Ultimate Soccer Manager logo Amiga Computing Gold Award

Tina Hackett takes a look at Impressions' venture into the football management world which could reach the parts other games of this type have failed to reach.

INTRODUCTION

Footy fans will be cheering. Non-footy fans will be holding their heads in their hands in despair! Yes, it's another football management sim but before you switch off - this one is different I promise.

It's by Impressions, yes those people behind rather serious strategy games, but it promises the same attention to detail as their other games - plys a novel twist! As well as having a full business game, you have the opportunity to play underhand should you so wish.

FLASHBACK

Where do I start this one? There are just so many football management sims I could compare this to. However, this is really in a league of its own (if you'll excuse the pun!). The nearest game I can think of that's close to this is Ascon's On The Ball which had both a World Cup Edition and a League Edition. This was another visually superb game which went for a less text-based approach. However, it doesn't have as much to it as this.

Other management games that spring to mind are the excellent Premier Manager series and Domark's Championship Manager.

Both have been well received and proved highly popular, and both have quite a statistical angle which more serious gamers and those that have a good knowledge of football enjoy. Impressions, while retaining a good deal of realism and detail, have opted for a more fun approach. This will give it a wider audience, appealing to both footy manager sim junkies and those normally disinterested in the genre.


 

PLAYABILITY

There are millions of features in Ultimate Soccer Manager and it would take me many pages to tell you about them all. But what I can do is highlight some of the more innovative, and those that work particularly well.

One new slant to the genre is the way the game approaches the seedier side of football. For instance, if things aren't going your way or you simply want to play dirty, you can offer bungs to another manager if you are having trouble signing one of his players. And if things are getting really desperate, you can rig a match by offering the opposing team a large sum of money. A word of warning though - the FA may investigate your dealings and you risk losing your job or your libery.

There is an excellent business sim option and if you choose to play with this option on you will be able to build your own shops, stalls and restaurants. Your supporters must have access to the buildings - they're not much use if no one can get to them - so roads need to be built around the stadium. You'll also have to set merchandise prices and make sure your catering costs are competitive.

Your financial decisions can have a marked effect on the outcome of the game though, and you'll have to make sure your money-making skills are up to scratch. However, you can turn this facility off and let your assistant manager handle this side for you should you want to concentrate more on the actual football.

The bank manager needs to be dealt with too, whether it's to apply for a loan or make use of a high interest amount, and it's worth staying on his good side if you need money for a top class player later on.

Depending on how difficult you want the game to be, you can have varying amounts of starting cash, from £250,000 to £5,000,000. The team you can choose will also affect this, for instance you can start with teams from the Premier League such as Manchester United, or one of the lowlier teams from the Conference League.

One the actual team side, you'll have to make sure your squad are on form and are receiving the proper sort of training. You can choose which coaches you want to employ and allocate them to work on players' particular skills. It's worth employing a good coach but those available to you will depend on the club's status and also on the information they receive from your current coaches.


 

SOUND

Football management games are notoriously sparse in the sound department and this has often been justified with the reason that this kind of game 'doesn't really need any.' This maybe so, but I think it really adds a lot more atmosphere and realism to the proceedings.

However, the background music is far from brilliant and in fact it becomes almost depressing. But thankfully, you can turn this off and choose the rather excellent sound effects instead. Click on the newspaper and you get the realistic crinkling of paper, or make some ground improvements and a building noise starts.

The actual match sounds are good too, from crowd cheers to the ref's whistle. These may all appear superficial and unnecessary but they really compliment the action well.

75%

 

GRAPHICS

Unlike some other management games, this is far less text based and uses a variety of beautifully drawn screens and animations. As the stadium development plays an important part, you get an aerial view of the pitch and surrounding area. As it progresses you get to see how your stadium develops. This screen also has a practical purpose and allows you to access other parts of the game such as the training ground or the bank.

The other characters you meet add a nice touch too and rather than having to work from a screen full of numbers, you actually get a background of a bank, and a picture of the manager. This is the same for the Chairman, and both have been nicely animated and actually talk to you (well, speech bubbles) which really gives more of a human angle.

However, despite the high quality in other areas, I felt the actual match day graphics were very poor. You are given an overhead view of the pitch and the sprites are tiny, indistinguishable blobs. But what it lacks in graphical grace it makes up for in being rather practical. You can see how your formations are working out and change tactics accordingly.

A Teletext system provides you with plenty of important information and looks like the real thing - complete with Fastext buttons, which all add to an authentic environment.

Other animations such as the paper coming out of the fax machine or the file drawers opening when you click on them all make for a highly polished product.

85%

 

OPINION83%

There have been plenty of good management games around of late and I was slightly sceptical when yet another arrived on my desk. However, this is one quality title and thankfully it's different from all the others - and what's more, it's fun! Although it isn't packed with stats it gives you plenty of details to enable you to make informed decisions, and the more serious side still works very well.

What really makes it, though, is the additional business game and the dirty tricks side. The graphics are also exceptional and you get a better sense of realism, especially with the clever way you can access the information from their 'real-life' homes (e.g. the team list on the notice board) which adds variety.

The whole game comes across as extremely polished with great attention to detail. Highly recommended to both fans of the genre and those that would normally give this a wide berth.



Abstiegskandidaten unter sich

Der Meister logo

Für einen starken Fußballmanager ist immer Saison - doch Greenwood und Impressions haben leider nur zwei schwächliche Kicker-Sims ("Der Meister" & "Ran Trainer") aus der Programmierkabine geholt.

Bei Impressions' Soccermanager darf nur ein Solodirektor ran, um aus einem der 108 deutschen Fußballvereine eine Elitetruppe für die Teilnahme an den Euro-Pokalwettbewerben zu formen.

Die benötigten Geldsummen werden durch Grillbuden, Fanartikelläden und Cafes hereingespüllt, und auch die in das ausbaufähige Stadion strömenden Zuschauer sowie etliche Werbepartner tragen ihr Scherflein bei.

So weit, so nett, doch in der Praxis erweist sich die Mannschaftsbetreuung wie (über-) komplex: Mittels Maus und einer Unzahl von Menüs kann man bis zu fünf Trainer einstellen sowie Transfermärkte und Trainingslager besuchen, bevor es in Formationen wie 4-4-2 oder 4-4-3 auf den von oben gezeigten Rasen geht.

Der Spielablauf - sofern man sich nicht mit dem sofortigen Endergebnis begnügt - läßt sich vierfach beschleunigen und jederzeit unterbrechen, um den einzelnen Jungs taktische Anweisungen (Manndeckung, mehr über die flügel...) zu geben.

Über mangelnden Tiefgang kann sich hier keiner beschweren, wohl aber über die lahme Akustik und die extrem unhandliche Menülawine.

Am erträglichsten ist noch die bei der ansonsten identischen 500er Version naturgemäß etwas blässere Optik.

Fazit: Gegen den ranTrainer mag der Meister aufgrund der besseren Vorarbeit gewinnen, gegen Highlights des Genres steht er auf verlorenem Posten. (st/md)



Ultimate Soccer Manager logo

Price: £34.99 Publisher: Impressions 0171 372 7435

Football management games. Train spotting more like. How can you get enjoyment out of poncing around with a team's structure and finance? Where's the thrill?

If football management games were solely about strategy and statistics then we would be on to a winner here. And no one is more experienced in strategy fields than our old friend Impressions, hence the inclusion of a business game option in Ultimate Soccer Manager. This, along with match rigging, bungs and general shady dealing are its main gameplay-related unique selling points.

You can play the game as either a straightforward train 'em, buy 'em, pay 'em and position 'em simulation, keeping your players happy and developing their skills, or you can add in the additional headaches and mighty challenges of building a proper first division style business empire, with sponsorship etc.

This business game continues in the background whether you select the option or not, it just isn't handled with flair. This many not be a disadvantage at first. You will never make wads of cash with your assistant manager in charge, but you could lose some if you take over the reins before you really know what the game is all about.

Yeovil for the winners cup
Ultimate starts off with a choice of teams from the premiership, first, second, third and conference divisions. You can edit the stats of the players on the teams you pick, but this is cheating; this way you could take Yeovil Town of Woking, bottom of the conference tables, change their player stats to 99 in all areas and win, win, win. Ha! No need to spend any money buying in players when yours are better than the Premier division's! Selling them will eventually realise a fortune too.

However, things are not all rosy if you take this option from the start. As your players perform well, their value increases and the lure of a top division club may get too much for them. Once their skill has been proved in the first season, you will have to regularly re-negotiate contracts and pay them much more than you really should have to. Even then they might get a bung or a better offer elsewhere, and you'll lose out a transfer tribunal ruling or through retirement.

The difficulty level is selected by how much money you start off with. This can be anything from £250,000 to £5M, depending on how skilled you become. Although £250,000 sounds like a lot of money, when you scan the transfer market you won't find many decent players for much under this. Also, the minimum amount for upgrading the terraces is £250,000.

Following this is the option screen which, among other things, allows you to turn the management game and match rigging on and off. Next you'll see a disclaimer screen. You see, all this bunging and rigging might not please the real life managers and players referred to in Ultimate Soccer Manager, because most of them would never dream of engaging in this sort of thing. Oh no.

3D isometric viewpoint
The game consists of six main zones, each of which has its own separate sub-screens. The opening screen is a 3D isometric view of the grounds and the surrounding area. Using this you can click on any of the five other areas immediately available; the bank, the playing field, the training ground, the manager's office and the chairman's office.

As usual the manager's office is the centre of the action. It contains a filing cabinet, fax machine, telephone, a notice board and a desk, upon which you will find a newspaper after most matches.

The filing cabinet has four drawers, the top one lets you see the status, stats and pay of your players. The second lets you see the state of the club in historical terms. The third is a record of how well you as a manager are doing and the fourth is a miscellaneous drawer with various statistics about the chairman's confidence, fan's confidence etc.

The fax machine is where you arrange friendlies, look at the transfer lists, buy and sell players and receive bills (or in some cases get nice things like tax rebates). The phone is for your more shady dealings; rigging matches, betting on the outcome and offering bungs.

In terms of transfers you will find it impossible to get a top division player to move to the lower echelons, even if you offer dodgy bungs. The only way they will move is if they are dissatisfied, but you run the risk of losing them again unless you pay them enough.

On the subject of bungs and match rigging, to try this you'll need wads of cash... and luck, 'cos the old football authorities frown on this sort of thing. If you offer a bung more than four or five times without succeeding you could get investigated and fire. That's the end of the game by the way, so it's a good job there are ten save game slots.

Get your hotdogs here
From the main isometric screen you can click on any of the shops, pubs and restaurants you've built and adjust the prices that are being charged. With the business game on you will have to offer people more than just a good entertaining game, you need to keep their tummies full and give them good value for money in team souvenirs, This merits constant attention because people will pay much more for souvenirs and refreshments when a cup or European fixture is at your grounds than for a normal league game.

Building pubs, shops and new stands costs money and this can be obtained by getting sponsorship and advertising. Here the assistant manager will help out by filling up hoardings as soon as they become free. Unfortunately he's not very business orientated, so you're better off switching him off and choosing them yourself.

The players are rated from 1-99 in seven categories; keeping, tackling, passing, shooting, pace, fitness, and age with the best strikers naturally having the best shooting ability and the best defenders having the best tackling ability. Age not only effects fitness, it also determines the player's ability to improve and his likelihood of retirement.

Expensive trainers
You can hire trainers in most of the above areas, though you're only allowed five coaches so you may need to fire them as better ones become available. Coaches are attracted by high pay and successful teams.

The interface for selecting the team and formation is easy to understand and operate, with a tool bar which will take you to any area of the game by right-clicking the mouse.

The game itself is viewed from above and the pitch takes up the left hand half of the screen. The right-hand side has a pause button, an instant replay button, a speed button and a 'subs' button. Before you start play there is the option of getting an instant result, but if you decide to watch the match right through, the speed button will allow you to move faster by a factor of up to eight.

By clicking on the pause button and then on a player you get to have limited control over their actions by ordering them to play up, back, right, left and in the case of defenders, man-to-man. By pressing the 'subs' button you will have the opportunity to either substitute a player or change formation and style of play.

Conclusion
Ultimate Soccer Manager does not quite live up its name. Ultimate Soccer Strategist might have been a better choice. Ascon's On The Ball series remains top of the management pile, largely because of its genuine footy atmosphere, whereas Ultimate is a worthy strategy and statistics game that really just happens to be about football.

To get the most from it you really do have to play the full business game and it takes a while to get into the swing of things. The player interface is good, the graphics are good and it's addictive. It's just not brilliant. More for strategy fans than pure football ones.



Ultimate Soccer Manager AGA logo AGA

As yet another football management game trundles off the production line, Steve Bradley assesses the costs of lettuce in the United States.

Perhaps there is a bandwagon trundling the streets of this fair isle. Perhaps this wagon stops occasionally, outside the gleaming front entrances of our friends the software companies, and a chap jumps out, bangs on the doors and implores the occupants to come outside and read his sandwich board.

It reads thus (bear in mind it's a big sandwich board). "Friends," it exclaims. "Friends, I have an opportunity for YOU. Friends, the football management game sells like the medicine bottles of the back of my truck. The football management game cures all, soothes the bank manager and hits the upper reaches of the charts within weeks. Friends, there may well be others which claim to do the same but the people, yes, the people, want MORE. Give them MORE."

Ultimate Soccer Manager gives you more. Ultimate Soccer Manager embraces the statistics that many of you are so fond of and even finds the time to include some positively Theme Park-esque ground-building options., providing of course, you don't choose to manage the Uniteds of Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and the rest of the Premiership fat cats.

What we have here is the most visually accessible and indeed, stimulating football management game I've seen to date. Oh by jove, it's pretty.
Whether you're taking a shufty through the files, plopping a burger bar outside the Geldard Road End or simply killign the chairman's favourite plant, the football management simulation has never looked so good.

But we've all been fooled by beauty. Being easy on the eye never guaranteed an evening of pleasure. It helps though, dunnit? Impressions are renowned for their strategy games replete with pleasant 3D graphics, but the footie management game? Uncharted waters. So why? We'll take it that they've taken a glance at the games charts, and, less cynically, we'll agree that they've decided they can do it better.

Risky business
But incorporating a full business game into the football management sim is no mean task. Have Impressions succeeded? Read on to discover the truth. They haven't. But they've got the right idea. You can, finances permitting, set up burger bars, restaurants bars, clubs shops and car parks as well as dictating the price of merchandise.

Say, for instance, you want another club bar. You splash out the capital to buy it, position it accordingly and if you think the punters will accept it, up the price of beer and food to try to recoup the initial outlay as quickly as possible. It's business, see. You can also demolish stands and replace them to increase ground capacity, though of course, you lose spectator revenue while they're being built - St James Park wasn't built in a day, you know.

Now you may be one of those people who hates the more commercial aspects of football and if so, you can choose not to indulge in the full business option and instead concentrate purely on matters football. Sure, it's detailed but not enough to make Ultimate Soccer Manager a business game in its own right, though I reckon Impressions have gone as far down that road as was necessary.

To matters football. You really can't do anything different to any other management footer sim. The player ratings are comprehensive - marks out of the century for all manner of facets (such as tackling and passing) - so we won't travel this road further except to say that the matches are viewed a-la Premier Manager 3, visual style. Some prefer text-based action, others like to see what's going on in the game. It's your choice.

Ultimate Soccer Manager embraces the statistics that many of you are so fond of.

Easy access
One particularly endearing feature is the Teletext in the gaffer's office. Here you need to know about the football world and, most thankfully, it's bereft of 0891 numbers to tinkle. The fax machine is your vehicle to the transfer market while, intriguingly, the telephone offers the 'bung' and gambling options.
You can offer teams the chance to 'lose' the match - all for a fee, of course - as well as attempting to buy your way to preferential transfer market treatment. Don't get caught, though. Remember wotshisname.

So are Impressions trying to be a little too clever here? Are they offering the whole caboodle, attempting to include every possible feature, hoping to make the competition's shoulders sag in resignation at their all-encompassing brilliance> They are, but USM is presented with such panache that we can forgive them this.

USM is a management game which is fun to trawl around. Many management sims quickly become a chore as you check the opposition, assemble your team and get to the next match with as little fuss as possible but with USM, one quite happily peddles through the Teletext or one adds a new shop or builds a new stand.
The graphical touches make it worthwhile. Witness the interfering fuzz as you click on the telly, witness the bank manager flicking through his files.

Plain sailing
So the catch then? It's rather easy. If you've battled the war that is Premier Manager 3, chances are Ultimate Soccer Manager will be sailing of the plain variety. The actual winning of football matches, which remember, is why we're here, does not a deal of preparation take, particularly if you're the boss at up Old Trafford.

There is an edit facility which folk normally head for when the going gets tough, but in USM you'll probably want to downgrade some of the players' stats. But, and for many of you, it may be a bit BUT, I still find it in my heart to love the game.

I love watching my spanking new 10,000 seater stand reaching for the skies, I love attempting to court favour in the transfer market with Arsenal and I love forcing loads of (horse) burger bars on to the unsuspecting hordes who watch my team. After all, they've done it to me for long enough.
* Daze Marketing will be releasing a 1Mb version of Ultimate Soccer shortly.



Ultimate Soccer Manager AGA logo AGA

So is this the last one? It had better be.

Few things fill me with dread any more. At the age of 31 I feel I have become insured to most of life's harshness. Authority no longer frightens me, I know when to walk away from bullies and when to make a stand, and I can even contemplate the bleak oblivion of death with a wry smile. So when I found out that I was to review Ultimate Soccer Manager I was completely unprepared for the wave of panic and resulting cold sweats I had to suffer.

Another football management simulation? What possible justification can there be for unleashing such madness on an unsuspecting populace? And can USM justify its existence?

Well, yes it can. Although it promises a lot more than it delivers (of which more later). USM is one of the best presented, friendliest and most enjoyable football management games I have ever played.

USM lets you pick any existing team from the four leagues or the Conference and, well, manage it. At the start there is an option to edit players so you can bump up the skill levels of anyone you fancy. This is the only time you get to make any changes. Then you choose how much money you want to start with (between £250,000 and £5 million) and away you go.

Once you're into the game proper the presentation is fabulous, allowing you to switch easily between all the normal aspects of a footy manny game. There's an office where you can check all your player and club stats, buy and sell players, look up results and fixtures and receive messages; there's the bank where you, er, bank; there's the training ground where you can hire and fire trainers, use them as scouts, and arrange the training schedules for your players; and, finally, there's the main overhead view of the stadium screen from where you can access all the other screens and also make ground improvements and raise and lower the price of your merchandising.
USM is a tidy package.

There are also lots of little touches that add extra interest. There're faxes that come through from players' agents telling you that they're not being paid enough, sometimes you'll be called to the chairman's office for praise or a dressing down, and there's a cleverly designed newspaper report of your team's performance each week.

I like USM a lot. I spent a long time playing it and enjoyed every minute of it. Well, nearly every. There are a few doubts lingering in my mind. So let's exercise them now.


Levels of anyone you fancy

THE COMMERCIAL GAME
As I reported last month, the commercial game is supposedly USM's big new gimmick - the thing that sets it apart from other footy manny games and makes it worth you throwing the other twelve in the bin and rushing out to buy this one. The financial aspect is supposed to bring in a whole new dimension to the game, but is in fact rather disappointing. Let's take it point-by-point.

• Stadium Improvements. The usual options of building more stands and improving them from terraced to seated. Plus the ability to build restaurants, cafes, bars and other merchandising sites. We've seen this before in Premier Manager 3, On The Ball: League Edition and so on.

• Merchandising. An extremely simple business sim. Put up the price of a scarf and, while fewer people will buy it, you make more profit on each sale. Lower the price of a scarf and more people will buy it but you make less profit on each sale. Don't worry. It's not as hard as it sounds.

• Sponsorship and advertising. You go to the chairman's office and somebody might offer you sponsorship. If they do you decide whether or not to take it. Taxing stuff.
Advertising is a simple matter of choosing which adds to put up on the boards surrounding the pitch. Just like in Premier Manager 3.


This is an illegal activity

• The bank. Put money in and out of a current and a deposit amount.

• Betting and match rigging. Ring up the bookies and place a bet on your team winning or losing the next match. This is an illegal activity and may result in you getting sacked. Alternatively, telephone opposing managers and try to get them to throw games for money. Also, surprisingly, wholly illegal.

The commercial game is completely unsophisticated - a simple buying and selling model with little interest or challenge to offer.

AT EASE
USM's too easy. Bath City were promoted in the first season I played them. Manchester United won every match I played with them. Paul has been playing too, and even Leicester City won the FA Cup on his first season. A good football management game should have a challenge to it and should reward well thought out management decisions. Otherwise what's the point of playing it?

LESTAT
There're also oodles of player statistics in USM. If you want to know why I don't like that in a football game you should turn to the nearby feature and allow me to explain. In full.

So, overall USM's a fantastic game that's let down by being a bit too easy. Strangely though, and despite its ease, it is a game that grips you and won't let go.


THE STADIUM THAT STEVE BUILT

Ultimate Soccer Manager
Stage 1. You're a conference club with no money and no funs.
Stage 2. A season later on you've had a few successes and built some more stands and shops.
Stage 3. First Division contenders, you're already outgrowing this sort of ground.
Stage 4. You're bloomin' Manchester United, you are.

GOODYEAR BLIMP
Ultimate Soccer Manager Ultimate Soccer Manager

The programmers of UMS are really happy with this match control method. YOu have an overhead view of the game so that you can see what's going on clearly. You can issue orders to each player, telling them to push up, pull back, play more to the right or left and (providing they're defenders) man-to-man mark. This is really handy in practice, allowing you to, say, pick up on an opposition attacker who's playing well and get him marked. You can also control the speed at which the game is displayed. Cor, eh?