The thing about the Championship Manager series is that you can release a new version every year, reflecting the latest state of the game. It was with an eerie sense of foreboding that I installed the latest version of this profoundly successful soccer management game: I knew exactly what to expect, but was strangely excited about the prospect of evaluating something that has ultimately been kicking around for ages. Yes: Championship Manager brings us the 03/04 season.
My feelings about updates are clear: I consider them to be something of a con if there is no new substance to the game. Now, seeing as Championship Manager is a management game, involving little or no graphics, I immediately found it hard to get to grips with the concept - was this going to be an updated database, and something that you should get from a free upgrade? Perhaps yes, as the feeling 'out there' is that the 01/02 season is just as good - and in many was it is. But CM03/04 does introduce more new features and take the footballing obsession with statistics to a higher (or lower) level. Never before has there been so much detail, and in management games like this, detail matters. It should come as no surprise then, that the latest version includes teams from 43 countries, 100 divisions and 200,000 players, from B teams, reserves, U21 nationals and so on.
Championship Manager has so much rolled into it that it seems that playing the actual matches is an after-thought - I spent much of my time haggling over the purchase of Paul Ince. It now has a huge range of things to distract you from the beautiful game, including inter-player relationships (remember the partnering of Shearer and Sheringham in Euro 96 - great stuff!), live cup draws, coach and scout ratings, training indicators for individual players - the list goes on and on. I was pleasantly surprised, since my last foray into soccer management was with Championship Manager 3.
Moving on to the actual game, I took the lowly Division One team West Ham, and tried to steer them to league and cup glory, with mixed successes. It was on starting the game that I came across my biggest problem with CM03/04: system requirements. This deserves a mention. The minimum requirements are for a 600MHz CPU, the recommended is 1.2GHz. That is ridiculous for a game that has virtually nil graphics, just a bit of stat churning. As a result, if you have an older computer, it can be slow. I can't see any reasonable excuse for such a power hungry game, unless of course, that there is too much going on. I did notice that the season was playing itself out in full. Behind my humble Hammers steady progression, were the playing of all the rest of the games on the planet, or seemingly so. Searching through the options, I couldn't figure out how to make it 'not bother' with all those other games, and the stats that go with them. Having said that, I was playing it, and my week was slowly vanishing, along with my life. I don't really consider myself to be a management fan, but this game did come along and enthrall - there is something undeniably sexy about the bland interface and reams of boring statistics.
A quick fix? Definitely not - if you start this game, it will eat your soul. And therein lies the truth to CM03/04. It is a great formula for success - most people do now have the power to run it, even if they don't have the time. What more can be said - its guaranteed to sell well till the next update, and at just over £20, it's a good way to waste away the rest of the year. If you can win at Championship Manager, you are a champion among men. The argument is - can you justify the latest version, when the last ones were so good? I suspect the diehards already have it, and any new comers will want the latest. Points have to be deduced for the power requirements, but besides that, a big thumbs up!