Premier Manager - Ninety Nine
If you're wondering why you've already seen this in the shops, it's because the release date was brought forward in the wake of Kevin Keegan accepting the part-time role of England manager. It's clearly a cynical attempt to cash in on the surrounding media interest, but what it does mean is that the game went on sale before Championship Manager 3.
It could be argued that this is the only advantage that PM 99 has over its arch rival, and that the interim period might have been better spent actually playtesting the game rather than rushing it onto the shelves. For all the glossy packaging and mock cyber-picture of Keegan that adorns the CD case, what lies within is a game put together on an industrial estate in Madrid. Three years ago.
For those who aren't familiar with recent incarnations of the Premier Manager series, it takes more of a Theme Park approach to football management, as opposed to the numbercrunching of Championship Manager. To this end, Premier Manager Ninety Nine incorporates almost every aspect of running a football club, the on-pitch action supplemented by all manner of financial tomfoolery, including ground expansion, parking spaces, advertising hoardings, TV coverage, merchandising and even catering, with an array of pastry items and hot beverages available. In fact, if you're incredibly dull (or German), it's possible to bypass the football side of things and simply become the club accountant, making such crucial decisions as whether or not to order some more scarves I for the club shop, or to charge a pound for a pie. Every normal, right-thinking person will simply concentrate on the football though, because, as any pundit will confirm, it's what happens on the pitch that counts.
Football is all about results, and there are four ways of getting the information. For the man in a hurry, the 'results' mode simply generates a rapid result, pausing only at half time to enable formation changes and substitutions. It's a fairly rudimentary option though, and even the game's manual advises against using it. The 'brief mode displays a plan view of the pitch, with the players represented by coloured counters, Sky Sports-style. There's a Champ Manager-stye possession bar, and significant events are relayed via text. The 'highlights' mode is the same deal, except that it goes into the graphics mode every time a goal is scored. Finally, there's the 'view' mode, with the action played out 'as live' via an all-new 3D engine.
The games can last either four, eight, 12 or 20 minutes, and while you'd have to be sick in the mind to attempt the latter (our solitary experiment ended in a 4-4 draw), the four-minute option is actually quite watchable. Substitutions can be made, and up to four predetermined formations can be brought into play on the fly.
There's a school of thought that suggests that no one will use the viewing option, and if you're not going to you might as well just stick to CM3. This is the only area in which PM 99 excels over its rival, and actually being able to see your tactics put into practice is clearly a good thing. The action can be viewed from an array of camera angles, and the Gremlin archives have once again been trawled for the obligatory Barry Davies commentary.
It's interesting to note than in Premiership matches, Davies name-checks every player, whereas in the Third Division only those whose name begins with 'A' get a mention. This is indicative of the sloppiness that riddles PM 99, including a number of annoying bugs. For instance, it's quite possible for a player to score a goal despite the fact that he's been substituted. It's this kind of inconsistency that will inevitably have purists reaching for CM3. And yes, we are reviewing a boxed copy of PM 99 here.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
Although it's essentially the same game, Premier Manager Ninety Nine is admittedly an improvement on previous versions. The tactics options are comprehensive, and individual players can now be designated to take free kicks, corners and penalties. The transfer system has been marginally tweaked, but it's still far from perfect, with no option to renege on deals.
The interface is as ugly and awkward as ever, and negotiating it can be a chore - a world away from CM3's hyper-linked smoothness. The PlayStation version has an auto-select feature - something that would have been useful here, if only to bypass the tedious clicking and swapping ot players. But with a degree of patience, and overlooking occasional glaring flaws - such as bizarre kits, racial inaccuracies and empty stadiums - there is still some value to be had.
Premier Manager Ninety Nine may not suck you in to the same extent as CM3, but it's still an extremely playable game. Loath as we are to recommend bugged software, PM 99 can be a lot of fun in a more casual kind of way.
Obviously the purists will sneer and return to their glorified spreadsheet, but even the most loyal CM3 fan could do worse than to consider Premier Manager Ninety Nine as a viable second choice.
Download Premier Manager - Ninety Nine
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
You can change your name, your nationality, your job, your car, your friends, your religion, your daily newspaper, your partner, even your sex, but unless you're a complete and utter twat (stand up David Mellor) you never, ever change allegiance from one football team to another. It's the law.
There is, however, no law or rule to suggest that this strange, misguided loyalty (and if you've ever heard "We're by far the greatest team the world has ever seen" sung by fans of a Third Division side, you'll know all about misguided loyalty) should extend to football management games. I mean, just because you started playing, say, Championship Manager round a mate's house one evening four years ago (and were still playing three days later), that doesn't mean CM is the only football management game you can ever play for the rest of your life.
And yet, right or wrong, something tells us that die-hard fans of the multimillion-selling Championship Manager series aren't going to give this, the latest version of Premier Manager, a second glance. "Why the hell do Gremlin even bother?" you might ask. If you're incredibly condescending, that is.
Yes, Championship Manager does have a huge following, but Premier Manager has a sizeable band of devotees itself, thank you very much. Indeed, for a time in the early '90s Premier Manager (originally on the Commodore Amiga) was probably far more famous than Championship Manager (we say 'probably' because no one around here can remember past last week). And it's not doing so badly right now. As I write, the PlayStation version of Premier Manager '99 (which admittedly doesn't share that much in common with the PC version) is sitting pretty at the very top of the chart. So there.
Viva Le Difference?
Whatever, the important thing to note is that Premier Manager offers a genuine alternative. You see, where Championship Manager 3 concerns itself purely with team management (albeit with a high level of realism and complexity), Premier Manager '99, like EA'S FA Premier League Manager 99, enables you to effectively run an entire club (or at least any club from the top four English divisions).
Not only are you in charge of everything from team and tactics selection to player training and transfers, but, depending on the settings you choose, you also responsibility for organising ground improvements, negotiating television rights, and even setting the price of tickets, merchandising and refreshments. But it's just not cricket, you might be thinking. And, of course, you'd be perfectly correct. It's football.
Oooh, Barry Davies
Ah, yes, the highlights mode. Now there's a rather big difference between the two games. While CM3 has gone back to basics with just text-based commentary, the Premier Manager series is heading further the other way with the option to watch Actua Soccer-style highlights, now with commentary from Barry Davies. And very pretty it is too.
You can't compete in the games (this is no Player Manager clone - thank God), but there's an auto-highlights mode (which goes back to show important incidents after they have happened) or, should you wish, you can watch all the game in real time - if you're very stupid. Or very bored. In reality, we imagine that most of you will stick with the simple, top-down counter display.
Whatever, while the enhanced 3D graphics engine is one improvement over the previous version of the game, the developers believe the new tactics system - which enables you to allocate defending and attacking positions for individual players - is the best change of all. And you know what? They could be right. A smart Tactical Simulation option lets you move the ball around freely to see where players will run to in any given situation. Initially it all seemed a bit confusing to us but, hey, it might just work.
Somewhat disconcertingly, the development team cited enhancements to the catering side of the game as one of the other major improvements - not the kind of feature to convert Championship Manager players, we'd wager.