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 number-crunching 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, 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 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 colored counters, Sky Sports-style. There's a Champ Manager-style 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.
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 of 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.
People who downloaded Premier Manager Ninety Nine have also downloaded:
Premier Manager 98, F1 Manager 2000, Ultimate Soccer Manager 98-99, F.A. Premier League Football Manager 2001, The, FA Premier League Football Manager 2000, Total Club Manager 2005, Championship Manager 97/98, FIFA Soccer Manager
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