A few weeks ago, as soccer/football fans all over the world enjoyed the beginning of their latest league campaigns, they were also treated to a debut of a different sort. Namely, the arrival of the demo for Eidos' Championship Manager 2010 (CM), which was finally released for public consumption after a long wait.
Indeed the waiting game for this latest CM had become a story in and of itself. Developed by London-based Beautiful Game Studios, Eidos had decided to forgo the release of CM '09 altogether in order to improve various aspects of CM, such as introducing a 3-D match engine into the mix. So the folks at Eidos renamed the title and announced that they were preparing the newly named CM 2010 for release on September 11, 2009.
As mentioned previously, the major new feature for this year's game is the addition of a new 3-D match engine, which matches previous efforts from genre competitors Football Manager and FIFA Manager. Other touted improvements for CM 2010 include the addition of more leagues from more countries, a set-piece creator, viewable training drills and a revamp of the news and media portions of the game.
And if you're genuinely curious about the game, you'll be happy to know that for a limited time CM 2010 is available via a payment promotion that Eidos has coined Pay What You Want. Currently ongoing until midnight on September 10, this program essentially allows you to pay whatever you feel is right, with the minimum being £[font=Verdana]2.51, which amounts to about $4.
It's a genuinely attractive option that could entice many people to try the game, but Eidos also has an additional financial option: an optional DLC named Season Live. Priced at £5 (which is about $8) for six updates, these season live updates are roster updates which, when applied, allow you to start your season at various points during the year with all the real-world transfers, results and injuries in place. So instead of regularly starting in June or September, you'll be able to start play in October or March, with the bonus being that all the real-world trappings will be accurate.
Now that sounds decent enough, but really, how does the game play? Well, I'll get into those details later, but first, let's talk a bit about some general demo details.
First, the demo is available here, and the action within the demo lasts six months -- from July to the end of December. Also, you have the option to manage teams from various leagues and eight countries (England, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Spain and Turkey). And make note that the rosters are accurate as of June/July, so some recent transfer moves won't be present in the demo.
The specifications can be seen here. I played the game on my laptop as well as my desktop, and my performance was generally excellent, although it felt a little slower in comparison to Football Manager 2009. But as is the case with all PC titles, your personal experience will vary based on your own configuration.
So now that you got a mini-summary of what to expect, please allow me to delve deeper into my demo experience. And since I'm nice, I'll start with the positives.
3-D Match Graphics and Presentation
This was easily the most impressive part of the CM 2010 demo because the 3-D graphics are a cut above what has been seen in similar games (see: Football Manager). Everything from the players to the pitch to the authentic ad-boards look bright, vivid and detailed.
But along with the graphics, the animations were also a surprising sight to behold as they were more lively and realistic than the somewhat mechanical animations in FM.
For example, you'll see players lose their balance attempting shots, throw their bodies around to block a shot, aggressively tackle each other off the ball or even flamboyantly move their bodies as they attempt to dribble past defenders. Make note, CM 2010 also features weather effects like rain, which can also make a visible impact as well.
The development team has also captured a number of atmospheric player reactions that coincide with the on-going play. Goalkeepers will urge their players to move forward after a caught shot, players will sulk after a dreadful miss or even react childishly to getting disciplined by the ref. Sure, it's similar to what has been seen in other games, but the polished graphics certainly add an additional level of atmosphere.
And that atmosphere is additionally helped by the fantastic match-day sounds. Of course all the familiar ones are present, such as the shriek of the ref's whistle, the smack of the ball, the dim thud of the ball striking the ad-boards and the garbled voice of the PA announcer coming alive during substitutions.
But you'll also hear drums going off and fans excitedly chanting and raising or lowering their voices at various points during a match. I also appreciated the fact that the supporters made all those sounds when appropriate, corresponding to what was going on in a match. So you'll hear disappointed groans when a player misses a chance, and ecstatic cheers when someone scores a goal or an opposing players get carded.
All in all, it adds up to an impressive experience, and it certainly makes the game more enjoyable to watch, at least on an aesthetic level. So a job well done there.
Scouting and Player Knowledge
I was also impressed by how the game handled the entire scouting and player knowledge aspect of the game -- scouting can be utilized in two ways.
Firstly, you can manually search for players and try to uncover gems on your own. You do this by ordering your scouts to go to the places that you specified. However, the second way is a little more comprehensive, and this is known in-game as the scouting network. The scouting network divides or combines the world's continents into larger regions, and then it sub-divides those regions into smaller scouting areas, which can be individual countries (England, Spain, Italy, Brazil) or even entire geographical groupings (Canada and the US form one group for example).
If you choose to use the scouting network, you basically invest a various amount of money to scout these regions -- your funds coincide with your club's financial situation. And over time that funding will -- depending on the amount invested -- increase your knowledge of players in that region as well as uncover talented players from that area.
It is important to invest in key areas as well as scout wisely because the game widely casts a fog of war over much of the game's players when you start. In addition, every player in the game has a knowledge bar that, depending on how full the bar is, reflects the accuracy and range of the player attributes you can see.
So if a player's knowledge bar is one percent filled, some attributes will not be not shown and some ratings will have a wild discrepancy range -- in some cases 90 points or above. Of course as you scout a player further, your knowledge and the accuracy of his ratings will grow. So when the knowledge bar is at 60 percent, all of the player's ratings will appear and the accuracy of the attributes will shrink to about a five-point range. And when you finally get the bar filled up to 100 percent, all of the player attributes will be accurate.
I think this is a new and intuitive way of showcasing player ratings because it doesn't just give away everything right away. It takes some work to fully get a fair grasp on a player, which ensures that you may have to take some risks if you're dealing with unfamiliar players.
Undoubtedly, this is another strong part of CM 2010.
Having poor knowledge of a player can make it difficult to know his true ratings
Other Good Elements
Besides the top two areas, I also was impressed with some other areas of CM 2010.
In particular, I liked the set-piece creator, which is fun to mess around with even though it is a bit broken in places; comprehensive team talks; fully viewable drill-training exercises, which are fun to watch in a look-at-my-toy-soldiers-practice sort of way; the ability to record matches that can be easily uploaded to sites like YouTube; the training schedule, which shows the potential impact training has on player attributes; and the cool ProZone feature,which analyzes important themes and sections of a match for you to digest.
I also enjoyed the news and media sections because they did a nice job of presenting all sorts of rumors, news and other information to you in a clear, authentic and helpful way.
So that's the good. Seems all right so far, right? Eh, well...
3-D Match Engine Execution
Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, the beauty of the 3-D graphics is somewhat undone by the subpar match engine.
To be fair, it's functional some of the time, and you'll see some semblance of decent play, but during other moments you'll witness some head-scratching and laughably poor play by the little virtual men. And the worst part is that they make incredibly poor mistakes that little children playing the game would not make.
For instance, you'll see players attempt audacious 360-pirouettes out of nowhere, defenders that fail or ignore to properly mark the opposing player, and players who randomly pass it amongst themselves before kicking it out for a corner -- even when there is no opposing players close to them. In some cases, the goalkeeper may even score on his own net (as seen in this video). There's simply no logical reason why these virtual players do many of the things that they do, and it just leads to disjointed games that don't play out realistically at all.
it's just an uneven experience overall because while the game looks and sounds great, the spurts of stupidity from the players detract from the entire experience. It's perhaps the biggest flaw in the demo, and that's not good because it's the most important part of the game. But at least this is just the demo, so changes can still be made.
The User Interface
Perhaps this one is a personal gripe, but I felt that the user interface (UI) could also be improved. Now maybe it was because I have been playing Football Manager a lot lately, but traversing through CM's menus just felt tiresome. This was largely because things were a little cluttered and seemingly out of place. This is easily seen in the left-side bar, which is really dreadful to navigate at times because it requires too many mouse clicks to get around to different areas. And even when I knew where everything was, it still didn't feel quite right.
Additionally, there are some other small details that I think are lacking in the demo. Those small details include things like a player's positional strength and the ability to easily select various player and team options. Like all small problems, they quickly add up and create more frustration.
Once again I realize it's a beta demo, but there are also a number of general errors that I experienced while playing. These errors include things like different player options appearing for the wrong player, entire scored goals not being acknowledged or appearing during replays of a match, errors on news reports and a variety of other smaller issues. For example, I previously mentioned the set-piece creator and, well, just watch this video.
And altogether, like I said earlier, it's those little faults that add up to take away from the overall experience. I hope that many of these problems are corrected in the release version because they have the potential to drastically mar what could be a solid game.
Various little problems appear at times during the CM 2010 demo. Can you spot what's wrong here?
In general, I feel Eidos has done a decent job beefing up the off-the-pitch details in CM, and when it comes to certain aspects of the game, the developers have added refreshingly new features to the genre.
But the developers at Beautiful Game Studios definitely need to focus on strengthening the match engine. It's easily the biggest fault in the game, and if they hope to kick Football Manager off the throne, they will have to fix and perfect their efforts in that area. Failure to do so will definitely doom all the other improvements and progress made in the game.
But despite some of my negative opinions, for those seeking a decent soccer management sim or perhaps an alternative to the Football Manager behemoth, you would do well to give CM 2010 a personal tryout. The demo is worth playing because it at least gives you a taste of what's possible in the future, despite the faults. And certainly, while it lasts, the presence of the "pay what you want option" is an added enticement as well. I mean it can't hurt at a low price, can it?