Sports Interactive, the heart of Championship Manager while partnered with publishers Eidos, has long been considered masters of the craft when it comes to football (soccer) management simulations. Since parting company with Eidos and subsequently joining SEGA, while rebranding their much-loved sim as Football Manager, Sports Interactive has enjoyed similar critical and consumer popularity on the PC platform. But now, with the emergence of Football Manager 2006 on PC, PSP, andâ€”for the purposes of this reviewâ€”Microsoftâ€™s Xbox 360, how well does the monster management sim travel when ported for use on a home console format?
In short, it travels extremely well. Football Manager 2006 includes all the features that prior PC series fanatics may well be hoping to experience (including the ability to manage a chosen clubâ€™s reserve and youth teams, etc, which vastly deepens the gameâ€™s draw), and, on the whole, the game performs extremely well in terms of re-creating the professional managerial illusion. From the outset, the game offers up some 500 international league teams across a staggering 50 countriesâ€”all told containing a mind-blowing 280,000 individual players and their stats. So, needless to say, dedicated players can look forward to enjoying an immersion enriched challenge throughout the game while trying to raise their chosen team (in all its many guises) to the true heights of football glory.
Of course, it should be duly noted at this juncture that those players hoping to carefully carve out their managerial directions and then sit back and revel in the fruits of their strategic labour as an advanced 3D match engine converts decisions into crowd-blinding goalsâ€¦will be sorely disappointed. Football Manager 2006â€”much like its PC and PSP brethren, and also Championship Manager before itâ€”is all about backroom immersion via the considered processing of text-based menus and stats galore; the game doesnâ€™t even display mugshots of its in-game squad players. Nothing. Just text. Masses of it. Match coverage on the 360, as with the PC, employs a simplisitc top-down view of the pitch and drifting squad numbers to represent the in-game â€˜actionâ€™; the PSP version is even more restrictive and only offers basic text commentary. Subsequently, anyone looking to watch dumbly as a match is played out in snatches of animated action should be more inclined to invest in Pro Evolution Soccer Managementâ€”though their shallow disappointment during Football Manager 2006 will be nothing by comparison to what awaits them there. Football Manager 2006 presents players with accurate depth through literally thousands upon thousands of up-to-date and relevant football statistics and figuresâ€”listed up to the end of January 2006â€™s transfer windowâ€”all of which helps to create a genuine managerial structure as teams are crafted, tactics are honed, opposition are studied, training is implemented, and, hopefully, glorious results are achieved on the pitch, and cups are duly secured in the trophy cabinet.
The same scant approach is also evident throughout the gameâ€™s sound and general presentation; in particular, players may well be shook a little by the distinctly deafening silence that surrounds Football Manager 2006 beyond the gentle clicking between screens. There is absolutely no music or flashy sound effects to bolster the pages and pages of mind-boggling stats, and the game doesnâ€™t even open via a sexy rendered sequence to lure gamers in. Itâ€™s a simple logo screen, without music. However, once past that somewhat sterile point of odd disassociation, Football Manager 2006 soon becomes an experience that will undoubtedly coax in any and all genuine fans of the sport.
Some established fans of the PC-based original may harbour certain misgivings concerning the control system employed on the home and portable console versions of Football Manager 2006, but rest assured that even though thereâ€™s no attending mouse and keyboard combo, the game handles surprisingly well. Screen navigation is tackled through a combination of the 360â€™s shoulder and face buttons and from these (which are obviously represented onscreen as prompts) the player can swiftly access all they need to know across the gameâ€™s content. It may take a little while to grow accustomed to, and the 360â€™s interface structure can be a tad fiddly but, once in a rhythm of movement, players will soon forget their initial frustrations.
Presentation is not at the heart of Football Manager 2006. No, but absolute immersion is. Itâ€™s not about glitzy graphics and marketing opportunites via banal musical jukeboxes, itâ€™s all about truly feeling as though youâ€™re in control of your favourite football team and every twist of its ongoing evolution. Whether thatâ€™s in terms of guiding senior, reserve, and youth teams, negotiating playersâ€™ contracts, hiring and firing players and staff, creating and perfecting match tactics based on careful study, assigning team and/or individual player instructions, making board requests, or even issuing career ultimatums, itâ€™s all on offer in Football Manager 2006, and, frankly, there simply arenâ€™t enough hours in the day when it comes to enjoying the experience.
Players with enough passion for football will quickly lose themselves in the masses of decisions beneath their managerial fingertips, and will also swiftly forgive and forget the seemingly vast plunge in strictly aesthetic frills as the hours slide by. Sports Interactive has produced a faithful interpretation of its massively popular PC management sim franchise, and the 360 handles it pretty darn well considering the lack of mouse and keyboard. Casual gamers and middle-of-the-road football enthusiasts may struggle to accept the gameâ€™s singular text-based structure, and would perhaps be better off slamming a few goals in manually via FIFA or Pro Evolution. However, hardened sim fans whoâ€™ve been longing for a really decent football management game to appear beyond the PC can now gleefully pull their shirts over the heads without fear of getting shown the obligatory yellow card.