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As it says on the box of this game, '1 WAR WUNDERBAR, 2 WAR SCHRECKLICH UND 3 IST DIE ENDGULTIGE HERAUSFORDERUNG!' What? Oops, been reading the German instructions by mistake. What it actually says is '1 WAS WONDERFUL, 2 WAS TERRIFIC, 3 IS THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE'. What could they be talking about? The Alien movies? The Popeye games? The World Wars? (They're talking about the Football Manager games, stop being so ruddy stupid - Ed).

Well, blimey. Another Speccy football management game, eh? Just what we needed. What next, I wonder? Football Manager Dizzy? And they can't work out why Speccy games don't sell much these days. Tch. But anyway.

Football Manager 3, the latest in a long line, has had nearly 10 years to take the best aspects of hundreds of other footy management games and turn them all into one indisputable, unbeatable classic. What's it come up with? Well, you get to pick your team, and choose which style they play in. You can buy other players, by ringing up their manager on the telephone and offering him lots of money - realistic or what? You can train all your players individually, so that some of them are really good and some of them are really crap (or something). You can, er, switch on a desktop computer and, um, see what games you've got coming up in the next few weeks. Or - AHA! - you can actually play a game and watch the action unfold in front of your eyes! Brilliant! Let's get on with it, then!

Oh dear. The match sequence in Football Manager 3 consists of a tiny little rectangular pitch occupying about half of the screen, (with no centre circle or penalty-box arcs, natch) covered in little stick players even smaller than the ones in the original Football Manager, which all lurch around colour-clashing horribly, accompanied by fantastic commentary at the bottom of the screen along the lines of 'Number 6 has the ball', 'Number 10 goes in for the tackle', 'Innes shoots', 'Graeme Souness gets sent out of the dugout' and all that kind of thing. It is, frankly, crap.

But, hey, it's not all bad. Apart from the rubbish match sequence, Football Manager 3 is alright, as far as this kind of thing goes. It's not quite up to the standard of Football Manager 2, to be honest, with vastly inferior presentation and graphics, and lots of hanging around while the computer thinks and doesn't seem to be working properly, but it's got enough statistics and stuff to be passably realistic, without having so many that you get completely lost in a maze of menus and totally bored. The front end leaves a lot to be desired, but I did really like the way it said 'Hello!!!' as it's Program name when it loaded up. So, swings and roundabouts, really.




The most interesting thing of all about Football Manager 3, though, is probably its packaging. As well as a tape containing both the Speccy and Amstrad versions of the game (be careful not to accidentally try and load the Amstrad version then come back 10 minutes later and wonder why nothing's happened, like I did) and a tiny little bit of folded paper containing the instructions, you also get a cardboard box the size of Albania. Why is this? Is it so that you can take the whole thing along to real football matches and use it as a rattle? I shouldn't think so. Is it so that you don't lose it in the piles of rubbish on the floor of your bedroom and then accidentally stand on it? Probably not. No, it's more likely something to do with what the software 'industry' calls 'perceived value'. Apparently, they think that if you see a huge great box on the shelf at WH Smith's instead of a poxy little cassette case, you'll automatically go 'Coo! That game's in a really big cardboard box, so it must be at least four times as good as one that comes in a box a quarter of the size! I'm going to buy that at once, and what's more it's such a great-looking package that I'll quite happily pay much more than the usual price for it. Hurrah!' This is, of course, extremely stupid. As we all know, what you really think is 'Coo! That game's in a really big cardboard box, so it'll never fit in my tape racks, and it's so big that when I put it on the floor I won't possibly be able to avoid standing on it and rendering it completely crumpled, tatty and crap-looking. I'll be avoiding that one like the plague until it comes out as a budget re-release in a nice sensible compact cassette case in six months' time, that's for sure.' Software houses, eh?




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Some nice options screens, lots of stuff to fiddle around with to make you feel that you're really in control, um, and a great big box.


Crap highlights, dodgy control response, and all the players have really stupid names.


A decent enough footy management game, but you'd still be better off looking for the prequel. (Or come to that, for sheer thrillpower, the first one).






No. The final word in soccer management simulations is 'simulations'.




The first Football Manager game is a bit of a legend in Speccy (indeed, computers in general) gaming history. Released in 1983, from roots on the ZX81, it boasted lots of complicated footy strategy stuff (injuries, transfers, and, er, not much else, realy), but more importantly '3D ANIMATED MATCH HIGHLIGHTS!' While these consisted of static line-drawn screens of the goalmouth with tiny character-square players lurching around in leaps of about 10 feet at a time and stretched the definition of '3D' to its very limits, they were still a complete revolution, as well as being fantastically entertaining.

Largely as a result of this, the game, written by a middle-aged giant of a man with a very suspect beard called Kevin Toms (the man, that is, not the beard), was a massive success. It sold well over 100,000 copies (an absolutely staggering figure - for comparison, a top-selling Speccy title these days will shift about, ooh, 1500 if it's lucky), and inspired a million (approximately) imitators, all of which were totally crap, because they missed the point utterly and concentrated on filling the game with thousands and thousands of statistics and number-juggling and dispensed with the match graphics sequence completely. How stupid can you get, eh? All that tedious traipsing around a million menu screens, hanging around for hours while the program (invariably written in BASIC) decided what it wanted to do, and then no reward at the end of it all other than a black screen announcing 'Hartlepool 1 Walsall 0'. Whoopee.

Anyway, dozens of crap clones later, the man the universe had come to know as 'Uncle Kevin' decided that enough was enough, and set about writing a proper sequel. Football Manager added all sorts of clever extra stuff with tactics and formations and substitutions and training and so on, as well as a vastly-prettier match highlights section which actually showed you (ulp!) the entire game! Unfortunately, in a particularly action-packed match, watching the whole game could take anything up to 10 minutes, which meant that playing through a whole season could call for a nine-hour session. Still, apart from that, Football Manager 2 was a bit of a corker, striking just about the best balance to date between trainspotter technical accuracy and strategic depth, and the zingier, prettier, action side of things. More crap copies followed, all of which were unbearably dull, with the possible exception of Tracksuit Manager, which Jon likes.

Around the time of the last World Cup, Addictive produced a Football Manager - World Cup Edition, which was a completely new game featuring a revolutionary manager's pep-talk session, where you could shout at your players after a heavy beating, or lavish praise on them after an impressive win, in an attempt to goad them into action/pump up their morale. It was cute, but novelty-value only, really, and nothing very much came of it.

And now, of course, we've got Football Manager 3. Um...