The F.A. Premier League Football Manager 2001
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We have been accused of blind partiality towards the Championship Manager series, dismissing all pretenders without ever giving them a real chance. But that's just the result of our love for a near perfect game, one which we play constantly, when other classics like Half-Life or System Shock 2 have come and gone and are put away on the shelves. It's also the result of the inadequacy of most other titles, unable to recreate the pure magic and palpable realism of the Eidos cash-cow. If you think about it, football managing games are an incredibly niche market. The same people who point their finger and snigger at Japanese people engrossed in dancing games and school-dating RPGs go and spend hours bidding for players that will never go to their clubs, studiously examining the stats of their youth squad and gritting their teeth as text on the screen informs them they have conceded yet another goal. But we just can't help ourselves - we love it.
Stars In Their Eyes
It's no wonder every competitor does its best to otter the one thing Champ Man doesn't have: a proper match engine. 0I course, this misses the point that the matches are usually secondary to the experience and, most importantly, it's impossible at this time to recreate a football match with complex tactics in full 3D glory. So is Football Manager 200I doomed to failure from the start? Well, not necessarily.
EA seem to be taking up the challenge quite seriously, aiming to provide some of the depth of CM while showing matches using the FA Premier League STARS engine. The game also comes with its own editor, so the hardcore fans can update the latest transfers and even mess around with kits. There are seven countries included, totalling 20 leagues, loads of 3D rendered stadiums you can look at and four different match modes (full, highlights, fastview and result). Elsewhere, it's the typical array of features: training, which can be given to your assistant manager, stadium expansion, building development and the EA-mail system keeping you up to date with everything that's happening.
But play it for any length of time and you soon start to see the cracks appearing. First off, the chairman offers you the choice of three goals to achieve, with more money meaning more is expected. Strangely, this means that even if you're one of the top clubs in the world you can get away with just qualifying for a European Championship within three years for just slightly less money than having to win the league. No matter how big you are you still need to build a training centre, which is plain stupid. And since when does a coach set the price of the season tickets, with no indication of the usual price? The stats for the players are plain wrong, the transfer system is as bad as ever and just selecting your squad for a match can be a headache. As for the matches, the full 3D game looks like a third division kick around, with an Arsenal vs Juventus match having players bumping into each other and stumbling the ball over the line. The fastview is boring and useless. The option to boost your players is an interesting gimmick but needs more work, as does the whole interface.
FM 2001 tries to tread that fine middle ground, offering more depth and complexity for those who want it and letting average gamers get on with it without having to worry, but it's just that it doesn't quite work. At least EA realise that it is not going to overthrow the king with one game and that it'll need to work on this series constantly. For now, it has taken a step in the right direction, however small that step may be.