Premier Manager 97
The Premier Manager Series Has Sold over a million copies, and the previous version, Premier Manager 3. managed to ensconce itself within the gaming charts for almost two years. Good form for a PC game you might think, but footie management games tend to reach the parts that other games cannot reach.
Potential six-figure unit sales and the current international love affair with anything football has meant that almost every games publisher in the world has jumped aboard the bandwagon. There are now more footie management games on the shelves, or due for release, than ever before. So far, it's been a two-horse race between Domark's Championship Manager series (now published by EIDOS Interactive) and Gremlin's Premier Manager. Few people play both games (let's face it, you'd have to stay up 24 hours a day to really do it properly) and each camp is fiercely loyal to its chosen brand. God knows why - let's just suppose that "it's a football thing".
In the past, Premier Manager has been criticised (mostly by CM2 fans) for being too obsessed with hot-dog sales, ground improvement and finance management to be realistic and therefore enjoyable. Managing tactics, team selection and transfers were what's important (they said) - not working out how much to charge for programmes. That should be left to someone else entirely (preferably of Germanic origin) who enjoyed balancing spreadsheets and tweaking figures. That was not a manager's job (as Ruud Gullit would no doubt agree), that was a business management simulation.
However, as most Premier Manager addicts would point out immediately, when you're managing a team locked in the lower leagues, and fighting for survival, every programme sold is another pound in your club's kitty. If you can convince fans to have mustard on their hot dog and charge them five pence extra - you're onto a bit of a winner. Next week they might have tomato ketchup and mustard! That little extra cash extracted from the fans could mean the difference between another season of football and going under. Just ask the manager of Sudbury Town FC. That was what real grass-roots football was all about.
All things to all fans
With this in mind, Gremlin got together with Spanish developers Dynamic Software in an attempt to produce the 'definitive' management game. A game that would appeal to both sets of fans, and bring them together in one big football love-in - just like last summer, during Euro 96, when Liverpool fans hugged Everton fans and Arsenal fans joked with Spurs fans about how Darren Anderton got into the side on merit and not because Terry Venables has a thing about Tottenham players. Together they would create a game that would remain on the hard drives of those who loved to bury themselves in the profitmaking schemes of running a football club, and those whose favourite sensation was the tingling feeling in their toes when the schoolboy they'd picked up on a free at the start of the season was in fact a goal-machine of even more promise than Ronaldo.
The new approach might even tempt those who had been put off football management games with its attractive and accessible menu systems and dazzle them with its polished databases and array of customisable options. Who knows?
Suits you sir...
So how are they going about it? How can they possibly keep everyone happy? Well, they're giving the player the option to get as involved in the different aspects of club management as they want. You'll be able to play Premier Manager 97 in three different ways. Players interested only in team affairs (team selection, tactics and the transfer market) will be able to play the game without having to worry about the business side because this will be automatically be overseen by an Assistant Manager.
More ambitious players can opt to take charge of all aspects of running a football club. They'll be able to hire and fire all the vital members of staff (including the groundsmen and the club psychologist), direct training staff to coach the squad (and even certain players) in any discipline (tackling, heading, passing etc) and participate in the varied financial affairs of the club. There's even an option (presumably included to satisfy the German market) to ignore all the football stuff and concentrate on the business side.
The rub is that you'll be able to play the game in whatever fashion you want. Obviously, you'll do better if you opt to do everything yourself (if you know what you're doing), but you won't be penalised for leaving certain things in the capable hands of your Assistant Manager (bless him).
The nitty gritty
Any football management game is only as good as its stats and Gremlin have made every effort to make PM97 as accurate as possible. Each player will have 12 basic stats rated from zero to 99. These can move up and down as they age and with training. Unlike CM2, there are no hidden ratings - "what you see is what you get" - and players will have an average rating out of 100 to indicate form as the season progresses. The player stats for the game have been compiled by Spanish journalists and experts (see Database box), and there's talk of bringing in "a leading TV football personality" to give the game extra authority.
Managers will be able to choose from a selection of ten pre-defined formations that are fully customisable and use a zonal system to define where players will operate. You will also be able to dictate and tweak tactics using slide bars to concentrate on various areas of the pitch (defence, midfield and attack) and initiate certain styles of play (passing game, long ball, counter attack and so on). There's also an option to adjust the level of tackling and you can even 'man mark' certain players. Overall, it's pretty comprehensive, but you won't be able to select who takes set pieces and who wears the captain's arm band.
If you want to get the best from your players you'll have to initiate a comprehensive training schedule. This is done by hiring certain 'experts' who are proficient in certain skills (tackling, heading, dribbling etc). The more expensive the coach, the more players he can train at once and the better your players will become. Not all of the players will respond to training and it will be discipline specific, rather than position specific, so don't expect to have a team that consists of 22 fully-rounded players in a couple of days - the process will take time.
There's not much point in training a defender to dribble and pass if you're going to opt for long ball tactics, so your training plan will largely be dictated by your tactics and vice versa - and of course your wallet. Thankfully, you'll be able to compare players' stats before and after a period of training to see if they've responded so you don't continue to throw good money after bad. If things don't go to plan or you're plagued with injuries you'll be able to play players out of position, but this will effect their ratings and performance.
If it all sounds a little daunting, then you can tell your Assistant Manager to sort out a general training programme to keep your squad in reasonable shape and maintain their skills to a general level. It's infinitely more satisfying to take this on yourself, not to mention more cost effective and rewarding, but the option to pass is there if you want it.
Transfers and stickers
The transfer system may seem a little odd to those unfamiliar with Premier Manager. You hire scouts to look for players for you (you dictate the kind of player you're after by position and skill) and a few weeks later they have a shortlist that you check and then make enquiries. The more expensive the scout, the more detailed his research and accurate his judgement Or you can just click on any team and make a bid for a player directly - the database helps you if you're unsure of a player's history and form, but if you employ a decent scout you'll get a decent player - "Players are either good players, or they aren't." admits UK Product Manager Tony Casson. "It's as simple as that. Their form may dip, but you pays your money and takes your choice."
Ultimately, the transfer system is not as comprehensive or random as in other games, and may even be considered to be a bit too restrictive, but on the plus side it's easy to use.
As for the business side of things, you can opt to have total control of all things finance and mess around with the spreadsheets. The obvious agenda is to follow the Man Utd model and make lots of cash and at the same type be successful at every level. This means making as much money as you can for the club so you can start strengthening the squad and developing the ground at the end of every season to make more money. To stop managers of fledgling clubs topping themselves, the game isn't too hard. "It's not totally realistic, or it would be too depressing. Miracles can happen in this game - it is after all a game," grins Tony, "otherwise it wouldn't be worth managing teams in the lower leagues. You've gotta have a dream and make it seem possible." There won't be an option to manage a national side, you'll just have to be happy with conquering Europe at club level.
If there's one thing that makes PM97 stand out from the rest, it's the way it looks. All the menus, tables and screens are excellent, and it's a joy to watch the match highlights and see which players are performing. The fact that it's backed up with player match stats and a match commentary from Barry Davies makes it even better. He's recorded lines that'll keep you chuckling, but Coventry City fans might be disgruntled to hear that Barry refused to say: "This year's Championship Winners are Coventry City", because, according to the man himself, "It would never happen." Maybe not everyone will fall in love with PM97, but it will keep fans happy, and may convert a few of the opposition.
Download Premier Manager 97
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
- Game modes: Single game mode
- Up, Down, Left, Right - Arrow keys
- Start - Enter (Pause, Menu select, Skip intro, Inventory)
- "A" Gamepad button - Ctrl (usually Jump or Change weapon)
- "B" button - Space (Jump, Fire, Menu select)
- "C" button - Left Shift (Item select)
Use the F12 key to toggle mouse capture / release when using the mouse as a controller.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Premier Manager 97 is the second game in the hit football managing game series of the early ninties. Based on the second version (released in 1993), you start in the Full Game mode as a lowly division 3 (not Conference) manager, where the goal is to get the club to the top divisions, or get signed to better placed teams. In the Demo mode, you can choose any Premier League team, but only for a season.
In either of the modes, the player is responsible for carefully assembling the team (and unlike other managers, in here selecting the appropriate tactics is crucial to win the game), get the best from the transfer market by selling the fading stars and outselling the biggest clubs in England in the quest for the stars of the future, improve stadium capacity and quality (seating, roof, security, ...), sign good deals for ground advertising and balance the budget to make the team finish the season out of the red.
Matches are always simulated, with a ruler showing where the ball is, and with text messages showing actions ("player passes", player tackles", ...). The chances of goals are shown in LED-style animated clips.