Championship Manager 3
Windows - 1999
Description of Championship Manager 3 Windows
As a lifelong footie fan, if you call Plymouth Argyle a football team, I've always had that burning desire to manage a soccer club to greatness, to be an armchair Arsene Wenger. Back in the early 90's, there were only two real contenders for my gaming money -- Championship Manager and Premier Manager. Initial versions of both were rough, but despite their flaws they were still addictive, and I must say the lack of match highlights in Championship Manager turned me over to the side of Premier Manager. It wasn't until 1995, when Premier Manager 3) took to the field against Championship Manager 2 that I defected. I had lost faith in the level of realism in the series, and CM 2 offered a much richer level of detail. Was it more realistic? Generally, yes, but it was the attention to detail that truly won me over. I'm a self-confessed soccer grognard, and that's the underlying reason why I believe Championship Manager 3 has cemented the Collyer brothers' position as kings of footie sim designers.
There were add-on and update packs for CM2, including the popular CM 2 97/98 Edition, but for a good three years now soccer fans have been wondering what the next revision of the series would offer. In brief, it sticks with the plain text approach, so no in-game graphic highlights, but adds a bootroom full of new features and options. The core game engine remains the same, but you can immerse yourself even deeper into the ocean of statistics that the game generates with each and every week of matches that are run. And unlike previous versions, you now get 15 national leagues out of the box, namely Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Spain and Sweden. Sadly no Major League Soccer from the US -- though rumour has it the Americans wanted too big a fee for the license. The price for this raising of the stats ante is horsepower -- I would not recommend running Championship Manager 3 on anything less than a 64MB Pentium II, particularly if you're operating more than one national league concurrently, even while using the new feature of running matches in the background. An indication of the sheer weight of statistics maintained here comes in the fact that a CM 3 savegame runs to around 50MB of disk after just two seasons of play. That's a whole lot of stats. If you're not a patient person, or details bore you, then Premier Manager Ninety Nine is more likely to be your thing.
In the hotseat
So, CM 3 is a detailed game, but how do you drive it? In previous versions, there was a clumsy amount of clicking through menu screens, but in CM 3 you can navigate by new (but hardly revolutionary) pull-down menus on the left side of the screen. Want to check out who's left in the English Conference Cup? Just click on "competitions," drag down to England, then to the Conference Cup tab and click on it. Much easier than wading up and down through three or four levels of static screen menus. The heart of the game lies in the news screen, at which all relevant events are reported to you, including injuries, transfers, and the dreaded Board of Directors' confidence update. Where CM 3 shines is in the way every reference to a team, person, or player can be clicked on to bring up more information -- when I play any other soccer 'sim' I find the lack of ability to do this very frustrating. As an example, say I'm about to play against Torquay -- I can bring up a screen of all past matches between my club and Torquay, see a summary of who's won the most, and see all past matches listed. I can click on a score for any of those matches and presto -- up pops the full match stats for that game, and from there I can click on any player to get information on them.
The focus of CM 3 lies in managing your squad of players. As manager, you get to pick the team, select match tactics, buy and sell players, send out scouts, and make tactical decisions as the game unfolds. You have no control over ground improvements or finances (as you do in PM Ninety Nine ; so if it's total control of a club you want, look elsewhere). Since a real manager only looks after the team, this should be no problem for most players. In fact, CM 3 has added more 'powers,' in that you can now (optionally) control your reserve team, have more information on non-playing staff (e.g. a rating for how good your scout is at spotting future ability), direct training for all players (a feature which I expect the Collyer brothers only added under duress), and participate in a much more richly-modeled transfer system. A very useful new feature is that finances (income and expenditure) are now broken down, so you can see where all the money is going to and coming from -- having a game televised can bring in some valuable extra cash. But, just as in real life, you can't spend all your club's money as you wish; your directors will set transfer fee and wage caps. This is a frustrating fact of life for managers, especially those in the lower leagues. Playing as a conference side is a real challenge.
A list of the new features in CM 3 could take up a big chunk of this review, so I'll only mention the ones I think really add to the experience. The first is the way matches run. In previous games you had to sit and watch text messages describing the action flashing up one after the other. This was tense, but to look at detailed game stats you had to stop the game. Now you can watch, for example, the ratings screen for both sides while the action continues. New screens offer territorial breakdowns and the latest scores from your division. Perhaps the best addition comes in the sound. Gone is the spoken match commentary and in are ambient crowd noises. Unlike PM Ninety Nine 's general crowd effects, CM 3 has an innovative stereo match effect. The left speaker is the home team, the right speaker the away team. If the home team is doing well, the left speaker chips in (and the songs are real, muted a little to make them generic, but just like real terrace chants), if an away forward gets a shot on goal the right speaker emits encouraging shouts -- if the ball is blazed over the bar the left speaker then gives you a big jeer. And both speakers sing, cheer and whistle independently of each other at times. The effect, which sadly only works when the game is run at a slow speed, is impressive, and worth turning on for the big games.
I must admit that I would prefer to watch real match highlights for a game, but nothing I've seen in any PC game comes close to the real world, so I'd rather stick with text, and, like a good book, use my imagination. The visually impressive PM Ninety Nine leaves me relatively cold for its lack of any long passing, and the way in which time is compressed such that it takes five minutes for the ball to go from one end of the pitch to the other. Thus there's little chance of two goals in the last minute of a match -- PM Ninety Nine is a sports game, not a sim.
Your ability to specify precise tactics is now much-expanded, with man-marking, free roles, forward runs, pressing, etc. all tweakable on a per-player basis. CM 3 's text is expanded from CM 2, so you now get more buildup information. At half/full time you can also re-read all the text from the game, though this is all summarized very clearly and elegantly in the post-match stats screens (all the more clear now that the game uses 800x600 resolution rather than 640x480). These stats bear some semblance to reality, for more so than those in PM Ninety Nine. The most helpful stat from the game is the 1-10 form rating a player gets, but you can look at header, tackle, shot, and pass summaries to see for yourself where things went wrong (or right).
CM 3 has added even more attributes to describe player abilities. There's around 30 now, compared to 20 in CM 2. In come adaptability, versatility, acceleration, agility, bravery, balance, crossing, handling, jumping, reflexes, workrate, and teamwork. Most of these go towards adding character to goalkeepers, but some stats have uses for players in all positions. Gone is the injury proneness rating -- this is now almost certainly a new hidden attribute, like big match ability and overall quality. Some CM 2 players never liked the hidden ratings, but these are what help make the game what it is. You can't write down a formula for success; when you buy new players you don't know if their legs are made of glass, or whether they turn to jelly in the FA Cup. And, most importantly, you don't know their overall quality. The ratings are still important, but they are relative. If the opposition has two pacey forwards, you'll want to know you have fast defenders capable of marking them well, for example. Factors such as form and morale come into play, and as manager you have to consider these in selecting your team. The fact that CM 3 lists a player's last five form ratings in his stat sheet is a very welcome addition, as is the way appearances as subs are separated out.
The way I play CM 3, I probably spend as much time looking around for prospective new players as I do looking after the squad I already have. The game now has attributes for your scouts, and the ability to send each scout out on a separate search of a different country looking for different types of player. If you want, you can give limits on players stats and even specify how many of your criteria need to be met. The level of control is pretty scary. Or you can ignore your scouts (not something I would do -- they seem good) and wade through several thousand players by hand yourself, sorting and filtering them by a variety of handy menus and options. You should add any good players to your (much expanded) shortlist, and probably make a transfer bid on them. If any bids or activity occurs on one of your shortlisted players, it appears as a news item in the main screen.
The core of the transfer engine, with its delayed negotiations, remains the same as before, but the dealing is much better now (more detailed). You can also request delays in deals while you look at other players. Player management is enhanced because you have to tell a new signing where he'll fit in (regular first-teamer, rotation player, reserve team, hot prospect, etc.) and live up to your promise or risk him demanding a transfer away again. You can also give more detailed reasons as to why you're rejecting a transfer bid (useful for multiplayer games, though I've not tried these yet -- wait for our second op review, most likely from Barak), and you can take on free transfer players for trial periods with no commitment.
Immersion and realism
It's the CM 3 package as a whole that sucks me in; the game feels relatively real and the detail is deep enough to allow me to lose myself for hours on end chasing trivia which may or may not be important for my team. While I bought and returned PM Ninety Nine after a few hours of play, only CM 3 held that magical immersion factor for me. Perhaps I prefer it because I see it as a better strategy game (as opposed to it being a sports game). The presentation forms part of my love for it -- there is (an optional) 350MB of footie pics which you can load to hard disk, and these form backgrounds for the game screens, themselves presented in a consistent and clear high-res format (there is also a utility to import your own pics as backgrounds, but I haven't tried that out). Little touches, like being able to print out reams of game information, like being able to password-protect your save games (CM 3 now lets you save as many games as you like, rather than having just one save per game), like being able to arrange pre-season tournaments, like having re-arranged games leading to teams having games in hand, all go towards improving the sense of immersion. And when PM Ninety Nine (as with Football World Manager) has the game rules wrong -- they rate teams on equal points in divisions 1, 2, and 3 by goal difference not goals scored -- you have to wonder a) just how much those people writing the game know about the game itself, and b) what the play-testers are up to -- they're probably all Man U. fans!
The level of realism in the game is good, though not perfect. I've found through four seasons of play (which has taken me some 50 hours of my real life!) that player values and stats are pretty much right. I saw Arsenal buy Shearer for 10.5M from Newcastle, for example. Player ratings (and thus values) are more balanced than in CM 2 (where defenders were over-valued) and strikers and attacking midfielders can now rate as highly as more defensive players, though this 'problem' is not completely fixed. Results are, if anything, overly realistic in that there's not as many Cup shocks as you might expect, and it is very hard to do well as a manager of a lesser team against higher division opposition, yet alone to do well in your own division. If anything, the number of goals scored is still a little high overall, but it is now not so hard to win away from home again (I recall a CM 2 patch making this a little too hard). Match stats are good -- no more keepers taking corners -- and tackle/passing stats look OK in general. The number of yellow cards is pretty much spot-on (expect a few suspensions as the season progresses). Oddly I have yet to see a player get sent off from getting two yellow cards in a game -- either a bug or maybe I've not seen enough games. Attendance numbers are more accurate, and rise and fall with team form -- though, for example, the Division 2 playoff final was hideously under-attended at just 18,000 people (50,000 isn't abnormal in real life). Gate receipts for lower league teams seem, if anything, a little low. But, overall, it's close enough to reality to keep all but the most picky of players hooked.
Despite my high praise for CM 3, there are some nits I can pick with the game, though these don't spoil the overall enjoyment. The most obvious is that my CM 3 CD starts up its auto-install script every time I put it in my CD drive, which is annoying. The manual is of the CD-insert variety, and although it runs to a good few pages it misses out on a lot of information, in particular what all the player stats really contribute to. Of course, you can try to work this out from within the game, but publisher EIDOS should have produced something a bit thicker for a strategy game of this depth.
The issue that may turn off more people than anything is the game speed; while match highlights can now be run at five speeds, inter-match pauses, even with multi-tasking turned on, can be big. It's a shame I can't (apparently) filter out matches that don't interest me (like the Copa America). This is most pronounced after you get sacked (I hate Dan MacAuley oh so much), at which point you can only 'have a turn' every Monday in which you apply for jobs. It took me five weeks, and 45-60 minutes of real time, to get a new job (at Preston), and the fact that you're not told about failed applications doesn't help either. I could have added myself back in as a new manager, but I prefer the realism of being a 'journeyman,' and I'm now doing nicely with Preston (and have bought up Plymouth's best young player...for a pittance too). It was also a little disconcerting that my sacking came out of the blue -- no vote of confidence was to be seen. Also, when I left the club the values of my players all fell sharply (probably some game balancing design thing, but odd nonetheless). One nice feature was that I kept my shortlist intact -- this is clearly done by player, not by club.
There would be a few items on my wish list. First would be the ability to filter out all players whose wages you couldn't afford when building your shortlist. The "interested" filter in the search options does this most of the time, but not wholly reliably. In some cases, wages can be made up for in signing-on fees though. There is no option to ask your directors to consider a stadium expansion, but if your attendences warrant it, you will get your capacity raised -- if you do beware a bit hit on your spending power! There are no games cancelled due to bad weather, which in reality is a problem in the lower leagues and adds to the end of season games in hand mayhem (American readers who are used to regular US football games may not understand this...sorry!) I would like to be able to delete those huge save game files from within the game, rather than having to do it under Windows. And I would like one screen that showed me my own choice of player attributes, such as a player's favored position, form, condition, and morale, something that's currently not possible.
Bugs? Well, not many. Players promoted from reserves to first team still seem to play in reserve team games sometimes, though this seems to have no ill effect on the player's condition. The marking screen seems a little broken -- if you move a player around on the tactical view you have to quit the screen and re-enter before he'll mark the player he's now lined up against from the opposing team. A niggle, but not exactly critical. Likewise the fact that delegated free kick takers appear to get forgotten with each match.
I do wonder a little about the new Euro Cup rules -- CM 3 continues with the Cup Winners Cup, though odds are that next season this will be axed, with all Cup winners joining the UEFA Cup. As this isn't (I believe) finalized yet, I guess it's not fair to criticize the authors for it, though oddly in my game the playoff winners from divisions 1 and 2 somehow ended up in a further playoff for a Cup Winners' Cup place. Weird. At least the Auto Windscreens Cup is included correctly, so as a lower league manager I'm happy at my chance for a Wembley day out.
Championship Manager 3 has taken the very successful format for CM 2 and expanded it in almost every area. The new features read like you'd expect most gamer's wishlists for a sequel would, and that's a testament to the Collyer brothers' great eye for good game design. The price for the new version is a hike in the system required to run it well, as well as a need for a little more patience between games, but in my view neither detracts from the overall gaming experience.
It's fair to say that CM 3 isn't a game for everybody -- PM 99 is probably more accessible, easier to get into for a footie novice, and has the "benefit" of some slick-looking match highlights -- but for raw realism, detail, and that magic immersion factor my preference lies with CM 3. At present there appears to be no US distributor for the game, so fans there will have to use a UK import site to get a copy. The game is as close to a management simulation, as opposed to a game, as you can get on a PC today. It's much, much more than an add-on, and players who thought they'd mastered CM 2 have got an awful lot of fun, excitement, and despair ahead of them. A soccer grognard's heaven.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Allen 2020-05-24 1 point
This is a blast from the past -you might consider it warm'up for seasons '01/'02/'03/'04/. Works like a charm on Win 10,follow exact steps for install and should be fine.I picked up a dutch div 3 team ,and i'm trying to promote them.Cheers to all managers outhere.Stay safe
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