I tried out the Championship Manager 4 Beta demo last night. My relationship with CM is a complex one. Football is something that I enjoy watching, and whilst I have very little actual ability at the game in question, I do have a very good idea of how it should be played. CM is undoubtably the best researched, in-depth football management game there is. Unfortunately, it's rubbish. Well, inconsistent and unrealistic at the very least. Soul-suckingly addictive, yet hair-tearingly frustrating, CM is a life eater and life breaker all in one innocent looking package.
Take my team, Leicester, whom I nominally support having gone to university there, not the greatest team in the world, but currently riding high in the upper echelons of Division One. I take command, sign a couple of decent players, but keep the same core team that is currently doing so well in real life, and employ the same attacking 4-4-2 tactics.
My first league game is a crushing 3-0 victory over Reading, a semi-decent team, currently in third position of Division One. Okay, this is starting well. Next game, A nil-nil away draw at Sheffield United, which is fair enough, these are the guys that are in the FA Cup quarter finals. Next game, an improbable 2-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, a team who are on Route One to the Second Division and can't score a goal to save their lives. It's made all the more infuriating when your pre-season training has gone so well. And there's still the old That's his first goal of the season!/first goal for his club! chestnut whenever someone scroes against you. Completely against the run of play. And they've only had one shot on target to your 30, and you lose 1-0. Grrr.
So, no change in the results the game throws up, but what about the engine?
Well, the new match engine is a big improvement, and it's in GLORIOUS 2D!!!! w00t!!!
Granted, it does make a big difference to just looking at a vast ream of stats, but the match commentary at times doesn't seem capable of keeping up with the 2D Pitch engine, and it makes AI glitches even more obvious when you get unrealistic player positionings, or blatently stupid wasting of possession. It also makes it obvious that the tactical choices you make aren't represented in the match engine - choose a short passing game and 70% of the passes you see in the 2D engine are 50 yard hoofs with all the accuracy of an IRA mortar.
Still, I have to reserve judgment somewhat, as this is a Beta, and it would be unfair to make a sweeping statement, but I'm going to make one anyway. Heh.
CM4 is more of the same we've come to expect from Championship Manager, with more tactical options, more man-management and media interaction, and a more realistic financial management model. And a slightly prettier front end.
I may decide it's worth the risk purchasing the finished game, as it's one of those games you can spend a lifetime with, but I hope that they do iron out some of the mind-boggling inconsistences before the final version hits the streets. Otherwise I'll just end up with another silver tea-cup coaster.