I recently downloaded Championship Manager 2010 for my Iphone having been a huge fan of the PC versions through my teens and into my twenties. Any serious Champy fan will know that some versions were downright brilliant and others way too complicated.
As a mobile app, the makers were forced to strip out a lot of the complicated options, and get back to the core of what was Championship Manager 2! That's right, we now have an updated version, with all the latest players and rules, of the old 90's classic.
Cutting down means we get back to the old simple training options, the old simple match watching versions, and slimline transfer system. Unfortunately, as this version only contains English Leagues I lost my beloved Rangers, and am forced to play with a "lesser" team! However, if you can get over the lack of teams you will no doubt enjoy playing what was the greatest version of CM ever, all rolled into your iphone.
I'm now wasting hours at work playing this, and have just ordered the think longer lasting iphone battery pack as running this app for so long (as you inevitably will) will definitely leave you battery low.
You won't get more enjoyment, per hour for three quid!
Eidos - Championship Manager 2010 Express
Is it morning already?
This is a familiar refrain from any of those caught in the insidious grip of this game over the last dozen years or so and with this latest incarnation the same time-warping capabilities are now available on my phone. Many games are addictive, many get under your skin and threaten to over take you but I suspect that Championship Manager (and its various incarnations which I'll cover later) is the most addictive, un-putdownable game ever made.
Now available as an App for use on the iPhone or iPod Touch it would seem, at first glance, a natural fit for the handheld, but how it has coped with this transition will form a large part of this review as well as its ongoing playability and value for money.
But first; a bit of history. Dreaded words in a review, I know, but totally relevant here. Trust me.
What is Championship Manager?
At the beginning of the game you become the manager of (depending on the version you're playing) pretty much any professional football team in the world. You then control transfers, tactics, training, team selection etc and watch them play through season after season until either you get bored or you get sacked. At which point you roll back to the beginning and start again.
The story begins in 1992 and like the best stories about computing involves a couple of geeks fiddling around in their bedroom. Paul and Oliver Collyer had the idea and after a couple of weeks bashing out code published the first edition of this game under their company name Sports Interactive (SI). I've not played this version but by all accounts it wasn't all that great, even by the standards of the day. Regardless, they persevered and taking advantage of the natural seasonal cycle of football released new versions each year. A few years ago I got hold of the 1994 version and while it was incredibly basic to look at you could definitely see the seeds of the game it would become. With very little activity outside team selection and basic tactics it ran very fast and seasons could be rattled through quickly.
Now labelled Championship Manager 2 this had become a much more mature game and from 95/96 onwards became far more popular. I got my first copy in 1998 and it was a revelation to play. It remained a basic looking game, entirely text based the user interface was at least a lot more attractive than before but the real draw was what was going on under the bonnet.
The game took realism to a new level. By now you could manage teams from dozens of leagues around the globe and the player database seemed to cover every single professional footballer in the world. Each player was rated across a wide range of attributes and the accuracy of this information became legendary, there were even stories of Premier League managers using the database for scouting. Certainly at this time there were several well rated lower league players it was worth buying early who also went on to achieve great success in the real world (Neil Lennon and Kieron Dyer stand out).
The game engine became incredibly sophisticated and subtle changes to tactics and training regimes would have noticeable effects on match day performance but the central draw remained the same. Once a game started, all you could do was watch and hope as it was played out in text updates on the screen. The tension as you took a one nil lead into the final minutes of a game is hard to convey but is as close to watching a real game as makes no difference.
When the history of computer games is written, Championship Manager 2 will be right there amongst the best of them.
Not the end as such, more a bringing up to date. This bit is quite important so I hope you're not skimming.
Championship Manager 2 became Championship Manager 3 (and inevitably 4) and its popularity grew accordingly. More elements were added to increase the complexity, more media interaction and player relation issues reflected the real world of multimedia demands and player/agent power and there was now a top down view of the in-play action but the basic premise remained the same. No matter what you do between games once the match starts it's out of your hands and this is what makes it so addictive.
Now comes the important bit. In 2004 Sports Interactive split from their publisher (Eidos) and joined Sega. They got to keep the game engine and database, Eidos kept the name and user interface while they were both free to release games based on the original. Having retained all the important bits Sega could release a naturally updated version of the original game, now called Football Manager, several months before Eidos who had to work pretty much from scratch. This allowed them to steal the market share and capture the thoroughly confused consumers desperate for that season's fix.
The two titles now compete annually and the general consensus is that FM has more depth and realism and is preferred by players of the original versions but that CM is easier to pick up and play.
Remember this is the Championship Manager version adapted for the iPhone.
What is Championship Manager 2010 Express?
(Rather more detail this time)
CM2010E (as I shall now call it) for the iPhone is a pared down version of the PC game of the same name. At the start you set up your user details and pick the team you want to manage and immediately the limitations of this handheld version become apparent; you can only select from the four English leagues. OK, not a problem for me as I always play as Spurs anyway so let's crack on.
The UI is well adapted for the iPhone, menu options for training, transfers, management actions etc are all reached via touch screen buttons and various information pages can be navigated by swiping through. All context relevant information is contained in a single screen so scrolling is not required but text is still large enough to be readable. The limited screen space means that the number of options available on each screen is restricted so you sometimes need to drill down through several levels to get to the page you want, although there is a shortcut menu for key screens.
One of the first things you'll do is have a look at your squad and here further limitations in the game are found. The reserve and youth teams are gone and you are left with a small first team squad to choose from. My Spurs team had twenty two players to choose from and while most of the key players were there the fringe and younger players were absent. This immediately removes one of the core pleasures of the game, talent spotting and player development but never mind, sacrifices have to be made.
Once you've reviewed your squad you need to prepare for the coming season and this means heading for the training ground. Over the years both CM and FM have become very complex at this part of the game and the amount of time you could spend creating and implementing training regimes was staggering. For this version training is rather simplified and this is no bad thing. Players can be assigned either individually or in groups to eight different training regimes, these will affect a players attributes but not as dramatically as in the full games and a general training approach tends to work better than trying to work on an individual aspect of each player's game.
The final core part of the game is managing transfers and for players of the full versions this is one of the best parts of the game experience. Inevitably this is badly affected by the transition to the handheld platform. The player database appears vastly reduced and there is no facility for setting up scouting networks to discover the next Fabregas or Messi. The player search function seems limited to English league or Champions League teams so the chances of discovering new talent is limited. Players can be bought and sold throughout the year and the whole process is unrealistically simple. Put in a bid for a player, the owning club will come back with a revised price and assuming you can match this the player will invariably join your club. Therefore you can get players like Torres or the aforementioned Messi joining mid-table clubs like Spurs for £20m or so. In the full size versions (as in the real world) this would never happen.
There are elements of player/media interaction for you to deal with as a manager but these are fairly straightforward and I'm not convinced have much influence on your teams ongoing performance. You can call on an assistant to handle aspects of the game (team selection or training for example) but to be honest the game has been simplified to the point where this is unnecessary.
Now then, you've reviewed your squad, trained them to a peak of performance and added depth and a touch of quality through your transfer wheeler dealing. It's time to put it all to the test and play the first game of the season. Once you press Start to get a match going there isn't a lot you can do except watch the updates but paradoxically this is also probably the best part of the game. Unfortunately it is impossible to compare this aspect to the full version as all the computations are whirring away in the background but in terms of gameplay it is every bit as nerve wracking and rewarding. The game engine must inevitably have been simplified but this hasn't unduly affected this part of the game and it remains a high point of the overall experience.
The full version of this game is a truly immersive, time devouring experience. You can spend hours designing training regimes, scouting Scandinavian lower leagues and fine tuning tactics. Or you can hand it all over to your assistant manager and just pick the team when Saturday comes - your level of involvement is hugely negotiable. The handheld version has been pared down to such a degree that all aspects can be handled without slowing down progress through a season. It has all the 'just one more match before I leave it' playability of the full version put the paucity of transfer and training action makes it a less challenging and therefore less rewarding experience. The knock on effect of this is that it probably won't have the longevity of the full game either.
But, you know what? That isn't the important thing, I've spent a long time comparing it to the full version because it was important to do so but equally it needs to be taken on its own merits. It's an iPhone app, not a full blown PC game. It costs £3 not £20 and is meant to pass train journeys and boring meetings not long weekends.
And following that criteria it is fair to say it is a bloody brilliant app.
Obviously you need to be a football fan, and ideally support a team, to have the necessary buy-in to enjoy this but if you are you will love this game. It might not keep you up all night but it will make travelling a lot more fun.