying, selling, and loaning players, ensuring that your team is always capable of winning against any opposition, conceding as less goals as possible, and satisfying the team chairman or board of directors, among others.

Luckily, you are not totally on your own although almost everything depends on your choices. There are other coaches to assist you throughout the game, and they will come in handy when you need to have a particular player you've been following lately assessed. Physios also determine when players are fit to play, and should you have any qualms about letting one in the line-up when he's just recovered from injury, just have that player checked by one of them. Finally, since you can't just go on a rampage around the world looking for young players (and even older ones!) yourself, there are scouts who will perform this task for you. While their part may not seem so important in the game, you'll soon learn how important they can be, as they point out a player who will perform miracles for relatively low costs. And while their initial impressions don't always turn out to be foolproof, they can be trusted most of the time, which makes them the best sources for potential players.

But football is essentially about the players themselves, and CM doesn't disappoint in this aspect. An amazing amount of players thus exists in the database, and the team rosters are fully respected, except for a few negligible exceptions here and there (which don't matter anyway, since nobody cares about these players and teams!). Transfers occupy quite a lot of space in the game with transactions taking place all the while. Buying, selling, and loaning players is so easy one may even be tempted to buy a striker when he already has more than he could ever fathom. Because of this, one must be always careful about transactions as it serves no purpose having more than 5 center forwards in a team, nor does it help to have as many goalkeepers as defenders (unless these defenders really suck!).

Players get fed up if they don't play often (this probability increases as their value and capability increase), other teams want your best players all the time, and even the sport journalists and team directors will be more than glad to criticize you whenever you fail to win. The attention to realism is breathtaking and definitely ranks among CM's most notable assets. Of course, just because it's relatively easy to select a player and offer to buy him doesn't mean he'll gladly accept. Most key players are reluctant to leave their teams, with the coaches claiming, "This player is indispensable to the squad".
And even if you do manage to agree on transfer fees with the club either by offering a Real Madrid-esque amount or an unbelievable exchange, there's no guarantee that that particular player will actually want to play for you, specially if your team is playing like **** in the nation's league. Hell, I had to spend $ 22,000,000 for Edgar Davids alone, along with a godly weekly salary.

Moreover, other clubs will pop up to contact your players as soon as you start to lose and any player that wants to be spoken to about his pending contract is bound to be approached by another club. Of course, both buying and selling players are needed, as you cannot run a team simply by buying them. You need money for this, and even though you start with a nice amount of money (which varies depending on the club's financial status, with the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich leading the way), this will be quickly spent on wages and other necessary fees. Thus, you are doomed to know how to handle transfers and to know when to part with a player. One of my favorite money-inducing strategies involves finding young players in the leagues, training and having them play until they are seen as reliable players, which is when other clubs will offer to buy or loan them. It's a nice way of obtaining money, but of course, luck also plays in important part in how successful you are.

As a matter of fact, luck is important EVERYWHERE in CM. Players may turn out to be good on one play-through and horrible on the next one. This ensures the game has a lot of replay value, as even if you decide to play again with the same team and with the same players, it won't have an air of déjà vu. The level of randomness means you always need to be on your toes and this in turn gives the game an almost infinite replay value. Players logically grow older as seasons go by such that you will at one point need to restart from scratch, as there's no point in playing with and against teams where the average age is around 36 years old and where goals are netted more often than Michael Owen claims he's been fouled during a match. Plus there are also instances where a weak line-up will miraculously beat a strong one. Who cares if this is by a very slight margin when that one-goal win suffices to make you win the highly-coveted UEFA Champions League, along with a nice sum of money?

CM is outlandishly fun and has a special feeling about it, but then, there's also the fact that the game can get way too addictive and stressing. Unfortunately, one could indeed claim that this is a flaw, as it mercilessly slaughters your social life. You'll find yourself often craving for that last match just to wipe your previous defeat only to lose again and to yearn for more. It's a vicious cycle and one that cannot be avoided, but at the same time, it helps maintain the endless charm surrounding the title. There aren't many games that can claim to boast such never-ending replay value, and CM is assuredly one of those. The fact that there are so many teams to control in so many leagues adds to its replay value to convey it a truly formidable lifespan, which in turn means you WILL play it over and over again. And, if ever you start finding things slightly redundant, it costs nothing to set yourself challenges such as controlling a very weak team from an inferior division and seeing whether you can place it among the elite.

All this takes place via menus where the only thing that can actually pertain to real 'graphics' is a green pitch where the match action is highlighted. The commentary speed can be chosen, and most of the time, it is better to set it to the fastest choice since the main commentaries can be accessed later anyway. As in real life, you can make changes in your line-up and switch strategies while the match is going on. Of course, there however needs to be a pause (such as a foul, a throw-in, or a corner) for the changes to be recorded and to be applied. Sound effects are almost non-existent since there's simply no real action throughout the game.

Even this doesn't manage to tarnish CM, as the core of the game is simply so fabulous. How your team plays depends entirely on your choice. An aggressive strategy will cause your players to commit fouls more often and to be yellow or red-carded, and this in turn will put you in a dangerous situation in the following matches as you realize all your key players have already been booked. Similarly, it serves no purpose playing defensively against a considerably weaker side since this will just prevent you from scoring as many goals as possible. Taking into consideration how important the goal difference is in cups and even during the last part of the leagues, this shows how important it is to play with your strongest squad most of the time. Each player can be assigned a distinct role during a match, and it is possible to select anybody as playmakers (although you are restricted to only 2!) while deciding whether another one should be allowed to make forward runs or to cross the ball for the strikers. There are also no restrictions to the formation of your team. Feeling like playing with 5 strikers? Feel free to do so. Or how about having a single player take all spot kicks? All this again contributes to make this edition of CM exciting and extremely rewarding as emphasis is solely placed on how you play.

This should be enough to show that Championship Manager 2000/2001 definitely ranks among the best football management titles that have been released so far (along with most other Championship Manager titles!). All the aspects of the real job have been meticulously respected, and the level of realism is simply astounding. Moreover, it perfectly emulates real life situations, and the emphasis placed on all your actions adds to the frantic atmosphere surrounding each match. As an example, you are sacked after a while if your team isn't capable of winning a single match, but you can nevertheless try to get a new contract with another club desperately in need of a manager afterwards (which will, in a certain way, save your season. Of course, one could argue that this 2000/2001 edition may be regarded as quite old now that we are entering the 2003/2004 season and that more recent titles have been released, but I personally regard this one as the best in the entire series. Just make sure you'll have a lot of free time to spare because you'll definitely need it. And remember, if all the references I made throughout this review are gibberish to you, this game is DEFINITELY not for you.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 10/12/05

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