Review by Tom Clark

Reviewed: 07/14/01 | Updated: 01/16/02

When it comes to football management, accept no substitute!

Okay, here's the deal. Everyone knows that the best football management games are on PC. Right? And football management on Playstation, being ported over from PC, is overcomplicated and downright crap, right? Wrong. There's a new player in town (pun intended, but apologised for), and it's here to give the PC big boys a run for their money. This game is designed specifically with the good old Playstation in mind, and although LMA 2001 is the second in the franchise, it is more than merely the same game as the first but with more up to date statistics (unlike the woefully unoriginal LMA 2002), more it is a complete overhaul of the original LMA Manager.

This is the sort of game that was never meant to be visually stunning. Aside from the matches you will spend most of your time staring at hordes of facts and figures, spread across the plethora of menu screens on display in the game: there are menus for almost everything. You can rebuild your stadium, hire and fire staff, hunt for players with the amazingly uncomplicated player database, right through to being able to see the team of the week for your specific division (the best eleven players in the league for that week, conveniently placed in your current formation) - and you may well be filled with a sense of real pride at seeing one of your players mentioned here. You can even see who won those leagues in the past ten years (which is historically accurate right up to the 1999-2000 season!). Moreover, any screen that shows you player's names also allows you to bid for those players. So if you need a better goalkeeper, for example, you can select the team of the week, and bid from there. Whether you will be able to entice the goalie from the league leaders to abandon his high flying lifestyle to join you in your relegation struggle is doubtful, but trying is part of the joy of the game.

This is a game that will last. The full game will go for roughly 30 seasons, and each season will probably last you at least 20 hours, so this game is definitely value for money. How much or how little involvement you have during this time is up to you- you can choose to be involved in every aspect of running a football club, from shirt sponsorship and stadium design to training and wage negotiating, or you can choose to have a full roster of staff at your disposal to deal with these matters, leaving you to worry about team selection and tactics. I personally went straight in at the deep end, having only minimal staff, and this option certainly provides you with a real challenge, I assure you! In fact, there are so many different ways in which this game can flex your footballing brain - Every team in the English Football League is available for you to play as, and picking Manchester United, for example, provides a different mission objective to managing someone like York City - while the former will expect you to win everything going, and will hand you ridiculous amounts of funding to do so, the latter want nothing other than to avoid humiliation by finishing as the bottom club in the whole of the league, and offer you next to no amount of cash to work with - although the game doesn't allow you to be relegated from the whole league in the same way as the real sport does, that doesn't mean that finishing in the bottom few teams in division three is not seen as a failure. Although at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the two examples here share one thing in common, they each present their own problems to you, and make for a gripping, though difficult, game.

As in real football, players pick up injuries and suspensions that can devastate your future plans. You can be ready for the big cup final, having scouted your opposition for weeks. You could have decided who will be your playmaker in this game - the poor unfortunate upon who's shoulders will rest the fate of the game, and then in the day before the match the spanner stubs his toe, calling for quick thinking, and possibly the need to pluck an eager player from the youth team to fill his place. Youth team players can be signed on temporary two week contracts if you don't want to commit to a full deal, and this can prove more cost effective than a trip to the transfer market. Have a look through your youth team every few months - there are often talented players just waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Playing as a lowly division three team I signed a young striker in the midst of a minor injury crisis in my squad, and within two seasons he was worth nigh on two million pounds, which is a higher asking price than some players in the higher divisions!

So your team is ready. You've sorted your tactics. All that's left is the big match. When it comes to matchday the graphics are passable (although ironically the game looks better when you are working through the menu screens). Although the action on pitch is easy to follow, and control through handy shoulder-button controlled tactical changes, the player numbers can be hard to distinguish if they are in a darker colour. For example, if my team is playing in red I find it difficult to make out which player is no. 12 and which is no. 22.

Sound in the game is fairly limited. The Match Of The Day style highlights after your latest appearance on the pitch features commentary from the laid back Scouse drawl of pundit Alan Hanson, although this commentary is very rarely accurate, and is of more use as comic relief than as serious analysis. Other than that, the only notable sound in the game is the frequent appearance of the goddawful track 'Eat My Goal', mercifully not usually seen outside of trailers for upcoming events on Sky Sports.

There are minor flaws in the game - the wage budget is very tight, for example - you may find that you have millions in the bank, but are unable to complete a free transfer without releasing one of your top players - but that just adds to the frustration and pain that goes with being a football fan, and it really is an almost emotional experience seeing the player you just broke the bank in order to buy appearing for your team for the first time. It must also be said that people with no real interest in the tactical side of football may find this game with it's reliance on statistics and it's large wealth of options very daunting to start off with, but being thrown in to the game just days before the first match of the season kicks off certainly means that you learn fast!

This is without doubt the best management sim on the humble Playstation, but more than that, it is good enough to compete with the likes of Eidos' Championship Manager series on the PC. Although flawed, this game is still fantastically captivating, maniacally addictive, and an utterly superb alternative to the likes of Tomb Raider and Resident Evil. Not to everyone's liking, but if Football management or tactical thinking water your pitch, look no further.

Rating: 9

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