With Football Manager totally dominating the football management genre, I really don't envy the Championship Manager guys at all. They're competing against a refined, tweaked to near perfection title, with a game that is relatively new. What's more, people expect greatness from the game, as it's the name we all grew up playing. Championship Manager 2007 is Eidos' latest attempt, but it's still not quite ready.
First impressions count for a lot, and CM 2007 doesn't do itself any favours in this regard. It's not a pretty game, even by management sim standards. The match representation looks fine, but the user interface looks so dull it's almost depressing. I don't want to offend the development team too much, but it really looks like something a few guys could knock up in a week. There is, of course, a lot more to the game than visuals, but when your rival looks so sleek, looking shabby isn't a good start.
Football Manager veterans will have a hard time adjusting to the way CM 2007 works. Simple things like selecting your team seem unnecessarily awkward, and navigating through the menus feels like you're learning a new operating system - which isn't as good as the one you've been using for years. Things like having to swap players over on the team screen rather than the tactics screen makes visualising your team really difficult, and if you're managing an unknown team you don't have name recognition to fall back on.
News and other information is conveyed through an email system, and this is the first area where the game feels a little light in comparison to Football Manager. FM 2007 lets you interact with players and managers in a way that feels meaningful and at least makes you think that you're having a real impact on how your team performs. Even little things, like being able to choose what happens to injured or sick players, makes the game feel much more immersive.
CM 2007 simply doesn't have this same level of immersion. You can interact with your players and give them team talks, but as you move through each season you feel more like an assistant coach than a manager. The Club benefactor option does add a dose of realism to proceedings, giving you a wad of cash to spend, but FM 2007 wipes the floor with CM 2007 when it comes to day to day management duties. In a few areas, such as the excellent player comparison, CM 2007 comes out on top, but these areas are few and far between.
A few niggles don't help either. Contract negotiations are often ruined due to the inability to offer the length of contract the player is asking for. Young Lionel Messi was on the brink of joining my mighty Spurs team, but when I couldn't offer him a contract through to 2015 the deal fell through. Equally, his buy out clause fee at Barcelona was over £100 million, so why could I only set my players' fees to £50 million? The transfer system is full of little quirks like this. Moments ago I bought Carrick from Manchester United for £4 million less than they paid Spurs for him some six months earlier - madness.
All these problems could be forgiven if the match engine was realistic, but it suffers from far too many unlikely results. When you're third in the table, playing a team one place above you should never end in a 7-1 demolition - it's just not how a game like that would ever turn out. When things are going well in Football Manager you start to feel at ease, as everything seems like it's fallen into place; you never get that same feeling while playing CM 2007 - it's far too unpredictable.
CM 2007's big new addition is Pro Zone. This is the tool that many professionals use to analyse their team's performance. It's a nice feature, but unless you're really, really dedicated it's all rather over the top. You can see every single one of your crosses, passes, corners, shots, and all the other things you can do on a football pitch. It also comes in handy to analyse your next opponent, and by selecting individual players you can get an idea of how best to play against them.
You can easily waste days on Championship Manager 2007, but they're days that could be wasted better - with Football Manager 2007. It's by no means a bad game, includes some neat features, and can be played at a faster pace than Football Manager, but it's simply not as good. Whereas Football Manager 2007 feels like a game in its prime, Championship Manager is still finding its feet, and because of that it really is no match for the reigning champion.