Championship Manager used to be a name that was held sacred by PC gamers all around the world (except in America for obvious reasons). A simple football management game programmed by two English brothers in their bedroom back in 1992 grew to be a global phenomenon with not one, but two releases that are contenders for “best PC game of all time” (Championship Manager 97/98 and Championship Manager 03/04).
Then in 2004, publishers Eidos and the Collyer brothers (now owners of Sports Interactive) split in 2005 for unknown reasons. Eidos kept the name and rights to the Championship Manager series while SI made off with the hidden pot of gold that is the game’s match engine and extensive player database.
So Eidos formed a Beautiful Game Studios and gave them the unenviable task of coding the entire Championship Manager series from scratch.
Needless to say, their first effort (Championship Manager 5) was delayed for a year and still wasn’t very good. It had taken Sports Interactive over a decade of tinkering to get the formula just right so it was expected that BGS will also need a sort of grace period to get things right.
Now we have ANOTHER game delayed for a year (Championship Manager 2009 was never released) and the beta demo for the 2010 edition has been released with the promise that they’ve finally got it right.
First thing you notice when you launch the game is that, even though this is a famous, well known franchise from a large publisher that’s owned by an even larger publisher (Square Enix bought out Eidos), the game looks almost like it’s a budget title.
Right from the start, you get some very cheesy publisher and developer intro videos followed by a very crappy looking logo. I mean…look at it! At least 2007 and 2008 had decent logos (even if they were crappy games).
This is followed by a very Fisher-Price looking interface that’s un-ergonomic.
First off, there’s a huge box in the bottom left-hand corner that shows random info that’s almost completely useless and basically hogs up much needed space. Since there’s only one menu in Championship Manager 2010 (as opposed to Football Manager’s two) they tried to cram everything you need in drop down menu after drop down menu and that useless box means it’s all squashed in a small area at the left of the screen. Prepare to scroll a lot.
This is a monumental error since this is where you’ll be spending the majority of the game. It just seems everywhere you go there’s a very inefficient layout just waiting to confuse you.
The match engine is in 3D and ONLY 3D so no option to switch it back to 2D like in Footyman. At first glance, the graphics are decent. Sure, they’re nowhere near as good as FIFA for example but compared to its competitors it’s very good. The players have many different kinds of animations and the grass has a nice texture to it as well.
But that all comes crashing down when you actually see the game unfolding. Honestly, it’s closer to watching an excited ant farm rather than a game of footy!
The players scale is all wrong so the field actually looks quite small in comparison. The speed in which the move makes it almost seem like everybody is faster than Usain Bolt! Combine this with the fact that the standard running animation is horrible and a running player almost looks like a stuttering slideshow! The ball also seems to hit the post with a frequency far far greater than in real life and the supposed elite players of the English Premier League play about as intelligently as amateur players!
Now, there are good things amidst this mess of a game like the set piece editor. Within minutes I was crafting complex (or not, I like simple, quick plays) set piece strategies on a virtual blackboard and then watching my players in 3D practicing it on the training field. You can watch them do the set piece over and over again and work out the kinks until it’s just right. The only bad thing is that you can’t set the defense to test how your strategy would work against zonal or man marking for example.
Also, there’s a similar function in the training menu called “individual drills”. These include things like penalty kicks and one on ones with the goalkeeper. These drills help increase your player’s stats but I use them more to gauge my player’s ability and see for myself who’s the best at penalties instead of looking over a bunch of stats and decide based on that. I wish other games let me have such a visual representation of my player’s skills. After all, isn’t this how real managers decide? By seeing players play? Certainly they don’t say “well, X player’s creativity stat is 17 and passing is 18 so I’ll make him my playmaker!”
Prozone also makes a return. For those that don’t know, Prozone is a tool that analyzes your matches and gives you comments on what did or didn’t work in the match. This is useful for getting more feedback from the match engine since 99% of people playing football management sims will only view highlights from a match (since watching 90 minutes of football 30 times a season is not feasible) and that tends to only show you the skills of your attacking players. Prozone will highlight which player is a rock in the defense and show example of good tackles he did during the match. It will also help you see things like what player gave away a lot of fouls. You know, things that don’t fall under the category of highlights.
But all these bells and whistles doesn’t really matter when the match engine is pure garbage and the interface makes navigation a chore.
Eidos were keen to stress that this is a beta demo and things could change up to the game’s release date on…September 11th. That’s a bit of an odd date to launch a football game. We’ll see if it can top the current champion, Football Manager, when that game is released on the 30th of October.