How many times have we lost at Kick Off and said "Oh, I must have had a bad team."? How many times have we been faced with a far superior computer team and wished we could have done something about it? Wish no more. Player Manager has finally arrived, and it's far better than I ever expected. A Logical progression from Kick Off, the core of the game remains basically the same. After all, the centre of any football management game is the match itself, and what better thing to play than Kick Off?
As the title suggests, you're a player-manager, much along the lines of Kenny Dalglish's role in Liverpool, so really you have two games for the price of one. Make no mistake, it is Kick Off plain and simple, with one or two variations. For a start, each player is now strongly affected by injury and stamina levels. Bring a player down once too many and he'll limp off the pitch and be rendered out of the game for a few weeks. Stamina is another crucial factor, as your number 9 striker may be able to out run anything on the pitch, though he may have trouble keeping up with the opposing defenders after half time. For the first time in a football game, those rows and rows of little statistics actually seem to mean something.
You only play one player against the computer, which is a bit of a let down where Kick Off is concerned, but the computer is no push over. Each team plays differently and is composed of different skilled players, so studying form and playing strategies is of vital importance if you want to get anywhere.
But where Player Manager really holds it own is on the management side. Here, in amongst all the detailed form sheets and generous assortment of menus, is where all the important decisions are made, starting right off with who you are. There are basically two roles you can play. The first, and possibly the easiest, is the true managerial role, in which case you can play the whole team, as in Kick Off. The other role, and one I find a bit odd, is the role of a true player manager, where you still make all the managerial choices, but can only play football as one member of the team. No more passing to yourself across the pitch, as it were. In this mode, you can only play your chosen position, and have to work with the computer operating the rest of your team for you. Tough to play, but infinitely more rewarding.
As management games go. Player Manager is definitely a step in the right direction. A lot of the menus and options cover old ground, but in the case of player transfer markets and financial details, that's unavoidable. However, possibly one of the most impressive options yet seen on a managerial game, and the keystone to addictiveness and involvement of this game, is the Tactics option. Forget selecting 4-2-4 or 4-3-3, PM lets you plan all your set pieces just the way you want them. An infinite amount of different strategies are available to you, the only limit is your imagination. By placing the players in the best positions for your style of play, and marking out approximate 'trace' lines, telling each player where they should be for any given moment, you'll never be able to say that you aren't in full control of your game.
At last a management game that requires true management skills. Add to that the most addictive arcade soccer game ever, and if you don't have a winner, I'll buy you a drink.
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