Football Manager, an evolution of management simulation. The basis of countless fan's "I could do a better job than (inset under-pressure manager name)" arguments and so detailed, Everton are using it to scout players. In terms of football management simulation, this is the creme de la creme, but has the 2009 edition actually improved matters?
Many fan's first gripe with the series has been the rather action-less match engine, and rightly so. Considering the Sports Interactive staff have honed a linkup with Sega ever since the series split from its Championship Manager franchise in 2003, it's quite simply not acceptable that a 3D engine has not entered the fray until now. And when it did, it shipped with problems. Those running Steam hardware were unable to use it and it wasn't until the patched version 9.2 arrived in December before everyone's problems evaporated.
The 3D engine is a welcome change from its 'Tactics Board' 2D predecessor and finally allows users to at least form a reasonable opinion on whether that goal really was a "screamer" or not. Also added is more-detailed Press interaction in the form of pre and post match conferences. Although the questions asked are indeed rather repetitive, it's a step forward and you can always send the assistant to do the rounds if you really can't be arsed.
Of course the most important thing is gameplay and predictably Sports Interactive have intelligently adopted the "if it ain't broke" philosophy. You can manage virtually any team in any league in the world, player attributes are faithfully recreated by their army of worldwide scouts and within 10 minutes or so (on most machines), you'll be up-and-running. Players get annoyed if you don't play them, flutter their eyelids at richer clubs (Ronaldo accepted Bernd Schuster's praise, saying it's always nice to receive praise) and even get struck down with flu. Just like real football, you might say.
The main gripes I have with this particular incarnation is the fact that it's not playable straight out of the box. Unless you have presumably the SI machine of choice, you will need to download the patches and perhaps the game should have been delayed to accommodate this (and miss the traditional November release - are you crazy?!). Also it is slightly disappointing the lack of licenses on show, in particular the majority of clubs and player pictures are represented by silhouettes and generic shields in team colors. This of course means yet more downloading from faithful sites like sortitoutsi.net to really feel like a modern interactive experience.
In terms of competition, well there isn't any. The other half of the Championship Manager split - Eidos' series of the same name continues to be a poor arcade-like competitor and EA's Club Manager franchise is full of glossy shine, but little realism. Football Manager, like Pro Evolution Soccer (in match simulation) continues to reign supreme over management land and unfortunately to enjoy the richest gaming experience, you have to take all its flaws, which I'm delighted to say (as long as you can run the game) are far outweighed by its strengths. A real improvement on its predecessor and just far too addictive.