Championship Manager 2007 Impressions

The original football management series makes its next console appearance very soon, and we check out the latest build to see if Championship Manager 2007 is looking match fit.

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Football management games once again topped the PC charts in 2006, but console owners have had to wait a little longer for big hitters like Football Manager and Championship Manager. The latter game, developed by Eidos in London, is set for release on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation Portable very soon. Gusto Games has been charged with the conversion, and when we took a look at an advanced build of the game, we found that it had implemented plenty of console-exclusive features already.

Chief among these is the optional coaching badge that can be earned at the beginning of the career mode. You will be asked six football-related questions that will affect your rating as a manager--and therefore, your career prospects--as you progress through the game. While you're guaranteed a job at the first club you choose, your coaching badge will affect your chances at other clubs later in the game. For example, if you've had a decent season at Charlton, you might still be able to get a job at Manchester United if you have a UEFA Grade A coaching badge. Such questions as, "What does the diamond refer to in a 4-4-2 diamond formation?" and "What is a relegation release clause?" popped up in our demonstration, and we got five out of six correct.

In fact, the Gusto team seems to be a massive fan of this new question-based approach. Another quiz took place as we started a career at Blackburn Rovers, where we were immediately marched up to the chairman's office for what is effectively a job interview. He questioned us on our expectations for the season, and based on those answers, he allocated funds for transfers. Once this is done, you'll also have to lay out your intentions to the media, and if you fail to hit your targets, they'll have an easy target for their back pages. However, if you meet or exceed expectations, you'll find it easier to move to another club at the end of the season.

While these concessions seem tailored to the more casual player, Gusto hasn't followed the route of other console titles such as LMA Manager and Pro Evolution Soccer Management. For example, you don't have to create a manager avatar at the start of your career, and there's no fancy 3D match engine. When quizzed about this, the developer commented that he felt as though these details detract from the purity of the management experience.

While the matches in Championship Manager 2007 are represented in a simple form, they do give you a good idea of what's happening, and you can choose to watch them in a variety of ways. Dots represent your players on a pitch, which can be viewed from different angles, while the trusty-old text commentary will be familiar to ChampMan diehards.

The interface in the last Championship Manager received criticism for being unintuitive, so the development team at Gusto Games set out with the aim of creating a menu system that even young football fans could navigate. The game's major menu structure is unchanged, with aspects such as training, squads, and tactics separated into individual categories. However, these can now be scrolled through using the left shoulder button and bumper, while submenus for each category let you go into more depth by hitting the right shoulder buttons.

The career mode will be the main thrust of Championship Manager 2007, but Xbox Live will offer head-to-head battles between two people. Players will be able to play using the team from their career mode online, no matter where they are in the game, and online ranking tables will match your progress against friends and everyone else online. The achievement points look like they will offer a combination of rewards, with points for winning leagues combined with more obscure accomplishments such as signing the most expensive player in the world. There are also a series of short challenge modes that will let you test a variety of management skills, but we didn't get to see these in our time with the game.

Although changes have been made to the interface, underneath this edition of Championship Manager looks as in-depth as ever. In particular, the training section lets you set detailed regimens for individual players on each day of the week. This means that you can push certain players harder, focus on one skill, or let them have a rest if you're keeping them on the bench that weekend. If this all sounds a bit daunting, you can choose to skip the intricacies completely and just tell the game what results you're looking for. For example, if you want to increase player stamina, you can select a bar on a graph and push it upward and the game will set the appropriate training regimens automatically.

Likewise, the tactics mode offers a bewildering amount of strategy and set-piece options for those who have an advanced understanding of the game. Individual players can be told where to make runs, and team talks before the game will tell them whether to play offensively or defensively. Even more impressive is the set-piece configuration system, which lets you split coordinated plays into four parts for your players to practice during training. You might not see an immediate benefit, but the more the set piece is practiced, the more successful it will be. Gusto showed us how to set up a corner kick with one player to distract the keeper, while the receiving player came around the back to knock in a cheeky goal at the far post.

With Championship Manager 2007 set to hit stores next week, the game's now looking near to completion. Load times last no longer than a couple of seconds, and the development team says that no hard drive will be required to play the game. It will boast the latest team roster information, and Gusto also promises a downloadable update for the 2007/2008 season.

As well as offering the higher-level league teams, the North and South conference divisions are also included, meaning there are now more teams in the game than ever before. Championship Manager 2007 looks to have put together an ergonomic menu design and created a game with a huge amount of depth. The result should hopefully be an accessible game that also has plenty to offer fans of the series.

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