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In Review: Championship Manager 4

Filed: Thursday, 10th April 2003
By: Graeme Howlett

Sports Interactive (Eidos)
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Way back in the mists of time (well 1981 actually) a game called Football Manager was released by Addictive Games for the Sinclair ZX81. It was a simulation that grabbed the imagination of game players worldwide (the idea being that you would manage your favourite football team and seek to restore past glories).

Little did author Kevin Toms know that his game (which incidentally used less memory to run than an average MS Word document today) was to spawn a thousand copies and clones - the most recent (and most popular) being Sports Interactive's Championship Manager series, which itself has ran for over 10 years in various guises.

2003 heralds the latest release of CM (as it is affectionately known by its loyal followers). CM4 - the first new version of the game since 1999 - promises to be bigger, better and more addictive than ever before. So does it deliver?

For a start the size of the database has grown massively; over 200,000 'real life' players are represented in the game, each with their own facts, figures and personality traits (West Ham have a certain Italian who will become upset if left out of the side, for example). This impressive feat is achieved with the help of thousands of (unpaid) researchers SI Games have cunningly employed worldwide, to guarantee that the data is precise. Which, in nearly all cases, it is.

The realism doesn't stop there; as manager lead your team to a big win and your Chairman will be delighted - and, in many cases tell you so (even Terry Brown went out of his way to congratulate me on a fine 1-0 win over Spurs).

As well as managing your team, setting tactics and developing training schedules one of your major tasks is to improve your squad by way of the (vast) transfer market. The realism kicks in once again as plenty of haggling ensues (with both club and player) before you get your man.

The biggest change to this, the latest version of CM is the implementation of a '2D Pitch' for match highlights. No longer must you simply watch text updates during the game - now you can see your side in full flow, playing just as you've told them to. Not only does this add to the excitement in game (I dare you to sit still as one of your players goes through on goal) but it also reveals where your team are going wrong tactically, thus allowing you to tweak your instructions. It works well and is an excellent feature.

So with all this taken into account what can possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually. Unfortunately the game is riddled - and I mean riddled - with bugs (despite SI releasing an update patch on the day of release) which, in the main, go unnoticed. However there are some errors which radically affect your (mis)fortunes - such as the game (occasionally) changing the score after you make a substitution. Handy perhaps if you're losing a vital match, but unwanted nonetheless.

Then there is the speed of the game - or distinct lack of it. You may be running the very latest PC with top spec but CM4 will run like a dog regardless. Be prepared to find yourself frequently twiddling your fingers whilst CM4 performs it's calculations.

In summary? CM4 has the potential to be brilliant, make no mistake about that. And, when SI Games eventually get round to fixing the errors it probably will be. However the series of bugs and painfully slow game speed mean that only the most dedicated gamers will have the patience to persist with a game that has clearly been rush-released to appease some higher power (in this case probably Eidos Interactive, CM4's publishers).

So all things considered, sadly CM4 is a bit of a dud. Our advice would be to hang on to CM3 until SI Games resolve the many problems inherent in this version.

Nevertheless - it's a dud with huge potential ...

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