The Championship Manager Series of text-based soccer management games has a rich history starting with the original title that was released for the PC in the early 90s. The creators, Paul and Oliver Collyer and their programming team, Sports Interactive, have a reputation for excellence that is unsurpassed. The most recent incarnation in the series, Championship Manager Season 99/00 (CM 99/00) is an update to the excellent, and hugely successful, Championship Manager 3. Despite being the best selling PC game in Britain earlier this year and one of the top sellers throughout Europe, Eidos has yet again decided not to distribute the game in North America. This is a incredible shame, as I believe that Championship Manager Season 99/00 is quite possibly the most engrossing, entertaining and addictive sports game ever made.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
It's an intriguing task to assign a score for graphics in a text-based soccer simulation, as there is no real graphical engine to view the games. However, for those of you who shudder at the words 'text-based' and associate that with memories of Zork and other early DOS text RPGs, you couldn't be more wrong when it comes to CM 99/00. Simply put, CM 99/00 is one heck of a sweet looking package. As you can see from the screenshots all the menus are layed out beautifully, much like internet web pages. On every screen the various statistics and news are clearly visible and the entire layout promotes user-friendliness. However, the best part of the graphics are the hundreds of high quality crisp 800x600 soccer photographs that serve as the background to the 'pages'. The shots range from pictures of real life stars in action, stadia, club chairmen, fans, even shots of the various trophies are present. These shots don't appear randomly either, they're all context specific. For example, if you click on Liverpool's team sheet, then you'll see one of several shots of Liverpool players in action, click on Michael Owen, and an action picture of the boy wonder will be the background, click on club information and an aerial shot of Anfield will come up. During actual matches the background will be a picture of the stadium the game is being played in, or action pictures featuring one or both of teams playing. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures in the game. Not every single team has pictures - with about 1200 different teams, and more than 30,000 different real-life players and staff (I kid you not), it would take a DVD to store all the shots. However, all of the major clubs, and even many of the smaller ones, especially those in England, have shots of their stadiums and/or their players. The game can be played windowed or full-screen, but since the game is a resource hog most people will probably choose the latter. The only minus point is that the excellent visuals come at a cost, the screenshots alone require several hundred megs of space. There are options to load only half or a third of the shots, but if you have the hard drive space you really should install them all as they add an incredible amount of atmosphere to the game.
Match commentary comes in the form of flashing text which describes the majority of action occurring on the field; almost as if transcribing a radio broadcast. For those of you who've never played a Championship Manager game and are perhaps shaking your heads in skepticism, I'll explain the true genius of the game/commentary engine later in the review.
Presentation/Audio : 80
Championship Manager Season 99/00 features no music whatsoever, but in all honesty it doesn't need any background music, as most of the time while playing you're concentrating on analyzing statistics and various other forms of information. The only form of sound effects come during the actual matches and these are done excellently. Rather than having a commentator describe the game aurally, Sports Interactive decided to use dynamic crowd sounds that reflect the state of play. The left speaker represents the home fans, while the right speaker represents the minority of away fans. As play moves back and forth the volume on the appropriate side increases. The crowd also reacts to, goals (obviously), bad fouls, near misses, good passes, and they also sing several songs/chants specific to the teams playing. The implemented sound may appear simplistic but the effect is astounding, turn up the volume and close your eyes and you'll swear your sitting in the Kop End at Anfield. Play at home, and you have the roar of the crowd behind you, play away, especially to an opponent with a large, packed, stadium and you really feel up against it. The sound effects aren't merely aesthetic either, they have a functional purpose as well. For example, many players have hidden statistics, some which can be determined by listening to the crowd. Players with a high 'dirtiness' rating, will be booed by away fans, other hidden stats or preferences are also revealed during games, such as favorite players and teams. In fact, when you're doing a poor job at managing the crowd will even get on your back, and start to chant that you should be fired!
The sound effects and the various background pictures really create an atmosphere unmatched by any other soccer game. Even ISS Pro Evolution with its excellent stadia and great crowd effects can't touch the atmosphere created by CM 99/00. However, it would be nicer if there were more chants, as only a few of the largest teams have chants associated with them, and otherwise you hear similar chants throughout.
Interface/Options : 98
The phrase, 'more options than you can shake a stick at,' doesn't work for CM 99/00, it should be 'more options than you can shake the trunk of a giant sycamore tree at' - and even then I don't think that does the game justice. The game features leagues and cups from [deep breath] Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain, Sweden and even the MLS. But those aren't just the top divisions, rather those leagues feature all of the divisions, such as the English divisions 1-3, even semi-professional feeder leagues such as the three Italian Serie C leagues and the English Conference are present. All the registered international teams are present, as well as Under 21's. The teams aren't limited to the available leagues either. For example, while the MLS is a featured league you can also track the progress of A-League teams such as the Toronto Lynx and the Rochester Raging Rhinos. All the various competitions are present, from domestic cups and leagues, to continental championships (such as the UEFA Cup and Champions League), and of course all the international competitions are present such as the Gold Cup, World Cup, European Championships, and Copa America to mention but a few. Even the Olympic Soccer tournament is played every 4 years in the game!
Of course, these nations and teams wouldn't be any good without the real players and Sports Interactive doesn't disappoint. CM 99/00 features more than 30,000 (stop and think about that) REAL LIFE players - from real life superstars such as Ronaldo that earn 70,000 pounds a week, to real life semi-professional players such as Gavin Worboys earning about 50 pounds a week at non-league Eastwood Town in England. But the names aren't the only things present, each and every player has his own individual player history, accounting his date of birth, language(s) spoken, nationalities (dual nationality is present within the game), contract details (such as expiry date, clauses and basic wage details), and his career playing statistics are all faithfully displayed. Want to know how many goals Massimiliano Mechetti scored for Montevarchi in the 1996/97 season - CM 99/00 has it. Yet, these aren't just stagnant statistics, CM 99/00 isn't merely a soccer almanac - these career and vital stats are constantly updated throughout the game until the players retire. Each player also has 31 different playing attributes, such as Determination, Speed, Acceleration, Influence, Bravery and Dribbling. Each stat is out of a maximum 20 points. However, none of these stats are set in stone, over the course of a season (or even a career) they can fluctuate improving or degrading in various areas depending on several factors such as training routines, injures, age, and morale. For example, as certain players grow older their Stamina may decrease but their Anticipation and Influence stats may increase. On top of the 31 visible playing stats there are also 20 hidden stats, ranging from the ability to handle pressure situations to the player's sense of loyalty! One of the most important hidden stats is that of the player's Potential ability - this is especially important in young players and will determine if he becomes a superstar, a mediocre player, or a bust. This is where Sports Interactive and their many scouts have really done their homework in ensuring that the best young players in real life become the best young players in the game. For example, the Argentine teenage sensation Javier Saviola only became famous in real life this summer however, most CM 99/00 players have known him as an amazing prospect since the beginning of the year when the game was released. Other examples, are Matthew Etherington, Trevor Benjamin and Simon Davies - all three are great young emerging stars in CM 99/00 who, AFTER the game was released, became stars in real life.
However, the stats overload doesn't stop there. Each and every one of the teams has real life coaching staff, physios, managers and chairmen - all of which have their own unique statistics as well. For example, Managers have attributes for Tactical Ability and Man Motivation (amongst others), while Chairmen have several attributes including those for levels of Interference, Business Acumen, and most importantly, Patience. And just like the players these staff members undergo dynamic 'lives,' they grow old, they retire, they get hired, they get fired.
The cornucopia of teams and leagues means you can start your CM 99/00 managerial career at any level of the game you want. If you want to start at the top managing a giant like SS Lazio or FC Barcelona you can, or conversely you can start in the English Conference managing a semi-pro team such as Welling United and trying to work your way up. You can even choose manage a national team from the start of the game or try to earn the job as your career progresses.
The game's interface is incredibly simple, yet incredibly powerful at the same time. As mentioned before the screens look like web pages and this is fitting as navigation throughout the game occurs much in the same way as navigation through the world wide web. Everything on the screen is link to another page and this allows you to move around the game's many hundred screens with the greatest of ease. With just a few simple clicks and a couple of seconds you can check anything from the weather forecast for the next game to the number of passes completed by Edgar Davids in last season's home game versus Parma. Most people will be able to jump right into the game without even having to glance at the manual. If they do need to check out the manual they'll see that it's wonderfully written, in-depth and features a great appendix at the back with various guides to navigation.
Unfortunately, CM 99/00 has one small problem: the MLS. While everything else in the package is wonderfully molded together, the MLS league seems to have been thrown together in a hurry. Firstly, a lot of the squad players on various teams are missing (although this has now been corrected with a patch). Secondly, while the MLS decided to get rid of the penalty shoot outs at the end of regular season games this season, CM 99/00's games still feature them. Thirdly, North American soccer fans should know that the MLS deals with player transfers differently than the rest of the world. Rather than deal with the teams individually, the league controls all of the transactions. This is an area that Sports Interactive have completely neglected, and all the MLS teams 'buy' and release players just as any European, Asian, African or South American team would do. Finally, for some reason, the Sports Interactive scouts assigned all of the MLS team chairmen (except for Kansas City's) very low patience ratings of around 2-8 out of 20. This makes managing an MLS team incredibly hard as if you lose 4 or 5 games in a row, the board start to get on your back, as do the fans.
However, these small niggles can be overlooked and it's really hard not to acknowledge the simple genius of CM 99/00's interface and options.
Gameplay : 98
We've all played addictive games before. Classic games, that you can't put down until you've mastered them completely and there's nothing left to do, and nowhere else to go with them. CM 99/00 is not one of those games. It's a game that will grab you from your seat, drag you into the computer and hold you hostage until either a) you die of malnutrition from not leaving your room for sustenance, or b) your computer overheats and blows up. This game is so addictive it should come with the Surgeon General's warning on the box. You think Everquest is addictive? Bah! I laugh at you, Everquest has nothing on CM 99/00. The game is so incredibly immersive that it will start to take over your life. You'll get less (much less) sleep than you did before. You'll start telling people stories of your managerial exploits as if they were real. There are games where you say, 'Ok, I'll play for 5 minutes', and 2 hours later your still playing. In CM 99/00 its 'Ok, I'll play for 5 minutes', and 6 hours later your still glued to the monitor - and I'm not exaggerating, nor am I alone in this respect. Ask any European sports gamer what the best PC sports game is, and the majority will answer with CM 3 or CM 99/00. In fact, I was still playing CM 3 religiously until this newest incarnation came out. On the surface Sports Interactive only offered a few changes to the CM3 game engine, many of them cosmetic, and of course, they gave new rosters. However, these seemingly subtle changes have a profound effect on the game, and as a result CM 99/00 is almost a completely different experience than CM 3.
The game starts with asking you for your name and nationality. Although you can chose to start at any team, your selected nationality will be very important in determining what future jobs you can obtain and which players you can attract. For example, if you're Japanese and start managing a team in the J-League, it would be quite hard to get a job in any of the top divisions in Europe unless you're incredibly good. That said, if you do land a job in Europe then you will be more successful in luring Japanese and other Asian players to your European team as they will be more comfortable working with an Asian manager. As mentioned before, you can start at any one of the thousands of teams present, including International teams. Some players may prefer to start at the top, managing a giant like Real Madrid, while others (myself included) like to start off their careers at the bottom, managing a semi-professional team in the English Conference or Italian Serie C.
Once you start your job, you will be taken to your team's main screen. Here you can select a variety of options such as accessing your team's roster, financial info, info on league and cup status, scouting options etc. Any new messages, from the board, scouts, newspapers, television, player agents or coaches come in the form of flashing text on the news screen. At the beginning of every season the board will announce their expectations. Larger clubs may tell you they expect some trophies, while smaller ones may want promotion or a respectable league position. In extreme cases, the smallest teams may even expect you to get relegated! The board also gives monthly progress evaluations, letting you know how they feel about your performance. They also make comments regarding impressive victories, or humiliating defeats.
Just a few clicks can then take you to the Player and Staff Search screen where you can search for players to buy or to sign free agents. There are tons of different parameters you can place upon your searches to find only the players you want. For example, if you want an Italian left sided defender, who is between 19-25, has one year remaining on his contract, is interested in playing for your team and has a rating of 18 or higher for Tackling and Determination, just set the appropriate parameters and the available players meeting the criteria will come up. You can even search for staff members such as coaches, scouts and assistant managers - also using various parameters.
The actual wheeling and dealing of the transfer market is in depth as well. First, you must come to an agreement with the team that owns the player or vice versa. Here you can try and negotiate prices, request or demand to pay in installments, include selling on fees, you can also ask for (or be requested to) pay a set amount of money after the player has played a certain number of games for either his new club or his country. Once the fees have been agreed, negotiation must occur between the player and the club. The demands of the player are unique to each individual. Some players with high loyalty ratings may decide they don't want to leave, while some may ask for excessive wages with lucrative bonuses, others may ask for specific clauses in their contract such as non-promotion, relegation release, or just regular escape clauses.
CM 99/00 is a turn based game, each turn lasting a couple of days (game time- not real life!) while games are simulated and time progresses. Most teams in Europe have about two games a week, while those in Britain may have 3 games per week depending upon fixtures. There's no time limit during each turn, so you can spend all the time you want searching for players and tweaking tactics, however, objectives such as negotiating player or staff signings take several turns (several days within the game) as communication alternates back and forth between the parties involved.
Once you've progressed through the week, searched for players, conducted team business up comes the most important day of the week - match day. It's here, in the match simulation engine, where the true genius of CM 99/00 shines through. Since the commentary is text-based, Sports Interactive had to come up with a way of indicating how well players are playing, this is accomplished (just as in previous incarnations in the series) via individual match ratings and statistics. Every player starts a match with a rating of 6 out of 10, then as the game progresses their rating can fluctuate up or down depending on how well they perform. To complement the match ratings are 18 constantly updated individual match stats such as passes completed, tackles won, headers won, runs past opponents, number of times tackled etc. Both the match rating and player stats really help you 'see' a more realistic game than any graphics based game engine. For example, say 20 minutes into a match one of your central midfielders has a rating of 5, you then check his game stats to see that he's only completed a low percentage of passes, and he has been tackled more times than anyone else on your team. A quick look to the opposition's stats may then show that their corresponding midfielder has a rating of 8, with high tackling and pass completion rates - thus, you have to make a decision to either substitute the under-performing player or change your formation. As the match progresses there is also a team possession indicator at the bottom of the screen that sways from either side giving you an indication of which team's in control of the game at that moment.
Of course, no game engine would be complete without tactics and CM 99/00 destroys the competition in this area. Included in the game, are 16 traditional default formations, however you can create any formation you want, either from scratch or by adjusting a default formation. You can set player positioning, both when your team has possession and when it doesn't. You can assign specific runs for players to make into certain areas of the field. Most impressive of all are the numerous individual and team orders that you can give. You can assign players to shadow specific opponents, order a player to tackle hard, to take long shots, to run with the ball, to make long passes, to pass it to the left the majority of the time, to hold the ball up, to hustle, you can even order a player to waste time! All these tactical decisions have a huge influence on the game, as do the individual player stats. For example, say your defense is being ripped to shreds by one of the opposition's wingers, who has excellent ratings for Speed, Acceleration, Dribbling and Crossing. However, this player may also have a low Bravery rating. In this situation, you have two options; you could select a member (or members) of your team with high Marking and Tackling stats to shadow him, or, you could get a player with a high Strength rating to not only shadow him, but also tackle him hard. Using the latter option, the winger's influence on the game and his individual performance will decrease as after a few hard tackles he will start to be afraid and not challenge for the ball often. However, setting your player(s) to hard tackling may also have a drawback as it could lead to yellow, or even red cards. This is just one of the many examples of the great depth in this simulation.
While the match engine is excellent, the greatest part of CM 99/00 is the immersion and the feeling that you really are forging a career in soccer management. When you win or lose games this affects your manager reputation, and all of the thousands of managers in the game are rated. Get a team promoted and your reputation improves, get relegated and your reputation will go down the toilet. There's a great sense of individual goals too, you may see your first club as a stepping stone to a larger one, or you may want to stay with your first club forever. Yet, things rarely turn out exactly how you expect them to. You may get fired, and have to search and apply for another job; this is where your manager reputation and nationality have huge roles in determining if a team hires you. Or you may decide to resign and find a new team, or apply for other vacant positions. If you're very good then teams may even approach YOU and ask you to be their manager! You really feel like you are establishing a career and making a name for yourself, rather than just managing a single team. Sometimes when relegation seems imminent you must make a moral decision between going down with the team, or jumping ship to save some face (and precious reputation points).
The sense of immersion is made complete by the dynamic nature of the game engine; time doesn't stand still for you. Even if you get fired and are looking for a job, the game continues. All around the game world teams carry out their leagues, international tournaments go on, managers get hired, managers get fired, players go AWOL and complain about teammates or managers, players get injured, fans riot, etc. The emotional aspect of the players and coaches plays a gigantic role in the game. As you progress through your career, you'll encounter very loyal players - and many times you'll take these favorite players from team to team. You also encounter your fair share of prima donnas who may complain about lack of playing time, or teammates, or want new contracts. Sometimes players may come late to practice, or get sent off in matches and if you chose to fine them they may become upset, and in some circumstances their friends in the team may become upset as well. These troublemakers can also affect your reputation amongst other players; if you're an overly strict manager it will affect your ability to lure players to your team, or to get on with new players when you move to a new club. The board and the chairmen also have unique personalities--some may be ruthless and unappreciative, while others may be understanding and yield to your requests.
The game isn't completely perfect, there are some bugs when it comes to firing scouts, and sometimes computer controlled teams don't buy your players as often as they should, but these don't really serve to the detriment of the playing experience.
What I've described thus far barely scratches the surface of the appeal of this game, I didn't even get a chance to discuss things like the role of player agents (monsters - all of them!) and the media. You'll get so into the game you'll be glued to your monitor for hours a day. The range of emotions you experience as you play the game is astounding. Your heart will be pounding in your chest during a relegation battle, or a fight for promotion. You'll scream with delight when your newly acquired player scores the winner in injury time, and you'll scream with terror when your star player goes out with a serious knee injury. You even feel betrayal and anger when favorite players leave your team for greener pastures or the board shows you the door after some poor results. You feel like you're playing a soap opera, and there are hundreds of sites on the net where CM fans have recounted their exploits, and after playing the game you'll realize that they're not crazy - you really do feel like you're living the game. CM 99/00 is more than a sports game, it's 50% RPG, 50% soccer game, but it's 100% addictive. My hat is off to Sports Interactive for making not only an incredible piece of software, but an incredible gaming experience.
Replay Value : 99
Imagine a franchise/career mode in a sports game that never ends, and that's what CM 99/00 is! Although the game starts with about 30,000 players, as players retire they are replaced - via free agents and players promoted from various youth academies - with young random players. Right now in my game I'm in the year 2014, and 39 year old Juan Veron is the player-manager of Serie A side Genoa, and the best striker in the world, is a 23 year old Dutchman named Gerard Van Eck. Never heard of him? That's because he doesn't exist; he is a computer generated player. What's more impressive is that these created players have 'appropriate' names for their country of origin, i.e. Van Eck is Dutch, while one of the best midfielders in the world is an Italian named Danielle Belluchi. These young random players all have their own unique potential ratings, so you can unearth countless generations of new superstars and busts. Furthermore, even if you don't want to play too far into the future there are so many leagues to experience, and despite your starting place your career could take you around the world, thus each game is completely different. Before I received CM 99/00 I had been playing CM 3 consistently for more than a year and a half, and I can envision myself playing the newest incarnation for even longer. With downloadable real-life roster updates, and so many leagues of play CM 99/00 has the ultimate in replay value.
Overall : 98
Yes, you read that right, 98%. I'd love to give this masterpiece 100%, but no game is perfect and along with the small afore mentioned transfer quirks and the MLS debacle there are also two other small problems. Firstly, this is such a number-crunching, stats heavy game that you'll need a top of the line computer to play it with all the leagues on. I have a P3 450 with 128 MB RAM, and while the game doesn't run slowly, it's not blazingly fast either. Secondly, with so much info and statistics stored, the save files in this game are huge. I'm in the year 2014 and my save file is, get this, 215 MB! I kid you not. You're going to need a pretty big hard drive if you want multiple save files, not to mention installation of the game itself with all the pictures is around 500 MB. But despite these faults, this game is so incredibly enjoyable and engrossing that I feel it's a crying shame that it hasn't been released in North America. The game isn't for everyone; if you hate soccer, or have limited knowledge of the sport, then by all means pass. I think the biggest stumbling block people will have is the lack of a graphical engine, but to be honest there isn't a graphics engine out there that can ACCURATELY describe what goes on in a soccer match. Even the excellent ISS Pro Evolution/MLS GameNight game engine can't come close to the detail and accuracy present in CM 99/00. If you can overcome this stigma, and are a soccer fan, download the demo and give the game a try. If you can open yourself to this text-based soccer simulation you'll be opening yourself to what is, in my soccer-biased opinion, the finest sports game ever made.