Worldwide Soccer Manager 2006 Review (PC)

Where the freshly tea-stained surface doesn’t show through, my desk is covered in scraps of notes – tactical diagrams, player reactions, transfer targets, lists of deadweight and other tatters of paper scrawled with diagrams, numbers and comments. And frankly, for all the mind games, personalities, tactics and emotion inspiring moments within Worldwide Soccer Manager 2006 , I may as well be managing a real footy club.

The Sheffield blades take down Watford, 4-1 One of the useful new summary screens in WSM 2006

From the makers of the legendary Championship Manager, the Football Manager series has always been the undisputed crème de la crème of soccer management games. The question is *not* how much better this game is than the likes of LMA and FIFA, but rather how much of an improvement has been made since WSM 2005 apart from the obligatory annual database update.

Much like its predecessors, WSM 2006 provides hours of absolute addiction as you bathe in the fantasy of soccer management. It’s beginning to be difficult to think of anything the series doesn’t simulate that constitutes part of a real manager’s job.  The rollercoaster moments of knuckle-chewing stress followed by spontaneous joy, or despair, are certainly present.

FM boasts a bucket-load of new features to the game, this is perhaps to compensate for the rather disappointing ‘media mind-games’ being the only noticeable new thing in 2005 (aside from the name change). Perhaps the most notable is the addition of an in-game help system where-by an F1 key-press will bring up a description of the current screen and explain what the hell all those weird menus and numbers mean. It’s actually pretty helpful, even to a veteran; if perhaps it’s not the completely comprehensive ‘tutorial’ SI Games try to pass it off as. One of my favourite additions to the game is that players now have a page of information which displays in a very simple format which positions they can play in, and how well they play there.

In addition to the aforementioned, referees now have their own stats and history, and managers – including the player themselves – have contracts which allows for players to ‘negotiate’ for extra transfer funds or wage budget when their contract is expiring.

Alright, so it’s the start of the season. Important decisions are to be made – tweak the training regime, come up with a match-winning tactic, think about bringing in some new faces, determine who the overpaid monkeys are that need to be flushed out, and then test out effect of your actions in the pre-season friendlies.

Training has experienced a major re-haul in this incarnation of the series – which it needed quite frankly. It has been simplified to some degree, and it seems to make a lot more sense now. The crazy planner-style table of training events has gone, and in its place is a user-friendly slide bar system split into self-explanatory categories. The system allows you to decide upon the balance between nine various areas of training, and then set the total work-load individually for players.

Half a second later it's a goal, honest 5-1? I make the obvious team-talk choice

The tactical system in WSM, for me, has always been one of the most compelling elements of the game. Aside from, debatably, transfers, this is the most influential effect the manager can have on a team. The system is massively complex, allowing you to change anything from the formation and general team orders – how wide your team will play, how short they’ll keep the passing, etc –  to incredibly detailed individual player instructions – how often the player will attempt crosses, how heavy the player will dive in for tackles, etc. By coincidence no two WSM players in the world would have exactly the same tactic. Although very little has changed in the way that the player can design the tactics, the game engine has certainly been adapted from WSM 2005 to prevent old ‘super’ tactics being reused.

Transfers are essentially a four step process in the game. First you perform a player search which allows you to set parameters for anything from nationality to creative vision. Then you scour over the player’s attributes – of which there are 36 not including things like height, age and hidden stats – and bearing in mind the cost you pick out the potential stars. But of course – you can’t see a complete list of attributes for most players because the game uses a fog-of-war style stat-masking system which means to comprehensively select new players you have to send your club scouts out to observe them first.

After deciding on a purchase you make an offer to the player’s club, which they must accept before you can finally begin contract discussions with the player themselves. Whilst doing all this of course, a measure must be taken for things such as the money your club can afford, whether the player will want to come to a club of your reputation, whether he’ll get on with the other players in the club, and so on.

There’s nothing quite like being a professional soccer manager, standing on the touchline, masterminding the team win. Except for WSM 2006 of course – which is almost exactly what I imagine it to be like. Ever since the introduction of the in-game 2D match engine, which allows you to watch the full damn real-time 90 minutes if you should choose, WSM has no longer been confined to the tedious world of text-only management games. Just one comment about the sounds in this game designed to ‘liven up’ your 2D match experience – turn them off.

New to this version is the team talk feature which allows you to share your half-time thoughts with your squad. Generally these tend to be the likes of ‘what the hell was that!’ when you’re losing and ‘harrah, keep it up lads!’ otherwise, and I’m not entirely convinced how great an effect this actually has on the game, or even if it should.

Kevin Blackwell seems to think he can mess with my mind It's Beckham - overrated in games as in life

Top game moment: Cracking the team whip, devising the tactics and playing mind-games with opposition managers to smash a six-game losing streak with a 4-1 win. Nothing beats it; the lads can have a half-pint on the management tonight.

There’s no doubt about this one, it’s the best damn management game ever made … again. Old fans will be thoroughly entertained by the brilliance they already know and with a new in-game help there has never been a better time for newbies to dive into the world of footy management. All the professional leagues and players worldwide are featured in the game – many of whom have an in-game mug shot so you can see just how ugly pro-sportsmen are – and they have all been thoroughly re-contemplated by SI as they update the database for the 2006/07 season.

And for the record, multiplayer hot-seat WSM 2006 is pretty much the most addictive thing you can do with one PC, a notebook and a big pot of tea.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.