Starting out on the PlayStation in 1999, LMA Manager has appeared in one form or another nearly every year since. In that time, the series has made the jump from consoles to PC, and it was also one of the first football management games to offer a full 3D match engine. Now making its first appearance on the Xbox 360, LMA Manager 2007 offers new features such as online squad updates, league match highlights, and new data for the African, Asian, Australian, and American leagues.
Like its predecessors, LMA Manager 2007 is geared towards the management novice, letting you customise the game as you want to play it and even strip management down to its core components. If you want the complete experience, you can opt to take care of training and financial duties, but if you want your focus to remain on the human resources of the club, you can choose to delegate the other aspects to the computer's artificial intelligence. You can streamline the experience even more by choosing to skip preseason match warm-ups and get stuck into the main season from the off.
LMA's career mode offers up a 20-year stint as a professional football club manager. At the beginning of your career, you need to create a manager who will represent you from the sidelines. There are 15 preset characters to choose from, and you can tweak face, hair, and outfits to finalise your avatar. As well as tailoring the overall game, you can choose how difficult you want it to be. The expert mode is intended for those who have knowledge of the game, as it will hide overall rating information for players. While fans of real-life clubs will probably know their players inside out, they will still need to use scouts and their own judgment to assess the quality of potential new signings to the club. Other modes make it easier by automating some of the micro-management options.
Luckily, processing information in LMA Manager is never a problem. LMA's greatest strength is its presentation, with information split up into nine main menus, each with submenus underneath. The interface has been built nicely around the control pad, so shoulder buttons are used to scroll through main menus, and the triggers flip through the submenus. While this often results in jumping back and forth, you can always find the information you need, and once you get used to the layout, it all becomes second nature. The strong layout of the menus is accentuated by the Xbox 360's high-definition outputs, which keep all the details crisp enough from normal viewing distance. The game takes a hit in terms of text intelligibility in standard definition, although the 3D match engine looks great in both. The only bad point about the presentation is the single music track from Snow Patrol, which soon becomes repetitive. It's a shame that Codemasters didn't support custom soundtracks, especially given the amount of time spent looking at menus. It's also worth noting that you don't need to have a hard drive to play LMA Manager 2007 on the Xbox 360, unlike Football Manager 2006 which required one. However, you'll still need to have a memory card to save your games.
The match engine has been a big selling point in past LMA games, and the 2007 version is under even greater scrutiny thanks to high-definition Xbox 360 and PC versions. While some people swear by the 2D top-down match reports, or even just plain text commentaries, LMA's match engine does in fact help you respond to in-game developments in an effective manner. You can issue commands to your team on the fly by pressing buttons on the control pad, and you can hear them being barked at your team by the manager on the sidelines. There are shortcuts for attacking and defensive play, and you can react to offensive and defensive opportunities by initiating a long ball or playing cautiously. You can also switch your formation and make substitutions from a separate menu at any time. These 10-15 minute matches boast audio recordings taken from real matches, but unfortunately there's no club-specific chanting to be heard.
While you certainly won't want to watch every game at full speed, you can choose to speed up the action, while a trail on the ball can be added so you can keep tabs on what’s happening. Among the camera options available, there's an authentic manager's view from the sidelines and a more strategically advantageous perspective through a TV camera or overhead position. While the match engine looks great, with slick graphics and stadium details, there are occasional glitches. Individual players seem to move with their own agenda instead of playing as part of a team. When long passes are made, the receiving player will often appear completely oblivious, and instead of them collecting the ball it will hit them and take a deflection.
On the AI side, players will occasionally put the ball out of play when under no pressure at all, and goalkeepers seem incredibly reticent to come out of the box. There are also missing frames of animation, with players jumping up immediately after making a sliding tackle. In terms of scoring, goals are often scored in spectacular but unrealistic fashion, with a high proportion coming from defenders and players making solo runs.
LMA's Football One engine is a media hub that presents all the information you need about the other matches from your league. It boasts the same slick presentation as the main game, and you can even choose to see a weekly match-of-the-day highlights show. You can't fault the effort that has been put into this media portal, and the inclusion of Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen makes you feel like you're watching real commentary on the state of your league. However, as the comments on transfers and injuries are all prerecorded, it adds very little tactical advantage. It's no fault of the game itself, but it seems like an overly flashy way of delivering the same information as the newspaper reports, which are thankfully also available in Football One. The other problem is that if you choose to take advantage of the weekly highlights show, the game will take longer to load in between games as it compiles all the relevant data.
Depending on which of the eight playable countries you choose to work in, there are a different number of leagues available. England is the best represented with five leagues, while most others have around two or three. It's possible to buy players from other leagues from around the world, but you cannot choose to take control of teams from these areas. While this means LMA loses out in terms of depth to the likes of Football Manager, it has plenty to keep you going. In particular, the Xbox 360 achievements system is built around winning every league and cup in the game. Top the English Premier League, for example, and you'll get 100 points, while you'll receive 50 for the Scottish equivalent. You're also awarded points based on your management performance, and these are then uploaded to an Xbox Live leaderboard, so you can track your progress against other real players.
The alternative to using a real-life team in the career mode is to create a fantasy squad. You start out by choosing a location, a stadium, and team colours, and you can then create your manager and pick your fantasy team. With funds of £65 million and a weekly wage budget of £800,000, you must fill your squad with 18 chosen players, or you can let the computer pick them at random. You can then take your custom team to any of the game's real-life leagues and see how well they fare. The fantasy league offers exactly the same features as the main career mode, and you can transfer other real-life players to your club throught the season. LMA also allows you to share your fantasy team online with other players and prove your worth to other fantasy managers.
Having the right players and training them properly is a key part of any management game, and LMA is accessible but deep in both respects. In fact, training has more submenus and options than any other part of the game. As with most other features the computer can assist you in nearly every aspect of training, or you can choose to use your own judgement. There are seven different disciplines you can focus on during your sessions, including crossing and box work, and you can change the overall bias to individuals or the team. Most importantly, you are fed a decent amount of information about your choices, as the coach is on hand to deliver training reports for your first team and youth team, as well as how they've performed in real-life matches. LMA 2007 now extends the length of training matches that can be watched in 3D, with sessions now lasting up to 40 minutes. And if you have the budget to expand your training facilities, you can build new grounds to increase the effectiveness of your training.
In terms of transfers, you have five scouts at your disposal during the game, each of whom will cost different amounts based on the task at hand. You can use these people to check out individual regions, players, or teams, and you can even ask them to scout your next opponent and report back. In this respect, the scout can help influence your training regime, as he will provide information on the manager, individual players, and the team's tactics. Success is dependant on keeping a constant eye on who's available while putting your own players up for grabs or loaning them to other clubs. Experienced managers will be able to manipulate the transfer market, as it's too easy to sign unlikely players, and those with an interest in the real game will find that clubs offer too much for your players on a frequent basis. However, with fully-licensed FIFA Pro Foundation data, at least all players in the game are in line with their real-life counterparts.
In an effort to bring arcade-style quick-burst gameplay to the table, LMA Manager also has an exhibition mode in which you can play a single game against the computer or another human player. Not only does it let you try out new tactics outside the main career mode, but it also lets you compare the skills of your team against anyone else on the international team list. You don't have to worry about training schedules in this mode--it's more about proving your managerial mettle on the pitch in a single game.
LMA Manager 2007 is online-enabled on all three platforms, so some of its features demand an internet connection. Codemasters has included the 2006/2007 season stats correct as of August 2006, and promises that a September update will be available as a free download. There's also a hall of fame where you can see how many points people have accrued at normal and expert difficulty for the standard and fantasy games. Perhaps the biggest omission is the lack of exhibition play online, so until this is enabled in a future version, we have to make do with swapping exhibition teams and tactics online. You can also unlock a bunch of extras by inputting codes, although these are locked into a unique ID code system that you need to acquire by ringing a premium-rate phone line. For example, you can eradicate all player injuries through the season, or have unlimited funds to buy the best players in the world.
For football management novices, LMA is an excellent introduction to the genre. This is a great-looking game that's easy to get into, and more or less every process and decision can be automated or assisted in some way. However, that's not to say that experienced gamers should stay away from LMA, as knowledge of the game and previous management skill will allow you to run a more efficient club. While the true benefit of a 3D match engine is still questionable, the one in LMA lets you monitor performance and is only marred by some sloppy animation. While it won't cater to those who like to get knee-deep in statistics, LMA Manager 2007 still has a place in the management premier league.