I’ve lost weeks of my life to Championship Manager, I’ve dropped grades at School and in University because of it and I’ve been in trouble with bosses at work on more than one occasion for turning up late the next day after an all night shesh. So it is with some trepidation that I greet the latest edition of this addiction incarnate to our store shelves today: Championship Manager 5.
For likeminded fans of the series the arrival of CM5 is a little like a junky celebrating a fix: it’s great while you’re on it, but afterwards you begin to regret the way it destroyed your social life and cost you your girlfriend (I was once served mouldy bread sandwiches by an ex who was particularly annoyed... and I didn't even notice!). As a result, I am strangely hopeful that the new version – developed this time by Beautiful Games Studios as opposed to Sports Interactive (the architect of the previous games which left to join Sega and create Football Manager 2005) - is slightly less engrossing. Signs aren’t good though because looking at the screenshots and reading about the features it all looks worryingly moreish.
For a start CM5 promises to work much faster than its predecessors with the scary revelation that it no longer locks down the user interface while it loads meaning you essentially never need to stop. The navigation has also been tweaked with explanations of what is displayed and how to get associated info, while the skins feature has been carried over.
Gone is the one to twenty rating of player stats with a percentage system now introduced which should allow incremental improvements to be reflected more accurately. An angled match engine gives better perspective in judging the height of the ball while a hardcore full 90 minute version of the action can now be viewed.
As far as training goes (an area I always felt was one of the weak points of the CM games) the development team brought in Mervyn Day, first team coach at Charlton, to help them improve matters. Pitch action zones are up from three in CM 03/04 to nine to provide grater feedback on which areas of the pitch the game is taking place and how possession is being shared between the teams.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect to the new game, however, is the branding. I know many veteran CM-ers have already switched over to Football Manager 2005 and scoff at the idea that anyone other than Sports Interactive should be allowed to develop games using the “Championship Manger” name. By contrast, many gamers will not know the developers have swapped over and will they be able to tell? Most importantly, once they get their hands on CM5, will they care?
CM5, as we all now know, hits the shelves for the PC today. XBox and PS2 versions will follow "later this spring". God, please have mercy for all of us suffering from this sad addiction and bless our loved ones with the patience of a Saint!