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Despite having a great love and affinity for the Football Manager series and the past glories of its developer Sports Interactive, reviewing one of its games remains something of a poison chalice. Why? Well, anyone who has played a Football Manager title will be able to tell you just how addictive these games can be. Forget World of Warcraft, Sports Interactive's football management titles have been destroying peoples' social and professional lives as far back as 1995, when Championship Manager 2 was released.
Before I get onto why this is, let's just have quick recap for the uninitiated. Football Manager 2008 is a football management simulation, available currently on PC and Mac. It allows you to take control of any team you like from a selection of 50 different countries, utilising a database of players and staff numbering in the tens of thousands. It gives you control over tactics, team selection, transfers, training, youth policy and all the football aspects of being manager of a team. As all this might suggest, the scale of Football Manager is more or less unprecedented and were one to look on it like this it would be easy to be put off.
In truth though, as with life, when playing FM2008 you're only privy to very small slice of this massive environment: a fact that remains a defining strength of the game. Whereas many a competing management game has given you control of all sorts of trivialities, from stadium expansion to advertising hoardings, Football Manager is still thankfully routed in football matters rather than the ever prevalent commercial aspect of the game.
Every new edition of series is followed by a pronouncement as to the number of new features, with the figure generally in the hundreds. There's little reason to doubt the strict validity of these numbers, but some of the changes are so small you could play the game for weeks and never find them. Better then to focus on the obvious things, which in FM2008 are subtle but really quite important.
First among these is the interface, which has once again seen something of a makeover. Over the years this has developed to such an extent that the spreadsheet derision of old is completely unfounded. This time around, although the general layout remains much the same, FM2008 is far fresher and easy on the eye.
In addition to the cleaner interface, there's also a new advisor system that's intended to help new players through the initial stages. This takes the form of the small box in the bottom right corner, which has context sensitive options that pop up at certain screens. So, for example, if you're looking at a player's profile it will ask if you would like to sign the player. It will then guide you through the process, advising you each step of the way. Though experienced players will want to turn it off, it's a valuable addition for those not so familiar and should help ease people into what can be quite a daunting proposition.