PS2 gamers are unfortunate as they don't get the hit football management game Championship Manager, fortunately Codemasters have provided an up to date version of their successful series LMA Manager.
The game is a standard football management sim, putting you in charge of a football team in any of the English Divisions from Premiership down to the third, and a variety of foreign teams. Now i'll be honest, with many games you can talk for hours, explaining what the game is all about and talking in depth about individual features that make the game special. With LMA Manager there isn't a huge amount to say, also the game isn't a huge departure from its' previous incarnations. In brief the game is all about statistics, strategy, patience and a good knowledge of the sport. Like other games you are in charge of a football team, you are responsible for training your squad, purchasing and selling players, deciding on formations and tactics along with a whole host of other duties. You can select for the coach to automatically assign training and for a commercial manager to be in charge of your finances, fortunately you can fine tune the support offered by the game to ensure there is a balance between your control and removing the more mundane aspects of management from your responsibilities.
LMA allows you to watch matches, actually to be a bit more honest it 'forces' you to watch matches, because if you choose to skip then you have no control over your team and it takes nearly as long for the game to simulate a result. Luckily you are allowed to speed time up so games don't take an age to play out. Graphically the matches are nothing special, they merely do the job. The main advantage of a graphical simulation of a match is that you can see where your team is weak and therefore make decisions on how to improve your squad.
One key feature that I really love is 'dugout commands', we've all seen it for real when a manager is screaming from the dugout, telling the 'troops' to change their tactics. Well you can do this in the game, there are four commands that you can give, defensive play, all out attack, long ball and keep possession. This allows for a dynamic change to help win a match, the good part of this is that you can actually see the style of play change, this then allows you to see if their are further weaknesses such as poor formation or a player that is under performing. The Xbox version of the game allows you to plug in your headset and actually shout the commands to your players. It's good to see companies getting extra use out of available peripherals, but in this instance I don't think a headset is neccessary as yours fingers are free to push the buttons as you aren't doing anything with them. Most importantly of the 'dugout commands' make a huge difference to the way you play the game. It really helps you get involved with play rather than just waiting for a score.
LMA Manager is custom made for the PS2 so from day one the control system was designed around a Dual Shock control pad. At first the controls feel a bit 'alien', in fact I hated the controls for the first 30 minutes of play, menus and sub-menus are accessed by using all four of the shoulder buttons. L1and R1 cycle main menus and L2 and R2 cycle through sub menus. Inside each sub menu the circle button cycles through different areas of the page. Once you adjust to the control method you'll find that itis very efficient and comfortable. Like all great control schemes it helps absorb you into the game as you are never consciously trying to work out which buton to press.
The sound is a mixture of good and bad. The highlights section features commentary from Alan Hanson and Gary Lineker. This is clearly done to add realism to the game, unfortunately it removes from the games in many ways. There are a very large amount of spoken lines in the game which does add to variety, the big problem is the lines sound stitched together. For those of you who are familiar with automated telephone services where a message is made up from chunks of speech bolted together you will feel right at home with the games commentary. Expect the following "That was sensational play by...Wolverhampton...", the tone and the pitch of the segments don't seem to matchup at all and the pauses between words are too long or occasionally too short.
While the game doesn't have the 'X factor' present in Championship Manager it does have addicitive qualitites, I was quite frequently saying to myself 'i'll just finish this match then I'll turn it off' 30 minutes later I would be saying 'I'll just play till I see the cup draw'. The game definitely draws you in and will keep you hooked.
One odd fact with the up-to date statistics is that they are a bit too up to date. The game lets you take over a team for the start of the 2003/2004 season, but all of the transfers that took place in the early part of the season have taken effect. This does harm the game because it doesn't really replicate the true 03/04 season.For example the Wolves start off with Carl Cort and Paul Jones, neither of which started the season in the real game. This is unfortunate and can be quite annoying.
For those of you that buy the game I would reccomend starting in one of the lower Divisions and working your way up, start with one of the team where you're expected to get a play off place or promotion. The game is way more enjoyable doing this rather than starting off as one of the best teams and winning most things from the start.
This game is definitley worth renting out for the weekend though only fans of the sport will truly want to buy. The few problems that are found with the games sound can be forgiven due to some top quality gameplay, spot on control system and addicitve gameplay.