Premier Manager 97
Think Of Spain And You Think Of Good food and short, excitable people with rather too much in the way of body hair; you think of films featuring food and sex in exotic combinations; and you think of an excellent style of football that combines the skill levels of Serie A with a great deal more entertainment and excitement (as well as top-class players having a piss against a goal-post before a corner in an important match). But you don't, as a rule, think of computer games. Until now.
Premier Manager 97 was developed in Spain by Dynamic Software, whose own Futbol 5.0 sells by the supertanker-load in their home country. They've avoided the (probably slight) temptation to go head-to-head with CM2, and opted for another attempt at a lighter approach to football management.
Money makes the world go around
Like its recent imitator Ultimate Soccer Manager. PM97 offers you the chance to control everything from the team selection and tactics, to ground improvements, advertising hoardings rental, ticket pricing and even the cost of a BSE-in-a-bun. Everyone knows about the football management game split between CM2-heads and PM-sters: it's like the Quake vs Duke debate (with CM2 as Quake) - only nobody's sad enough to write to games mags to argue about it Heavyweight CM2-heads criticise the financial tinkerings of PM, imply the game should be a SimCity add-on disk and laugh aloud at the (in)accuracy of the ratings and transfer fees. PM fans don't give a toss, enjoying the fact that they can buy Robbie Fowler for a million quid and generally have fun at the expense of accuracy.
The developers have tried to cater for everyone this time by offering four levels of involvement: Trainer, where you're basically a Phil Neal-type (only ideally not as thick) and don't even hire and fire players; Manager, where you take control of some team affairs but avoid a lot of the tedious pricing stuff; President, where you get control over a lot of the finances, or Total, where you go into power-crazy Jesus Gil y Gil mode and take over the world.
Up to 20 players can take part, but only the four English leagues are included. You get 'proper' players who are reasonably accurately rated, better transfer pricing than in the past, and clubs that are less likely to sell top stars on the opening day for 50 quid. One nice touch is the preseason objective you're given according to the club you choose. With Spurs, mine was ''mid-table'': depressingly accurate, and a sad indictment of the Gerry Francis years.
The whole game looks better than previous offerings and is better organised. The tactics and team line-up screen is clear, and you can load and save different tactics. The tactics designer utilises an excellent click-and-drag zonal player coverage system that I'm sure we'll be seeing in other games before long. There are also options to control your style of play. Unfortunately, it doesn't automatically revert to a pregame selection after the match, so you have to remember to switch it back yourself before the next game if you had to make adjustments during a match.
The big match
The biggest selling point, though, is the facility to watch a match being played using a sort of mini-Actua Soccer approach. If you don't want to sit through an entire game, you can opt to see highlights, just text details, or even, for the chronically impatient, an instant result. Match-viewing works quite well. It's occasionally jerky, even on a Pi 33 with low detail settings, but it's very satisfying to see your boys scoring goals. (Then again, I'm happy if Spurs or Gillingham score and all I see is a flashing message in CM2, so I'm easily pleased.)
It's certainly not all footballing loveliness, though. The transfer system leaves a lot to be desired (see box). And players sometimes don't behave as instructed - I opted for a pressing game, and was surprised to see a forward turn and run back into position after missing a tackle, even though the opponent's defender was running behind him with the ball. And in an ideal world Chris Armstrong wouldn't be back taking free-kicks around his own goal area. Probably because he'd be lying at home in a total body plaster, but that's another matter. (That's funny, Teddy Shcringham seems to do it all the time - Ed)
In its favour, there's the presentation, the tactics and strategy screens, team and player comparisons, occasional bursts of authenticity (Tim Sherwood getting a three-match ban on the first day of the season) and being able to sit back and watch your team play. Against it are the ludicrous transfer system, unnecessarily inflexible control levels... and watching the match (sometimes). Overall, though, the good bits outweigh the less good.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode