Archived Pages from 20th Century!!
|Reviewed by: Barak Engel|
|Author:||Sierra On-Line||Price:||Street: £25 UK|
|Category:||Soccer Management simulation||Released:||November 1996|
|Multiplayer:||8-player "hotseat"||Under Win95:||Autoruns from CD|
|Graphic modes:||SVGA 640x480x256|
|Sound devices:||No sound, SB, SBP, SB16, SB32, RAP10, PAS, GUS, NMC Wave Jammer, ESS, ES688, MSS|
|Computer||Memory||HD space||CD speed||Reviewer's hardware:|
|Minimum||486DX33||8M||22M||2x||Aztech WavRider 32+ in SBP emulation mode, Diamond Stealth 64 2MB DRAM, Kensington Expert mouse trackball|
|Reviewed on||Pentium 90||24M||22M||4x|
[Ed's note: I supplied screenshots for the review, so please excuse the lowly Plymouth Argyle appearing more than would be statistically likely! - Tim Chown]
Game Demo from ftp.gamesdomain.com
That is what's boldly written on the box, anyway. Ultimate Soccer Manager 2, a new offering from Sierra (yeah, the guys from King's Quest), hails to be the new king of Soccer Management games. The game touts itself as "The most comprehensive football management sim yet", boasting almost unlimited training options, with the ability to draw up plays to be used during a match, financial options going as far as choosing what kind of merchandise is sold at your fan stores, full SVGA match representation, and even "real life" extras such as rigging matches and offering "bungs". All in all, this seems quite promising. Do we have a new bearer of the crown?
The New King?
After having my appetite roused with all the delicious options promised on the box cover, it occurred to me that maybe it was time I took the game out and started playing. Installation was a snap; take CD, open CD reader, put CD in reader, close reader, type install. No, really. Even in Windows 95, the installation ran faultlessly. A refreshing change. When you look at how badly Domark messed the Championship Manager 2 installation, you have to thank Sierra for making this one a snap. You do have to run a sound setup utility, but since the game uses solely digital sound, choosing "Sound Blaster" should work with any compatible sound card, even if its not listed. Even my Wavrider 32+, a notoriously (for me, at least) difficult card to configure, didn't complain.
The manual is sparse, trying to cover too much ground using too little substance. You get a (very!) basic description of most options, but otherwise are more or less thrown into the deep end. This also means that many control options and shortcuts are left for you to find out on yourself. Take, as an example, swapping players on the team roster. The manual tells you that you should left click on a player's name, click on a button marked "swap" (which is at the other end of the screen, of course), then left click again on the player to be swapped with. Very cumbersome. What it DOESN'T tell you, though, is that you can eliminate the "swap" button from the process by RIGHT-CLICKING on the first player's name, and then left clicking on the replacement. There are quite a number of such omissions, and the readme file, sadly, isn't of any help.
This becomes only a minor annoyance, though, as the game itself is presented very well indeed. The interface is smooth; Sierra has included an icon toolbar at the top of screen, which enables you to move from everywhere to anywhere within one click. And its not as if you have to memorize all those icon images. Hovering over an icon shows its description to the right of a small black bar at the top of the screen. And as most everything is right where you would expect to find it, this has to be one of the best interfaces I've ever seen. I grew used to it in 60 seconds flat.
The manager's office.
And it doesn't end there. All screens are fully SVGA, with readable fonts, generally without any clutter. Using a correct blend of colors and line spacings (except, maybe, in the team roster) eliminates much of the dreaded "info hunting", that is evident in such games as Premier Manager 3. Considering the seemingly overwhelming amount of options available, USM2 makes a real effort to help the player get on with having fun, and, in the most part, succeeds. Kudos to Sierra for that!
So how does it actually play? The game starts with you (and up to 7 others) having to pick a team to manage. All teams down to the conference league are present. You can (only) edit the teams before you start playing, including the team and player names. Then you get to choose the amount of starting cash available to you- in a multiplayer game, everyone gets the same amount. All that's left is choosing game parameters such as whether to allow match rigging (yes, you can offer "bungs" and bribe teams- just don't get caught), or have the commercial game (business management part) on, and off you go. I wish the game had a "random starting cash within limits" option, but thats a personal (and probably not so popular) preference.
You have to choose your audio settings (Music/Sound) at the beginning, and as far as the manual is concerned, stick with it. I spent many a frustrating hour trying to find a way to change the settings during the game. An eventual letter to one of the developers revealed that clicking on the small, black, description bar at the top of the screen brings up a sound setup menu. Why isnt this documented?!
The game itself is very, very accessible. And since everything uses the same evaluation method (percentile scoring), the player is saved the annoying task of translating everything to be on the same scale. Did I remark already on how accessible the game is?
From tiny acorns ... stadium development.
The main screen is a representation of your stadium and its surroundings, including everything from bars, parking and floodlights to the bank and your chairman's office. Everything, of course, is expandable- if you have the cash, you can build fan clubs, add covered terraces, the lot. You can even decide what kind of merchandise is sold at which stores. And should you feel that this is too much of a hassle, you can delegate these tasks to your (reasonably efficient) assistant.
Speaking of assistants, I must emphasize how well USM2 adapts itself to your pace. You can delegate almost every task, or dive in deeply. I have been able to run a reasonable 10 match "season" in 45 minutes - and play the span between two matches in 30. This means the game will appeal to the impatient as well as the patient, to the knowledgeable and the wary. Lovely.
Merchandising - rip the fans off? Never!
There are four places wherein you run your team- Your office, your chairman's office, the changing room, and the bank. All is very sensible: in your office you find all that is not coaching- transfers , club files, news, results from other competitions etc. Your chairman's is the place in which to decide on advertising, sponsors, ticket prices, and get sacked. The changing room is for coaching, training, and general handling of your staff and players. And the bank is, well, a bank- that's where you loan money or invest your excess cash to get some interest on it.
Training your chumps-to-be-champs is fun. Choose team training, where you have a day-by-day representation of your team's training schedule, or decide on individual training for each player. Deciding on team training is detailed, yet easy; there's a screen with a line for each day of the week, 6 spaces per line, each representing an hour of the day (say, 10-11 am). Using 16 different icons, put in a training scheme for each hour of each day. You can, for example, choose to work on Defense, Offense and penalties on Monday morning, then play 5-a-side all day on Tuesday. The same screen also shows you what areas of the play your team is stronger in, and where they need to improve.
After Tuesday, we'll be the 5-a-side champions!
Individual training works differently. You have to hire staff for that- there are coaches for every skill, themselves rated so you'll know who to hire. Of course, most of the time there is a limited amount of coaches available, which keeps things balanced (you cant just go out and get a superb coach for every skill!). In the individual training screen you have a listing of the players and the available coaches. Each coach has a different color. You pick a coach, then click on the specific skill under the player's listing you would like him to train. That player's skill value is then changed to the respective coach's color, so you will know who does what under whose supervision. Every player can individually train one skill at a time.
Another part of your squad are the scouts. You can ask them to watch after specific players, or set criteria for the them look for (say, a 20-26 years old attacker, value 100K-500K, with Shooting, Passing and Inspiration as his three primary skills). And this brings us to the transfer market.
The transfer system in USM2 is very simple. Too simple, in fact. You find a player you want, suggest a fee and contract, and immediately get an answer. No suspense. The much more realistic CM2 system springs to mind almost immediately. USM2, in this regard, feels unnatural; there is no sense of triumph in getting the player you want from under some other team's nose, nor the relief felt after a long negotiation. It just doesnt feel "real" enough.
The most intriguing feature of USM2 must be the tactics editor. Ever dreamt of devising that killer free kick, that no one will be able to defend against? Well, here you can do it. And it actually works. I have designed a corner kick play that gave me a decisive goal, 85 minutes into a cup match. Now THAT'S involvement! (Pity I accidentally overwrote it later...) of course, you have to let your team train on the new moves, otherwise they will look very silly when performing them on the field. And since you have to assign this training time at the expense of training in other areas, it is not as easy as find-the-killer-move-and-win-the-champs. Everything takes time, as it should, and letting your team fall behind in penalty taking because you want them to be the best upper corner takers in the league might be frustrating when you find yourself missing penalties right and left on the shoot-out in the semis.
You can, in addition to set plays, devise "real time" attacking and defensive maneuvers and you can pull amazingly intricate moves if you put enough time into it (and you have the right players to perform them). Thought of that killer right flank fast break? Put it into action, and maybe, several months later, you can upset the league leaders in an away match with it.
It is important to note that prepared plays are limited in nature to what happens on the field. Devising that fast break might be grand, but it is very possible that the specific run of events needed to prompt it into action will never happen. You create the plays based on where the ball is on the field (which is divided into a 4-by-3 grid) at a particular time- say, when the ball is out on your right wing with your wing-back try the move in the picture below. I must admit that I haven't gone as deep into this as is evidently possible, but I feel that it might well be worth the effort. And its fun...
Designing a "simple" move - the number 2 dribbles down the wing, while players 9 and 10 move down, attempting to pull away any man-markers hopefully leaving number 7 in on goal when player 2 makes a pass to him in the next step of the move.
The matches themselves are shown using the best match view I have ever seen in this type of game. You watch the field using a static , kickoff line, "camera", with little animations of the players (and refs) running around doing their stuff. This is so much better then anything else, that I just couldn't understand why its not the standard... that is, until I actually tried to play a match. The problems with the match view were so annoying, that I found it hard to believe I was playing the same, cleverly presented game.
First of all, why does the ball disappear from view the instant it crosses any line? I would much rather see it blow the net, or bounce off the side boards. Its confusing. A second, much more serious problem, is that you cannot effectively see who has the ball. You have the option of turning names, shirt numbers, or both, on, but because the player figures are so small, it is impossible to actually identify them, as names constantly get written one over the other. I would much rather have just the player's name who actually holds the ball written on the screen at any one time (as per FIFA'96). The fact that the current ball handler's name appears at the bottom left of the screen is no help at all, since you cannot effectively read it while also looking at the game itself. And, to top it all off, the ball itself is sometimes difficult to spot, especially on quick plays with lots of participating players.
And the ball goes to... err... the guy with the red shirt ... McManaman breaks through for Liverpool.
That's not all, of course. Oh no. Say you want to change a team related tactic, like change from soft to hard tackling. You would, presumably, think to yourself "Ill just hop into the team tactics screen, make the change, and go back", right? Wrong. What you CAN do is press on the "subs" button, wait until there is a stop in play, then make your change. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, but USM2 uses a strange (to be polite) time keeping mechanism. Time moves somewhat unrealistically, and I usually had to wait for between 5 and 15 minutes of game time before something happened (ball out of bounds, foul, goal, whatever) that enabled me to make the desired change. When was the last time you saw a football match that didn't stop for a full 15 minutes? Neither did I.
This is not to say that USM2's match view is so bad as to cripple the game. Once you do get to your team tactics screen, you can change things to your heart's content- choose a new corner kick taker, replace captains, change styles, formations... which makes it all the more frustrating when you cant do it anytime you wish. The time problem is allayed somewhat by "shouting from the lines", which enables you to change each player's specific instructions while the match is being played (you've had enough of the opposition's forward? Tell your central back to mark him from now on).
Its annoying that such a generally well designed product falls short in the one place where it should really shine. Seeing as the view itself is awesome, I believe that a little more care should have been taken in testing its functionality.
I know I haven't talked about stats yet. Thats because stats are not USM2's strong side. Players are depicted using a basic 9 skills (a percentile score), from Keeping and Shooting to Inspiration and the bizarre Throw-ins (I understand this was changed to Heading in the game engine, but the skill is still represented by TH). All values are absolute, which makes it much easier to choose the best players then it is in my favorite CM2 system. There is one hidden value, which relates to the player's personality- whether he is a team player, an egotist, etc. You can see this value using the edit option in the beginning of the game. This helps somewhat in creating a more realistic atmosphere, but I like CM2's approach better. Still, for beginners, this is a real boon, as they don't have to deal with duds, solists, and the like.
There is also a description for each player, noting his weaknesses and strengths, something in the lines of "Competent goal-scorer. Tends to drop out towards the end. Passed his peak". Morale is also listed, along with the player's thoughts about his future.
During matches, a player's performance is rated using a single percentile score. There is also very little in the match stats departement- just the basic "shots on goal, corners, fouls" type of listing.
Post-game stats. A bit paltry compared to CM2.
So do we have a new ruler? it depends. As much as CM2 focuses on the coaching aspect of football, USM2 does so on the management part. Its sort of like SimCity in a footballer's uniform. Stats-mongers should definitely stay away from it. On the other hand, USM2 can be a great way for beginners to be introduced to the field of football mannies- it is fun, easily understood, and grows on you (up to a point).
Mature players, who are not bent on statistics, and who would like to try a new experience should also consider this game favorably. I find the tactics editor, it being such a refreshing idea, almost impossible to resist. The match view, once you get over the shocking abnormalities, is magnificent. Think of Premier Manager 3's depth of management options, coupled with a blown up, One-Nil, semi 3D match play, and you get the picture.
CM2 will stay the king of "serious" football managers. But USM2 deserves its own kingdom, where newbies and adventurers alike are welcome.
Now if only someone combined USM2 and CM2 together...
|Appeal:||Beginners, and mature players who want to try something a little different.|
|Originality & Storyline:||What can I say? Its a soccer manager game.|
|Graphics & Video:||Very good.|
|Audio:||Good. How to turn it off is a trade secret.|
|Longevity:||Unless the finances eventually crumble, should take a long time to fe el "spent", especially with the tactics editor thingy.|
|Packaging & Docs:||Manual not detailed enough (to say the least).|
|Bugs & Problems:||Flawless, except that the "decrease price" button on cup ticket s doesnt work (you can still enter the value manually). Well, in my game, anyway.|
[Ed's note: In my version of USM2 I had the option of playing French or German leagues too, which is a very nice addition. The French league is 4 divisions, the German 6 (2 main ones and 4 feeder divisions). As a brief second opinion I agree very much with Barak's review - the game has so much to offer that CM2 does not, even including newspaper reports on your games. USM2 should be a fun game for those who want to play at being club director and trainer, as well as the guy who picks the team. The stats aren't as accurate as CM2 (eg. Bruce Grobelaar is only 28, and Plymouth's ground capacity is a mere 4,000!) but the game makes up for it in other ways, and you can always edit the team database. - Tim Chown]