Another guest review by Gegs.
Who in their right mind would want to be a football manager? Judging by the sales of management games of recent years every football fan in the country. Its all fine and dandy when your at the top and winning, the fans love you and believe you can walk on water, the directors put a friendly arm around your shoulders warding off any other club that looks to snap you from under their noses. The same cannot be said however when you are languishing at the wrong end of the table and results just aren't going your way, then the fickle public call for your head and the directors are issuing you ultimatums left, right and centre. The reason we are drawn to football management games is because deep down every football fan believes that they can do better than the current manager of their team, come Saturday afternoons at kick-off we all become geniuses of the game and have more tactical knowledge than Alex Ferguson. With the current instalment of the LMA series Codemasters offer you the chance to prove what you are made of and take control of a team to guide them to a glorious trophy or two, or to crash and burn as your team plummet into relegation.
I will begin with a warning; this game can become very addictive. Many times I was up into the small hours of the morning desperately trying to fathom why my team were leaking like a sieve in defence and why my attackers had forgotten what the goal looks like. It can be frustrating and annoying but I just couldn't bring myself to stop playing, no matter how bad the performance of my players I still stuck by them believing that all we needed was a little bit of luck to turn things around. The game is so in depth and offers you so many things to control that to begin with you feel a little bit lost, as you learn however navigation of the different menus becomes second nature. It doesn't offer the huge amount of stats that the Championship Manager games offers, but LMA Manager 2003 doesn't suffer because of this.
You begin the game by taking control of any team that you wish to, all of the major leagues are available such as the English Premiership and Italian Serie A and it is your choice which country and at what level you start. For those who want to work their way up from the grass roots level you can take control of a non-league team, however if you wish to join the big boys straight away you can. It really just depends how you wish to play the game, if you begin with a bigger team obviously the pressure is much greater and the game can be a lot harder because of the expectation. This can be tempting because if you have a problem in the team you have the cash to buy your way out, choosing the other option of a lower team puts your management skills to the full test because you have to stick with what you've got or do some very shrewd dealings in the transfer market.
The first thing you are presented with when starting the game is the communication window, this comes in the form of email where news from your directors, coaches and scouts is presented in messages. Everything that happens concerning your team will first come to your attention here, you are informed of scout reports on players you are watching, coaches give you training reports telling you of players improvements and the directors will inform you of any transfer bids for your players and feedback on bids you have made yourself. Once you receive a message you can either choose to bin it or you move to another screen containing more information on the news you have been given.
Once you have been given the objectives the directors require you to achieve at the end of the season you can get your hands dirty and take a real look at the team you have inherited. The first menu presents you with your current squad, LMA presents players with a bar rating, the higher the bar the better the player so it is easy to tell with just a quick glance the quality of players you have got in your squad. The players are also colour coded so you can tell which position they play in, if the name of the player is in yellow their primary position is in defence for instance and red means it is in attack. LMA Manager 2003 has a huge amount of real life players, even youth squads are included, if you have ever wanted to purchase Michael Owen now is your chance.
The tactics menu offers a wide variety of different ways in which you can instruct your team to glory, there are the usual standard formations such as four four two, but also included are tactics from old classic teams like Brazil's World Cup winning formation and England's 'Christmas Tree' formation in Euro 96. The option to further develop you team is also available with the ability to change how attack minded they are and individual player roles can be delegated as well. The tactics can also be changed during the match from the bench, LMA Manager 2003 uses a system where you can give out instructions with the press of a button like telling your team to defend more or take more time on the ball, it is a nice touch that you hear these instructions barked from the bench.
The actual matches themselves are very entertaining to watch, you are given a side on view of the pitch and see your teams every move. This can be watched speeded up so the games can last just a few minutes, this can become a bit confusing because the action can be so fast that you haven't got a clue what is happening. The matches can be completely skipped and you can just see the result. After each match you can view all of the highlights, results and tables in the interactive television, this also pops up every time other matches have been played and can be a bit irritating but doesn't spoil the game.
LMA Manager 2003 also contains a complete scouting system so it can be easy to find that certain player you need to add a little bit of edge to your team. You can give specific criteria of what type of player you are looking for and the results of all matching players are instantly brought up for you. You can then assign a scout to the player who will come back to you with three reports on him telling you whether the scout feels the player will fit into your team and whether they are likely to leave their current team. Once you have taken on board this information you then decide to either bid for the player or turn your interests elsewhere. All of the latest changes to the transfer system have been included in the game with all the new transfer windows and rules protecting younger players all upheld.
This game is beautifully done and has so much depth to it that it is impossible to just play it for a short while. It really offers a decent football management title for the Playstation 2, until this game I had only ever found that Championship Manager had ever held my attention when it came to this genre, LMA Manager 2003 however has gripped me in much the same way. There are some really nice touches in this game, one of which being the ability to develop your stadium as your team becomes more successful, each team in the game has a graphical representation of their ground that changes as you add more seats and stands, you can even change the different styles of stand. The only gripe I have got about this game is the difficulty, it can be really tough to get your team winning and after your tenth defeat in a row you can become a little disheartened, but if you can overcome this then it is truly a brilliant game.