LMA Manager 2007 Final Impressions--High Def Content, New Game Engine
We played with a near-finished version of Codemasters' football management sim that will be here just as the 2006-2007 season gets into full swing.
The LMA Manager series has been a long-term fixture on the PlayStation 2, with annual updates since the first game launched in 2002. The 2007 version will see the biggest changes in the series yet, and developer Codemasters has jumped to the Xbox 360 and PC for the first time to fit everything in. The PlayStation 2 and mobile phone versions will also launch in September, but they will be stripped of the more processor-intensive features. We took some time out to try the final preview build of the new and improved Xbox 360 version to see the next generation of the LMA series.
The new version of LMA Manager seems just as accessible as ever. The 360's HD outputs provide a hugely improved interface that's clean and aesthetically pleasing. There's a functional benefit from these outputs, too, with more pixels meaning that more information can be presented onscreen. But it's the new match engine that is the talking point of LMA Manager 2007, and the extra power of the console looks to have been put to good use. While you might not mistake it for FIFA, the match engine is handsome looking, which is impressive since it's not the main part of the game. Even better, the match engine offers some tactical advantage thanks to the mapping of the tactics to buttons on the 360 pad. Players clearly attempt through balls, play offside traps, and even try to chip the goalkeeper, and you can instantly react to what's happening directly through the pad.
While you might not want to watch all of your matches being played out, watching a few does give you a good indication of whether your tactics are working. You don't have to observe in real time, either, as you can fast-forward and turn on the ball trail to keep tabs on what's happening. The multicore processor sitting inside the 360 has been used by Codemasters to crunch through the masses of stats used in the game. While opting to watch highlights of all the games in your league will slow the game down, the wait between matches is never tiresome.
LMA Manager 2007 will ship with all of the summer-transfer data up to date on release. Also, Codemasters has promised that it will offer a free online download for all versions that will update the remainder of the transfer-window stats. While the game doesn't pretend to be as stat heavy as the Football Manager series, there are a decent amount of teams on offer from over 50 footballing nations. Having been developed in Britain, England has the most comprehensive list of teams, with five leagues in this country alone. Each club has its own expectations, so a top gun from the Premiership such as Chelsea will expect to be taking home some silverware at the end of the season, while conference clubs have minuscule budgets and expectations in comparison.
The main thrust of LMA Manager 2007 is a 20-year career mode in which you can take the manager's chair at a real club or at a fantasy team of your own creation. Real teams have all the expected stats and figures in place, and if you opt for the fantasy team, you can drop them into any league from the game. The career mode offers a choice of 15 preset managers, who can then be tweaked with different facial details and clothing. It takes about 10 minutes to create someone in your own likeness, but the most fun we had was creating a walking management cliché. The grey-haired, sheepskin-coat-clad manager has all but disappeared from the Premiership, so it's nice to see them back at the helm of a major club. You can also change your chosen name, preferred club, and date of birth, although the latter statistic didn't seem to have any effect on the appearance of our manager.
LMA Manager has always been an accessible take on the football management genre, and you can make large changes to the amount of depth the game offers. Inexperienced managers or those who want a refined experience can choose to remove the more administrative elements of being a manager and let someone else handle them. When setting up your league, you can choose to take control of the training and financial demands of the club, just the financial interests, or you can let the computer handle them both. Choosing to handle training duties means that you will have to specify the regimen for individual players and the overall team, while financial considerations include player contracts, employee hiring, and shirt sponsorship. Turning off all these options will let you concentrate on match-day tactics and making the right transfers.
The game also offers a choice between normal and expert difficulty. The normal mode permits you to see statistics for each player so that you can quickly assess players' ability, while expert mode hides the overall rating bar. The expert mode places more rigorous demands on you as a manager, as you will have to review individual attributes closely and use your scouts to assess players in detail. Likewise, if you want to spend your time focusing on the big matches, you can choose to skip the preseason games and get straight into the full season.
As well as adding in a new match engine that will play games out as you watch, Codemasters has upped the presentation ante again with the new Football One system. Football One is a media hub that includes a match of the day-style analysis programme that, rather suitably, is presented by Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, and Barry Davies. While the game offers basic analysis and preseason tips, it obviously can't provide context-relevant criticism. Instead, it uses the match engine to present highlights of other games in the league so that you can keep an eye on your rivals and monitor performance. There's also up-to-date league and transfer information at hand, as well as media reports of what's happening with other teams.
In addition to the career mode, you can play out single games against the computer or a friend through the exhibition mode. Through the match engine, you can practise tactics that could be used in the career mode or find out who's the best manager out of you and your friends. The full game will also let you upload your end-of-season performance to an online scoreboard, and there promises to be a stack of unlockable extras such as a card-free zone, job for life, and the more cryptic happy talky talky mode.
At the 80 percent-complete stage, LMA Manager 2007 looks to be using the Xbox 360's control system and graphical power to good effect. While we weren't so enamoured with the idea of watching matches played out in Pro Evolution Soccer Management, the match engine has been well executed in LMA, and it enhances the feeling of sitting in the dugout on match day and barking orders at your men (albeit through the Xbox 360 pad). We'll have to wait for the full game and all the updated statistics, but with football once again back in our lives, we look forward to seeing more of the game come September.
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