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Championship Manager Season 03/04 PC CD-ROM

Published by Eidos
Developed by Sports Interactive
Released: Out Now
Price: £29.99

No other PC game has given me as much pleasure as Championship Manager. For years now the series has been my favourite football game and has consistently been the pinnacle of football management simulations. As you all know the series was created by the Collyer brothers and by the time the series reached number 3, a whole team of dedicated people had joined the brothers to work on the games and they were collectively known as Sports Interactive. Championship Manager 3 and it's updates, was again a superb effort and each release saw new sales records broken. Championship Manager Season 03/04 is quite a significant title for more than a few reasons. Not only is it the first update of the Championship Manager 4 series but it is also the last in the series that will be developed by Sports Interactive. From next year the latest Championship Manager game and the latest Sports Interactive title will be two separate entities.

So what's does this historic title have in store for us then? Well quite a bit actually. We have 41 leagues on offer including India, Ukraine and all the usual inclusions such as England, Italy, Germany, Spain etc,. but this time the US league had to be withdrawn. As you would expect all the data has been updated for the current season and the data is quite up to date, unlike a few football games we could mention. Returning from Championship Manager 01/02 we have the live cup draws which adds to the tension somewhat. You can now have co-ownership of players so it's possible for two teams to own a player. Best of all though, in my opinion, is that a pre-game database editor has now been included that allows you to add players, teams and stadia as well as modify any element of the games data. The editor is also very easy to use and incredibly detailed.

There are goal of the month competitions and you are notified of the results in the news screen. Clicking on the hyperlinked description of the goal will take you right to the match screen to watch the goal. It's all very impressive. The media has also been beefed up and you are notified of many more important things now. It's easier to buy players this time around too, thankfully. Players will be more vocal in telling you who they like playing with and who they can't stand in the squad. Teams will now sometimes ask you how much you want for a player before making an enquiry and you can make it known that you are interested in a player before putting in an offer. There is now a separate screen to monitor player form and it allows you to quickly look at all their contributions in existing games, which is very handy. A print screen function has now been included but it doesn't print off player attributes, which is what would have been most useful.

The keyword with CM 03/04 is visual feedback and this can be seen in both the match displays and the training. The training system has been reworked and is now much more straightforward when you are planning your training schedules; you can view a bar graph that will show you the estimated effect of your schedule. You can also view the effects of training for an individual player directly from the player profile screen. Your assistant manager will now tell you what effects the training is having on your player or if he isn't training hard enough. The match displays are also much improved. The player movements seem more realistic and yellow and red cards are displayed too. You'll even see the linesman's (sorry assistant referee's) flag go up too so you'll be able to see an offside position if it isn't given or the referee allows play to continue. The pitch itself now changes to reflect the weather conditions and it's possible to see whether your tactics are being bogged down by the mud. The match commentary has also been improved upon and has more substance than in Championship Manager 4.

In fact there are so many additions and tweaks here and there that it's difficult to list them all here. The important thing is how it plays and for me it's a big difference from Championship Manager 4 which wasn't quite the classic that all it's prequels had been. There are still a couple of issues (and I did review the game with the first patch installed which incidentally adds more features such as the ability to disable TV from altering matches so that all games will be played on a Saturday instead of one being on a Friday, Sunday and Monday, a nice addition which can make network games more fluid) such as too many shots going over the bar and an awful amount of penalties being missed but overall it's excellent and these minor niggles will soon be sorted out. Like all the other titles in the series it's completely deaf gamer friendly too as the game relies solely on text and visual clues to provide feedback.

What more can I say? It's the end of the road for Championship Manager as we know it. Next year we will see a Championship Manager game but it will have been developed internally, from scratch as Sports Interactive own all the code that makes up Championship manager, by Eidos. Whilst the plans of Sports Interactive are being kept tightly under wraps it's probably a good bet that an improved version of the game what we currently call Championship Manager will emerge but with a new name. It's quite possible that for the first time ever the best football management simulation on the market will not be Championship Manager. The development team at Eidos have their work cut out for them and have to become the first people to surpass a Sports Interactive title. Whatever the outcome next year it's going to be very interesting and at the same time very strange.

Overall Game Rating: 9.2/10
The Sports Interactive/Championship Manager relationship comes to an end but it goes out in style and gives Championship Manager fans a game to remember.

Deaf Gamers comment:
Like every other Championship Manager game in the series it's absolutely fine for deaf gamers.