Championship Manager games have never been about the graphics. Critics condemn them for looking like glorified spreadsheets and they will not push that latest graphics card you splashed out on into even the mildest sweat. This version is no different. The graphics are entirely functional and do what they need to do. The layout is clean and the menus easy to navigate. The 2D match engine introduced in Championship Manager 4 remains and has been improved on significantly. Players are represented on the pitch by small round icons and this enables you to get much more idea how individuals are performing. If your center back has been out on the pop the night before a match and is responsible for conceding that first minute goal, this is now painfully apparent. The players themselves now behave a lot more like their real life counterparts. At least, as a Middlesbrough fan playing as Middlesbrough in the game, the defense are doing quite well but the forwards couldn't hit a barn door at ten paces... pretty realistic then!
The bad news for wives and girlfriends everywhere is that the gameplay remains as intense and addictive as ever. Trying to take a small club from the Conference to the Premiership is very difficult but is a challenge not to be missed. Equally challenging is taking charge of a big club, as the Board's and fans' expectations are so much higher. The engine behind the game is really quite staggering with over 40 leagues playable and over 200,000 players all present and correct. The genius of the system is that you can have fun whilst taking minimal charge of things and still feel satisfaction when your team wins. However, if you so desire, the involvement goes as deep as you could wish for. You can take charge of every little part of training, contracts, match preparations, personal player-to-player relationships, media interaction... the list goes on. There are now many more ways to interact with the players and press and players have more of a personality than ever before, with dressing room friendships and bust ups all apparent.
It is so easy to sit down to play this game for half an hour and still be sat hunched over the keyboard five hours later. The interface is entirely mouse and keyboard driven and works just as it should. Be aware, though, that this game is taxing on your PC. The graphics card may be able to sit back with a cocktail but the processor and memory will be worked harder than a barman at five to midnight on New Year's Eve. This means that the game can chug a bit if you choose to run all leagues and the largest database. Thankfully, the game does a decent job of reading your PC's specification and recommending settings for you. If you choose to take these recommendations, you won't go too far wrong.
Internet play remains as well, and it's always fun to take your team online and challenge your friends or other players from around the world.
There are not many sounds in the game at all, and this is no bad thing. Matches are accompanied by recorded match sounds and, although these are better than CM4, they are not great in reality and add little to the game. They can be turned off and I think that's what most of you will choose to do. Put a CD on instead!
This game defines longevity in the video game field. You can play for season after season and it will still not get boring. You could easily play this game for a year or more and still be discovering the next Michael Owen or David Beckham as the game will continue to generate players even after all the real players have hung up their boots and opened pubs. One thing is for certain, there is enough here to keep you occupied until at least next season's update. One thing to bear in mind, though: this is the last Championship Manager game to be released by the SI/Eidos combination. The two companies have decided to go their separate ways now. Eidos will retain ownership of the Championship Manager name and will seek a new developer for the next installment. Sports Interactive will keep the game engine and will release an update in a different name. So be careful where you spend your cash on next season's football management games.
Championship Manager is as addictive as ever. Fans of the game will find nothing to dislike here and will be happy with the improved match engine and ever more accurate statistics. These people will buy this game no matter what any review says. The rest of the game's potential audience can be split in two. Those who have an interest in these games would be wise to think carefully before purchasing. If you own a previous version, especially Championship Manager 4, you may want to hang on to your cash. If the series has never interested you, there is nothing here to convert you.
It must be said, though, that this is the best version yet of the most addictive game ever and I can't criticize it for not taking risks. It knows what it wants to do and it does it so very well. Despite its limited appeal in graphics and sound, the gameplay and longevity raise this game to lofty heights.
People who downloaded Championship Manager: Season 03/04 have also downloaded:
Championship Manager 4, Championship Manager: Season 00/01, Championship Manager: Season 99/00, Championship Manager 97/98, Championship Manager: Season 01/02, Championship Manager 2, Championship Manager 96/97, Championship Manager '93 w/ 1994 data disk
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