Sky Sports Football Manager

Published by THQ
Designed by Network Interactive Sports
Out Now
Price £24.99 (includes 3 months subscription)

The football management genre is mean territory. Championship Manager has long since had the genre sewn up tighter than a part of the duck's anatomy that we'd rather not talk about. However because Championship Manager is primarily a single player game (Championship Manager 4 will be fully functional for online play when it's released in the latter part of 2002), there is an opportunity for other games to make a mark for themselves online. Various online football manager games exist but as yet there hasn't been one that is even half as appealing as Championship Manager so will Sky Sports Football Manager succeed where others have failed?

My first experiences with the game were not promising. After installing and running the game a message appeared that I had to download a 2½MB patch. Ten minutes later with the game patched and my voucher registered I was actually at the point where I could pick the team that I wanted to play as. Team selection is not as straightforward as it should be. You select the world you want to play in, and then select the division you want to play in then you can either type in the name of the team that you want to manage or just leave it blank for a variety of teams to appear. You then click the search button and a list of five available jobs appears from which you may take any one. You are also informed how populated each game world is.

Anyway I picked West Bromwich Albion (you can select from the Premier, Divs 1,2,3 and the Conference) and checked my fixtures to find that I had a match to play the following evening. You can elect to play lunch times, evenings or weekends. This is selected when you pick your team. I selected my team and tactics and uploaded them to the server. One disappointment here is that you cannot create custom tactics as you can do in many other football manager games. Want to of your strikers back into a custom supporting role then you'll be stuck. This is a shame, not a disaster but a slight niggle. Training regimes can be customised and to be fair this is one area where the game is certainly more user friendly than Championship Manager.

Anyway match day rolled around and I tried to connect in order to play the game. No connection could be made. I missed the match. No worries I thought I have another match in an hour's time so I'll try and connect for that. Again nothing happened. This was to happen for 4 straight nights. Eventually the problem was solved but four days without a game is ridiculous.

One of the main disappointments with the game is the format that is has used. Unlike Championship Manager you don't simply take control of a team and manage them indefinitely until you wish to move or are sacked. In SSFM you initially take control of a team in a Bronze III world. Your performances earn, or lose, you manager points. When you've proved yourself you then progress to Bronze II world then Bronze I (Silver III, II, I & Gold III, II, I). The problem here is that with each move to another world you lose your team. There is no sense of continuity or being able to build up your team for the future. It would have been so much better if you could stop in the same world and developed your squad properly.

The match commentary is another area, which should have been better. Unlike Championship Manager, which drip feeds you kick-by-kick action whenever there is an important event, SSFM gives you the commentary in time blocks. For at instance 3.03pm Owen may have had a shot at the Arsenal's goal. In Championship Manager the commentary will go something like this: -

- Owen runs into the box
- Berger plays a chipped through ball to him
- Owen controls the ball before aiming for the top corner
- But Seaman manages to reach it and knock it out for the corner

Each of these statements is given one at a time. In SSFM the commentary will read as the following: -

3.03pm Owen runs into the box, Berger plays the ball to him. Owen shoots but Seamen gets there and knocks it over for the corner.

As you can see Championship Manager builds the tension with its knife-edge commentary but SSFM merely attempts to give you the facts and doesn't attempt to build any suspense.

Okay so the review is probably sounding a trifle negative so far but in all honesty it does a decent job of enabling you to play against other living football managers. All communication within the game is completely in text whether it be the in game chat room or emails from the chairman or physio. If you are in the game two minutes before the match is due to start you receive a warning that there is 120 seconds to kick-off. Clicking on the stadium button will take you to the team line-ups in preparation of the kick-off. The game itself has a good clean interface and has opted for the clarity of text labelled menus rather that confusing icons that so many football manager games have used in the past. The game is also modem friendly.

Should you excel at the game then there are prizes to be won. However when you do hit the heights of the Gold League you will be under increasing pressure to come up with goods. The players stats, whilst not as realistic as Championship Manager, are certainly the next best thing and the transfer system and prices are quite accurate too.

Online football management is still in its infancy and while SSFM does not stand up well at all against Championship Manager it does prove a decent online experience and should satisfy most virtual football managers providing the teething problems can be kept to a minimum.

Overall Game Rating: 7/10 Sky Sports Football Manager is perhaps the first serious attempt at giving you a real online football management experience. If this is what you have been waiting for then you won't be disappointed. If you are expecting something with enough depth to challenge the mighty CM series then you will be in for a disappointment

Deaf Gamers comment: Every scrap of info is presented textually and all the chat with rival managers is via text. Deaf gamers will certainly be on an equal footing with Sky Sports Football Manager.