Championship Manager 3
|a game by||Sports Interactive Limited|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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With CM having dominated the PC games chart for years, the latest game in the mega-selling Championship Manager series was always going to have a lot to live up to.
Thankfully, Championship Manager 3 succeeds in being both familiar and, at the same time, different enough to appeal to fans of the original who 'feared change'. The adage 'if it ain't broke...' is an old one, and it's obviously one that the Collyer brothers, the game's developers, adhere to. Unlike recent 'updates', however, CM3 is as different to CM2 as CM2 was to the original Championship Manager. It's got a completely new engine, for starters, which enables it to crunch the numbers a lot quicker and deal with the ever-bulging database that is at the game's heart. There's also a hatful of new features that add to the game's overall appeal and addictiveness.
Visuals & Interface
If you've played Championship Manager before, you'll find that everything here looks pretty familiar. If you haven't, rest assured you'll be able to find your way around CM3 without any trouble at all. It's been extremely well designed.
There's often a lot of information on screen at any one time, and the addition of 'Windows-style' drop-down menus and the facility to cycle back and forth through screens makes navigating your way though the game much less of a chore than it should be. You can still click on a player or team and instantly view the stats/squad screen, which is a blessing to those with a high curiosity quotient, and something that other management games have so far failed to pick up on. Numerous filters enable you to sort through the mass of information pretty effectively, and it's quite possible to spend hours just exploring the game, messing around with tactics and training and 'surfing' your way through the transfer market. The fact that you can do this while the game is updating by holding down the left mouse button means you're rarely left twiddling your thumbs while the artificial intelligence plays out each match, as you were in CM2. It also means that if your machine isn't what you'd term a 'ninja-bast', you can go about your business as your processor chugs through the day's results.
Like EA's FA Premier League Manager, you receive emails that keep you up to date regarding the transfer market, injuries, bans and general news. It's a nice idea, and it certainly helps perpetuate the feeling that you exist in a fantasy football world. That said, when you're desperate to get to your next match, and are forced to click your way through numerous mundane messages informing you that the match between Colchester United and Man City has been called off because of a waterlogged pitch, or that one of your reserve players has caught a cold, it can get a bit frustrating. An option to filter the news, or maybe just receive news that is relevant to your division, along with international news, might have been a good idea. When it comes to match day, you can opt to either watch the match in the traditional style - a constantly updated stream of commentary, with a sliding possession indicator bar - or you can switch to one of the new screens and watch them update before your very eyes as the match progresses, while keeping an eye on the reduced commentary that flashes up at the bottom of the screen. Thankfully, there's no longer an option to listen as well as watch, the general consensus being that nobody bothered to listen to the commentary because it was pretty crappy and slowed everything down too much.
Tactics And Training
You now have even greater control over your team's tactics and training, and can spend as long as you like devising complex new formations and saving them for a rainy day. There are numerous formations to choose from, and as well as giving your team instructions you can instruct individual players to hold up the ball, make runs and man-mark a player etc. You can also specify where you want each player to be when the ball is in one of the nine designated zones of the pitch, when you have possession and are trying to win it back.
Does it make a difference? Well, every manager would like to think that the decisions they make from the touchline affect what happens on the pitch, and Championship Manager has always been very good at perpetuating this sense of control. After tweaking some of the existing formations and experimenting with the tactics editor, it becomes clear that certain tactics work better against certain others, but at the end of the day your players' individual ability, and in particular their morale, appears to have a greater bearing on how successful and consistent your team's performance is.
As if there wasn't enough to keep you occupied, you can now also opt to control your reserve team if you so wish, and this is a useful place to try out newly devised tactics without wrecking your first team's chances of success. If you like to have a hand in absolutely everything, or your team lacks dosh, you can also opt to look after the training schedules of all your players (see Life Of Reilly panel, left) and nurture your own home-grown talent. Be warned, however: results are gradual and sometimes non-existent if the player you're coaching happens to have a low 'potential' rating, and there's no way of finding this out apart from carefully monitoring his progress and stats as he goes along.
Transfers And Contracts
The fact that CM3 boasts the biggest (and arguably the most accurate) player database ever assembled in a game of this sort goes a long way towards making it the best football management game available today. The sheer number of players available makes delving into the transfer market an absorbing affair, and the introduction of scouts, coupled with a more comprehensive 'search' facility, makes hunting out new talent a compelling - if lengthy - process.
There's a fine line between realism and gameplay, and the fact that you can purchase players that in the real world would simply be unavailable helps make the game playable, while at the same time stretching the realms of crediblity.
The fact that everything else in this area appears to live up to expectations helps perpetuate the suspension of belief. The players' salary expectations and demands, for instance, appear to be in order, as are their individual player statistics.
A Convincing Result
There's little doubt that Championship Manager 3 is worth buying. Of course, it's not perfect. You could argue that the players now have too many stats, the emails can get too annoying, and you could take issue with some of the stats themselves. Okay, some teams don't play as well as you'd expect, and if you haven't got a beefy processor it can all get rather sluggish, but the 'uppers' most certainly outweigh the 'downers' in this case.
Some addicts may even argue that it's too easy, others may say it's too hard. I managed to win the FA Cup, the League Cup, the League and the Champions' Cup in my first few seasons with Arsenal - and Spurs were relegated! Perhaps I'm a tactical genius, or maybe I just got lucky. Perhaps I should add that with Liverpool I won nothing and was sacked after a season. It truly is a funny old game, but that's just part of its endearing appeal.
Because of the sheer size of this game, the more you play it and get to know it, the more 'quirks' or anomalies will inevitably rise to the surface. Consequently, it's almost impossible to give a 100 per cent accurate overview, given the task at hand and the time and space available here. That said, having spent the last two weeks playing this game solidly, I can confirm that: a) I'm completely hooked, and b) I will never look at CM 97/98 again. And that's good enough for me.
The England Squad
If players perform well, Glenn might call them
Of course, who gets selected for international duty depends on how players perform as you play the game. At the start of the first season, all the usual suspects were In evidence, with the notable addition of Chris Sutton, who's presumably made It up with the man in charge, or found God, or both - along with new boys Julian Joachim and Lee Hendrie.
After just 12 months, England stalwarts Adams, Ince and Wright failed to even make the bench, despite performing well throughout the season. Most alarmingly of all, David Seaman was deposed as England's number one in favour of Liverpool's self-confessed Tomb Raider addict David James. Villa's Stan Collymore, Ugo Ehiogu and Steve Watson all received a phone call from Glenn, as did West Ham's versatile IVevor Sinclair and Leicester's target man Emile Heskey, who was preferred up front (to an out of form Alan Shearer) to partner Michael Owen. Sadly, England's playmaker-in-waiting Frank Lampard Jr failed to get the nod, and Gazza was nowhere to be seen, despite performing well for Middlesbrough.
Under Manager Hoddle, England's youthful 'new look' side ditched the old-style continental 3-5-2 formation and opted to play a rather defensive and narrow 4-1-2-1-2 formation, with Rio Ferdinand sitting just in front of the back four, Beckham and Butt in midfield, and Steve McManaman in the hole. England qualified for Euro 2000 easily.
Tactics And Teams
Having good players is one thing, where you play them is another
There are numerous tactics and formations to choose from in CM3, and if you don't like the ones on offer you can always come up with your own variations and save them. I had a reasonable amount of success with a rather attacking-style 3-4-I - 2 with which I've had great success in CM2. Of course, the players in your squad largely dictate what formation you play, and it's interesting to see how the artificial intelligence copes with injury problems and suspensions.
The formations for many of the teams in the game are more variations of what you expect them to play, rather than accurate representations, and it has to be said that at times the player selection is often dubious. What manager would leave Giggs on the bench when he's fit, for example? Mind you, the AI seems to know what it's doing, as Man litd rarely failed to finish outside the top three.
SON, I'M GONNA MAKE YOU A STAR
How to find the next Michael Owen
Of course, you'll never win anything with a team made up of kids, but you can help fill your club's coffers by using your scouts and football nous to spot talent early on, and make a killing on the transfer market.
The Player Search facility In CM3 is more comprehensive than before, and enables you to send your scouts across the world to specified countries or regions in search of new talent - or, if you prefer, you can do the donkey work yoursett With the Quick Search function, you no longer have to specify the minimum/maximum stats of a player to come up trumps, but merely state whether you want him to be good at passing, shooting, jumping, tackling eta You can then specify whether you want the player to fulfil all your preferred criteria or, say, three out of your stated six if you want to keep your options open. Thankfully there's the facility to save your search and load it up whenever you want to find new talent, which saves you having to reselect your criteria every time you search for a particular type of player.
You can also assign your scouts to scour ttie globe for new talent, and assign them to a specified country or region. As with the Quick Search, as well as indicating the kind of player you want, the desired age range and price bracket etc, you can select which skills you're most interested in. If you're after a decent defender on the cheap, for instance, you might indicate that you want a player with better than average tackling, heading and positioning skills whose contract is close to expiring.
Once you've assigned a scout, he packs his bags, heads off, and then reports back with his findings within a week to ten days. If he's successful in finding any players he feels meet your criteria, you're presented with a list of potential signings, each with a rating out of five, depending on how highly the scout thinks of them. You can then either approach the player's club immediately, or shortlist him for future reference, and instruct the scout to keep looking or assign him to another country or region.
The fact that you're relying on your scouts' abilities to gauge a player's skill in certain areas means that it's altogether a lot more realistic than before. And as each scout is different, and looks at different things, you may get different feedback depending on who you send where. Send three scouts to look for players in Brazil, for example, and each may well report back with different recommendations.
Ultimately, even if you're a poor third-division club with a good scout, you've got just as much chance of finding the next Michael Owen or Joe Cole as a wealthy Premier League club does. Then again, a lowly third-division outfit is unlikely to be able to afford the services of a good scout Shame.
You can't play Champ Manager over the Internet (yet), but you can play over a LAN
Of course, what most Champ Man fans really crave is a version of their favourite game that they can play online over the Internet. Apparently that's in the pipeline for the next millennium, but in the meantime you can hone your skills against other 'human' players over a LAN (Local Area Network).
If you've played CM with your mates on one PC, then you know how much fun It Is playing against other people. Playing over a network is pretty much the same, except that you can all search for players and mess about with your tactics without having to take it in turn. Your so-called 'mates' are also unable to spy on your tactics, sneak a look at your shortlist and bid for players you're trying to sign until it's too late. You can also send rude messages to each other. Which is f**klng nice.
A Life Of Reilly!
No pain, no gain - make your players train
Everybody knows that professional footballers train for a couple of hours and spend the rest of their time playing golf and shagging page-three girls. Well, now you can get your own back and force your players to put in a little extra effort on the training pitch and make them work for their money.
As well as a general training schedule, you can also select certain members of your squad to concentrate on fitness, tactics, shooting, skills and goalkeeping, or even train to play In another position. You can also devise your own training schedules, though if you make them too intensive your players' form and overall condition could suffer. framing your players won't make them change overnight, but it's worth doing nonetheless, especially with your younger players, who will have plenty of scope to improve as long as they have a high enough 'potential' rating.
Download Championship Manager 3
I would have quite seriously sold my grandmother to get my hands on some early playable code of Championship Manager 3 from developers Sports Interactive. All things considered, granny's not in too bad a condition considering her age: two new hips, slightly deaf and with glasses as thick as the bottom of a pint glass, she's beginning to show signs of slowing down after 70-odd years of service, but she still makes a wicked sausage sandwich and can still be relied upon to stick a fiver in the post come Christmas. Fortunately for my grandfather, the Collyer brothers weren't in the slightest bit interested in doing a deal, and after lengthy pleading they sent me a playable - though still "very unfinished" - version of CM3 to have a look at.
Sunday Lunch Time Kick-Off
Being a generous son of chap, I thought it only fair to share such a momentous event with a couple of mates who over the years have proved themselves to be almost as addicted to Championship Manager as myself. You may have seen two of them who made an appearance in The Cult Of Championship Manager' feature in our September issue. Suffice to say that after installing the game late on Sunday lunchtime, we were still huddled around the PC at around 4am on Monday morning, bleary-eyed, tired, emotional, and still thoroughly absorbed by what was on the screen on front of us. Here's an 'as it happened' and rather babbled report of what we found to be new and different, and a few thoughts as to how it compares to Championship Manager 2.
First things first: you can actually choose what nationality you want to be. I was French, as I was going to manage Arsenal (obviously), but you could just as well be an Iraqi if you wanted. How this actually affects the game is anyone's guess, though presumably it's in there for a reason. You can also choose what currency the game uses. Each player has a password so others can't tamper with your squad or sell your best players when you're out of the room having a dump or making a cup of tea.
In many ways it all looks different, yet strangely familiar. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of teams to manage, and you can now try your luck in the Brazilian, Swedish, Argentinean, Japanese and US leagues. Your squad can be huge, and there are loads more players in the database, each with even more stats to absorb. The consensus here was that there were just too many to look at and that many were in fact very similar, though thankfully the Collyers have already confirmed that this is something they're looking at.
Players now have a preferred foot, and apparently it really does affect where you play them - play a left-footer on the right wing and he'll tend to cut in rather than cross the ball. The languages players speak is also indicated, as is their performance rating for their last five games - very useful. Friendly match ratings are now also logged, as are continental and international games. Penalties taken and converted are recorded, and loads more players have accurate histories, so if you hear of a player who's lighting up the Argentinean league, you can look him up and impress your mates with your newfound knowledge.
Tactically, there's a huge leap in what you can do. As well as any number of formations, you can instruct your team to play in various different ways, and even instruct individual players to make runs, hold the ball up, run into space and man-mark an opposition player. Contracts are much more sophisticated too. And you can now employ scouts and backroom staff to help you. Even Jimmy Hill is available as a scout if you want him. Unfortunately, our version had no scouting and player search, finance screens, training, player retirements, international friendlies, under-21s, B-teams and back-room staff, so obviously we can't comment on these areas yet.
The Story So Far
From what we've seen so far, it's all pretty accurate and there are no really nasty surprises. Experimenting with the tactics takes ages, though after playing a couple of dozen games it's pretty clear that the decisions you make here do affect what goes on during a match. More play will reveal exactly how much and only time will tell how much of a difference it really makes. Essentially though, it's potentially better than CM2 (and every other football management game, come to that) in almost every way. To say we were impressed is a bit of an understatement. It's also life-sappingly addictive, and Eidos really should consider putting some kind of health warning on the box.
Time To Go Home
As the birds began to sing, we finally decided to call it a day and re-convene later that day after die essential distractions of sleep, work, talking to other people etc were accomplished. Many CM fans, myself included, had expressed fears that the Collyers couldn't possibly pull it off a third time; they'd mess it up - do too much or too little, make the interface too complicated or the game too easy in an effort to appeal to an even wider audience. We needn't have worried. From what we've seen so far, CM3 looks like exceeding all expectations. Sure, it's not perfect, and there's still a lot to do, but I really just can't wait to get my hands on a finished copy.
In all honesty, I'm a little bit scared about what will happen. It's almost as if I don't want the Collyers to ever finish the game, because I know that once it's on my hard drive it will all begin again like some crazy, mixed-up love affair that's bordering on an obsession and spiralling out of control. I won't be able to concentrate on anything else. I'll find a dozen excuses not to leave the house; my complexion will become pallid and large bags will form under my bloodshot eyes; real life and reality will once again become a blur as I scour the sports pages for the briefest hint of new talent; every conversation will end up being about Championship Manager.
My life will be in ruins - again. Oh, who am I trying to kid? Just hurry up and finish the damn thing! Nothing else matters.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
Championship Manager 3 looks like being better than CM 97/98 in every way. Here are ten reasons why it could potentially be the best football management sim ever
I - It's quicker than ever before. Even the most die-hard CM2 fan would confess to getting a little narked as the game number-crunched its way through thousands of stats. CM3 uses a completely new engine - it's no longer DOS-based and processes the data a lot quicker. Phew!
2 - You can now mess around with your team, tactics, and even scour the transfer market while the CPU is calculating all the match results, which means you're never waiting with nothing to do for the game to update.
3 - Tactically there's more scope than ever before. You can now give your team detailed instructions as to how you want them to play and then give each individual player specific instructions, such as where you want them to pass the ball, whether they should move up for set pieces, and even man-mark a specified opposition player. The new tactics engine also enables you to specify players' positions when you have the bail or lose possession. You can also save these tactics and load them up at will - even during a match. Which is nice.
4 - The addition of reserve teams and the facility to train and develop young players gives you much more scope than ever before. You don't have to spend hours scouring the transfer market for gems; you can now nurture your own stars of the future, which is good news if you like to manage clubs with a cash flow problem.
5 - The interface is a joy to use. With so much information to sift through and absorb, if the interface is in any way difficult or fiddly to use, navigating your way around the game can be an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, CM's interface carries on where CM's left off. It's easy to read, instantly familiar, and the new 'Windows-style' drop-down menus mean that a lot of info Is instantly accessible at a simple click of the mouse Numerous filters mean that you can now sort your players more efficiently. And unlike so many other management games, if you double-click on a player or team at any point, their stats Instantly appear on-screen. If you do get lost, just click on the 'back' button and it takes you back through the screens you opened.
6 - The network game is potentially fantastic. Okay, not everyone has access to a LAN, but playing against other people using other machines is just great. There's no Internet facility as yet, though this is believed to be the number one priority for CM4, which will probably see the light of day some time in the next millennium.
7 - The sheer number of players, teams and leagues on offer is astounding. No other game goes into such detail, and although some of the stats and values were a little off the mark in this version, the Coliyers' track record for producing a competent database means that CM3 will feature the most comprehensive and accurate stats ever seen in a football management game.
8 - You can now really go to town with player contracts. Now, you not only negotiate the price of a player, but also the signing on fee, assist bonuses, goal bonuses, numerous clauses, a selling on fee percentage, a fee after ten league appearances, a fee after international appearances etc. It really Is a lot more involved.
9 - That god-awful commentary has been replaced - there's now a new, more precise text-based commentary. If you get bored with that you can look at the latest results of other matches being played at the same time, look at the action zones, check out your players' ratings, and even watch as a minute-by-minute report of the game records just about every incident.