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遊戲品評 - PC Zone CM 4 Review


Championship Manager 4

Lock up your girlfriends, put all work on-hold; CM4 has arrived...

Forget 'The Sims' or 'Pokemon', if you want to see a true cultural phenomenon in the videogames industry, you need look no further then the Championship Manager series.

Essentially a 'glorified spreadsheet' (the subject of numerous in-jokes amongst the CM community), the games have rightfully built up a following of fanatics who purchase every seasonal upgrade without fail to ensure the teams are up to date with the correct information; so it's fair to say interest in Championship Manager 4, the first 'new' title since 1999 is running close to fever pitch.

To give you some indication of the level of demand for this game and the sheer genius of the guys at Sports Interactive; a periodic magazine specifically about the game was published in the run-up to its release - putting the first demo as a cover-mounted CD with Issue#2 must surely be one of the smartest, yet devious moves I've seen in the videogames industry.

So why this demand? Put simply, the Championship Manager titles create a football environment that is scarily close to the real thing; wannabe mangers will have to put up with the temperaments of their fiery Italian striker, deal with the media outbursts following your promising young strikers drunken night of debauchery, right down to putting up with egotistical chairmen that demand the moon-on-a-stick!!!

The sheer level of immersion that the games provide borders on 'relationship-destroying'; so it's with a tinge of regret that Championship Manager 4 arrives and exceeds all of our expectations.

Naturally all the talk is about the new 2D match engine; for the uninitiated CM games used to use lines of text to describe the match events. It's quite amazing in this day and age of 'per-pixel-shaded, bump-mapped' polygons how much this adds to the game; in fact it could be the biggest innovation we've seen in a game series to date.

The decision to implement a match engine couldn't have been an easy choice for SI and you can certainly see why it's taken so long. Whilst other football management games have featured 3D match engines in the past, these have always felt like a pre-scripted event and nothing like the spontaneity that the beautiful game is all about; for those like me, it was generally considered that lines of text created a better illusion then repeated animations and scripted events.

Well the revolution is upon us; I'm not sure whether it's due to sleep deprivation and staring at blobs moving around an overhead pitch for too long, but I'm sure these blobs have lives of their own and perfectly capture the personalities of their real-life counterparts – whenever Beckham picks up a free-kick near the box you expect him to score, Van Nistlerooy is the goal machine that he is in real-life, Giggs has the potential to tear a defence apart with his blistering runs... Whilst the illusion that every professional player in the world has somehow been miniaturized and stuck inside a videogame is awesome, it's the little touches and the peripheral details that make this the best portrayal of football we've seen in any game to date; players run into space, hesitant keepers nervously boot a ball up-field after a risky backpass, right down to players kicking a ball back to the position where a free kick has been awarded.

Sports Interactive put themselves into the firing line having decided to implement the match-engine; had it been poorly designed and not felt like watching a game of football or didn't blend into the game and felt segregated, fans would have been in uproar – fortunately you'll thank the heavens for this update and what it adds to the series. As a manager you'll now get a crucially visual idea of how your players are performing at a level beyond looking at their ratings, statistics and the one-line comments. You'll also be able to get a much better idea of how your changes at half-time affect your game, gain a better appreciation of a player you've got your eyes upon or monitor the decisions of a referee you've had troubles with in the past! When other successful franchises talk about 'innovation' in sequels, it's nothing quite like the leap SI have made with CM4.

Whilst I could rant and rant about the match-engine, there's a whole host of other new ideas and enhancements that make CM4 essential to any football fan. In the veil of secrecy surrounding the development of CM4, little whispers suggested that interaction between the media, players and other members of the club would be taken to new levels after the introduction in CM3; once again the ever-reliable Sports Interactive haven't let us down. You'll constantly be dogged in the media over transfer speculations, relationships within the club, and particularly when scandal follows any of your players. The growing power of the chairman and the board has been perfectly captured; taking control of a big team demands almost perfection in all areas of management, whilst managers who have the likes of Dough 'Deadly' Ellis behind them, will never quite know the happiness of job security. Players now demand constant interaction; having subbed a 'high-profile' player for a poor performance in a key match, will quite likely result in an angered player demanding an answer on Monday morning.

Increasing the interaction takes the game beyond the statistics orientated game that it was in the past, and pushes the illusion of 'real-life' to a scarily addictive level. It also changes the dynamics of the gameplay quite considerably; as a manager you'll need to look after your players, designing specific training schedules to improve a striker who's firing blanks or keeping a disciplined eye over a 'carefree' youngster.

However fanatics need not worry about the game loosing it's focus; successful mangers will need to pay even more importance on the skills of players as 'training' and 'tactics' have been completely overhauled.

The revamped 'training' section gives you unprecedented levels to customise the correct training schedules for your squad, or even design a specific schedule for a player much like David Beckham does in real-life. Coaches will now give reports on players progress through training, to give you an idea on who's trying hard and those that take a more 'leisurely' approach to training.

Designing training schedules can be a very time-consuming task; each day of the week features three time slots to which you can allocate any of the 25 different training activities, ranging from shadow-plat, cross-country to keeper specific activities such as shot-stopping and distribution.

The tactics system hasn't been enhanced to the same level as training, however changes have been made to make it easier to apply the tactics that you want. Gone is the 'With Ball/Without Ball' feature (the subject of heated debate amongst the CM community), making way for precise tactics such as swinging corners from the right to the near post or specifying players to cross deep or from the touchlines.

Seeing your tactics in work on matchday is a joy that takes quite sometime to get over; watching your star player relishing in his free-role and tearing the opponents up, gives you a sense of satisfaction way beyond the unbeatable level it did in CM3.

Following on with the interface changes made from CM2 to CM3, Championship Manager 4 features a reworked system that makes navigation easier then ever before; it's not quite on the same level as the step-up form CM2 to CM3, however that's a good thing. The largest innovation comes in the ability to 'skin' the interface and customise it due to its use of XML. The game comes with one new skin which is likely to become the default setting across the country; it's new design is not only more pleasant on the eye (featuring 3D'ish buttons!!!) but also features improved functionality. Judging by the number of CM fan-sites out there, it shouldn't be too long before a wide variety become available to download.

There's a host of new ideas that we haven't even begun to mention yet; odds from the bookies before matches, the improved sound which heightens the illusion immeasurably, even the 'club vs country' debate has been included allowing you to set specific instructions for players on international duty! To talk about all of the new features would take considerable resources, and span this review into essay-sized proportions – suffice to say CM4 is everything you could want and rarely disappoints.

All you need to know is that SI didn't mess up; the match engine adds a significant step to the CM series, the improved interaction extends the scope of the game into new areas, whilst the strategy essence that we all love hasn't been sacrificed.

Girlfriends across the country watch out – the best just got better...

Sources: Total Video Games