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Lock away your wives and tell the boss you're dead; Sports Interactive are back again...
After the well-documented split between Sports Interactive and Eidos, Football Manager 2005 is finally here. A chance for Sports Interactive to usher in the next leap of football management games with their new partner SEGA perhaps, or possibly a rehash of ideas that have paved the way for success since Championship Manager first arrived on the scene back in 1992.
Naturally itâ??s a case of more, more and well moreâ?¦ Football Manager 2005 provides players with far more freedom then ever before, being able to select from over 5000 teams from more than 50 leagues. Individual players have also see an overhaul with over 100 unique attributes to take into account, including new categories such as Player Potential and Preferred Moves, but more on that later.
Despite a rather â??XPâ? like make-over to the user-interface and the initial impression that everything has changed, loyal SI fanatics will be pleased to know that everything from their previous football management titles is still here, just with slightly better organisation and easier navigation throughout the Senior, Reserves and Under-18 teams and the various other facets of being a manager, namely tactics, training and transfers.
It was also noted that the processing speed has been slightly improved due to code optimisations, and more emphasis placed on performing certain calculations in the background whilst you get on with the game. Itâ??s nowhere near to the speeds that left us amazed at the last demonstration of Championship Manager 5, and if you want to select multiple leagues from the beginning youâ??ll still have time to make the tea and think about your first managerial decisions; however itâ??s an aspect weâ??re hardly going to complain about at the end of the day.
Into the actual game and the overall impression is one of a welcoming return, like seeing your favourite player returning to the club you love. Despite banning myself from playing Championship Manager in recent times, due to losing far too much time and missing â??importantâ? social obligations, the memories soon came flooding back shortly after booting FM2005 up for the first time and before I knew it the chime for 3:00AM had struck â?“ once again a slave to SI !!!
Surprisingly the game doesnâ??t really introduce any new major features that hit you straight in the face, instead itâ??s a case of smaller introductions and enhancements that go on to fine-tune the football management experience that you either love/hate or simply donâ??t get. Rounding up those features that most people will notice straight away, reveals a couple of new ideas that truly enhance the experience amongst the dozens of tweaks and changes that will largely go unnoticed.
Arguably one of the largest introductions is for players to have â??Preferred Movesâ?, setting the scene for the likes of Zidane and Ronaldinho to truly set the pitch alight. There are 48 moves in total ranging from such choices as Runs Down the Left, Gets Forward Whenever Possible, Dives into Tackles, etcâ?¦ Itâ??s an excellent addition that continues to enhance the individualistic nature of your players, ideal when youâ??ve got players such as Paul Scholes or Christiano Ronaldo in your team. However a word of caution, unless you want to watch your team degenerate into a bunch of schoolboys or even worse the Scottish national team, be careful about using this feature too heavily throughout the team or any one particular player.
It would have been nice to have seen more depth in respect to how you handle your players, for example shielding young stars away from the prying and vindictive media, or one-to-oneâ??s with individual players to address such issues as their professionalism, but again itâ??s something weâ??re hardly going to find ourselves complaining about. In addition a rating based upon their â??Potentialâ? has also been introduced, which goes someway to improving your ability to scout for the next wonder-kid. Again such options as giving your team a dressing down in the way of an untimely thrown boot or morale boosting encouragement at half-time would have been a nice touch, that weâ??re surprised not to see.
Tactics and Training continue to bear the most changes as it has done for the last couple of years throughout the Championship Manager series. Itâ??s arguably still not fully realised in FM2005 however it does represent a marked improvement. Potential managers now have a wider selection of choices when it comes to determining team and individual tactics, with slider bars used to decide just how much you want to focus on a particular area; for example sliding the bar all the way to the right in â??Creative Freedomâ? will have your team hopefully playing like Brazil, whereas to the left and youâ??ll have a team bearing a closer resemblance to the Gunners of the 80â??s. Again the execution of this on the actual pitch is magnificent and provides you the scope to really fine-tune your team to perfection; something that I guarantee will have SI fanatics tinkering with until the early hours of the morning.
Your backroom staff also plays more of a part in FM2005, with your assistant manager providing his opinion on your team and individual players, highlighting areas that he feels need improving and the overall strengths of your side. This feature can be activated whenever you want throughout the game, although it left us a little baffled on a number of occasions as the team he commented on left out a number of first-team stars and replaced them with Under-18â??s â?“ no wonder you think the team is under-strength if youâ??re leaving the likes of Rooney out of your opinion!!!!
Scouting tends to be very similar to previous titles, with players able to assign scouts to various locations throughout the globe and the opposition if you choose. This time around you can also scout in particular competitions such as the Premiership or the Champions League, however we were a little disappointed to realise that this just highlights players that catch their attention and not for example highlighting surprise contenders that you should worry about.
Without doubt the largest introduction comes in the way of â??Managerial Mind Gamesâ? that aims to provide the opportunities for some hilarious Wenger/Keegan vs Fergie debates! Ahead of games the player is presented with a huge list of options such as praising an opponent or writing off their chances of success before a ball has even been kicked. This aspect truly does create some hilarious moments; our first example of the feature in action, saw David O Leary condescending my praise for him, stating that he â??believes he could still teach me one or two lessonsâ?, this was quickly followed by an attempt to be sarcastic that stated â??despite others not believing in his managerial skills, I still considered he has what it takes to be a manager in the top flightâ?; expecting a seething return of words I was slightly surprised to find that the game didnâ??t recognise my attempt at sarcasm and had David O Leary commenting on what a nice chap I was â?“ perhaps his response came in the fact that Aston Villa humiliated Man United 3-1 in the subsequent game! Itâ??s hard to tell just how much influence this new feature has on the actual game and the matches played accordingly; it certainly provides a giggle, although whether SI fans will take to it or dismiss it as just a time-wasting gimmick remains to be seenâ?¦
In fact I am slightly disappointed by the lack of progression made with the whole way you interact with players, media, staff and fans. Expecting FM2005 to provide SI Games with a new slate to truly redefine the football management experience, I was initially expecting major developments within this area to continue furthering the sense of immersion in the game and your relationship with the various characters within. It could be argued that as with the Managerial Mind Games this would only detract from the core experience, and would quickly be left as a gimmicky feature that is fun at first and soon forgotten. However I personally want to be able to feel closer empathy with the youngsters Iâ??m nurturing; I want to risk the wrath of FIFA and have discussions with a potential transfer target before Iâ??m allowed to and ban pesky journalists from my post-match conference â?“ just give me more freedom.
One nice introduction is the way that player agentâ??s will now send video footage of their player in action using the 2D match engine. It helps to stretch your outlook beyond the conventional means of relying on your scouts and your knowledge of football outside of the game. Itâ??s also nice to see a closer representation of real-life players and teams through licensed pictures, club badges and team-strips, although as with everything not released by EA, the game lacks these features for Premiership clubs â?“ â??Itâ??s in the gameâ?â?¦
Thereâ??s a lot more emphasis placed on international management compared to previous titles from Sports Interactive, with players having the option to become one straight at the beginning of the game. However the vast majority will want to build up their status as a league manager and hopefully gain recognition from their success. The various international football authorities have a vast range of criteria to match when it comes to determining who will be the next Sven Goran Erickson, so if a particular nation has a long history of attacking football, theyâ??ll look for a manger who fits this style or be prepared for a fan backlash if you insist on setting up the stalls and going for a 1-0 win.
The actual match has been improved and bears an even more authentic representation to the real thing then ever before. Itâ??s great to see your decisions being faithfully carried out on the pitch, whilst some of the movement exhibited by your subbuteo players is by far more advanced then anything weâ??ve seen in any other football game - including the likes of Pro Evolution Soccer and the FIFA series, not to mention rival football management titles. Thereâ??s a lot of scope for the player to juggle around the configuration, with a split-screen option allowing you to view the match at the same time as important information such as Player Statistics. Purists will be happy to know that thereâ??s a full range of options to control the time of the match alongside just being able to watch the commentary, whilst a variety of enhancements have been made to the traditional options such as splitting the match area between both teams instead of a solitary bar.
The fanatics will also be pleased to know that a comprehensive editor accompanies the game, giving you complete control over the various players, staff and teams within the game, whilst you can also incorporate your own images and tailor pretty much everything else that makes up FM2005.
There can be no doubt that it’s still a great gaming experience and one that will surely have football fans glued to their monitors for months to come, but with the release of CM5 we are a little concerned that there will be too many games offering very, very little to distinguish between them – however that’s probably not an issue that SI are too worried about given that the next instalment in the CM series may not arrive until 2005.
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