The words "Championship" and "Manager", placed adjacently, have long been enough to induce both wistfulness and fear in my mind. I was a teenage Championship Manager addict, see, and entirely blame my slightly disappointing A-Level results on my former habit.
Nowadays it's called Football Manager, and I've grown into a big strong boy whose head is no longer turned by mere computer games (my internet addiction takes up too much time for that).
I haven't played any football management sim for over ten years, despite - or because of - the reports from friends and colleagues of how the Football Manager series has developed to proportions that could conceivably see me back where I was all those years ago, jonesing for hot transfer deadline action when I should be living a mature, productive life.
However, when I was offered the chance to review the latest version, Football Manager 2009, I was unable to decline
because I was threatened with the sack if I said no.
So clearly, as I haven't played its recent predecessors, I'm not going to be in a position to compare Football Manager 2009 with earlier versions.(For reviews which do that, you can go here. Or here. Or here. Or here.)
To be honest one of the things that put me off the game in recent years was the sheer volume of detail. Having checked out a friend's version once, it seemed you could spend hours tailoring training regimes and team/individual player tactics before you got to the fun stuff such as buying players and, like, playing matches.
My suspicions were well-founded - to a noob like me, FM 2009 seemed utterly overwhelming to begin with. With a fair few hours worth of gameplay behind me, I was still playing pre-season friendlies. I guess you can skip a lot of this micro-management, but for the control freaks out there *raises hand* it's hard to bypass stuff that might affect your team's performance, in however minuscule a manner.
I'm not sure if it's a bug in the review code, but as other reviewers have pointed out the keyboard sensitivity settings are way out of whack. When I addressed a press conference after my appointment my flippant show of enthusiasm, with which I included a Joe Kinnear-esqe expletive, came out as "II''mm ffuucckkiinngg lloovviinngg iitt!!" Serves me right I suppose.
The press conference is a new development apparently, and is quite good fun. Scummy muck-raking journos try and trip you up with tricksy questions regarding your tactics and ability, with your responses likely to have an effect on your players' morale. The option to insert additional comments, as seen above, is open to entertaining abuse.
Buying players and offering new contracts is a lot more complicated than back in my day. Payment by installments, signing-on fees, player exchange and player squad status all need to be considered alongside whether the wages fit into the club's budget. My attempts to bring firebrand maverick Joey Barton to Man United so that I could take him under my wing came to nothing, mainly due to my inexperience of negotiating in this field.
Similarly, and unsurprisingly, in this day and age the players are more complicated characters. No sooner had I become United manager than Chelsea's Scolari was sniffing around my central defensive pairing of Ferdinand and Vidic. The players' reservations about my ability at Premier League level was enough to make them consider leaving the European Champions for their nearest rivals.
When it comes to recruiting new talent your scouts and assistant manager offer valuable advice, and it's up to you whether you decide to trust their judgement. Your assistant will also offer his opinion as to whether he thinks current squad/reserve team players are good enough, and will weigh in with his thoughts regarding tactics during matches as well. As a subtle way of guiding new players through the bewildering number of options and decisions to be made in FM 2009, it's pretty valuable.
The biggest difference between FM 2009 and previous versions is the 3D game engine (right, click image to enlarge), which is designed to show you your match highlights (or the whole game, if you have that much time to spare) in a manner more advanced than the top-down 2D display of years gone by.
Much fuss has been made of this development, and I dare say I'd be joining in the chorus if I could get this particular feature to work. Sadly my review copy appears not to want me to sample such mindbending graphic pleasure, with the option to switch to 3D apparently permanently disabled. So... I can't really comment on whether that element adds depth to the experience. Shame.
Overall, then, thanks to my having some semblance of a life outside my bedroom, I think I'm going to be able to resist full-scale addiction this time around. Which is not to say that Football Manager 2009 isn't an opportunity for the armchair football nerd to immerse himself to a considerable degree. I dread to think how far I could get sucked in if I suddenly found myself immobile, which is as good a motivation as any to start necking vitamin pills and making sure I tread carefully this winter.