Way back in the summer of 1992 when I was all but a glimmer of the journalist I was to become, the entire Amiga gaming world was locked in debate about which football management simulation was the reigning king. Back then there was no Football Manager, as the game went by the name of Championship manager before Sports Interactive split from Eidos and renamed its flagship title to Football Manager. Its only competition lay at the hands of Premier Manager, a game developed by Realms of Fantasy and published by Gremlin Interactive.
For the uninitiated, Gremlin was a market-leading publisher with the likes of Zool, Lotus Espirt Turbo Challenge and numerous other chart topping titles in its stable, competing favourably with the likes of Codemasters. After a long and successful stint at the top of the gaming ladder, Gremlin was sold to Infogrammes in 1999 and subsequently closed down the following year. From the ashes of the closure came Sumo Digital, who went on to port the glorious Outrun sequel to consoles, and Zoo Digital, purveyors of the excellent Alien Hominid. But what does all this have to do with the Premier Manager review? Well, a lot has changed since 1992...
For its time, Premier Manager was a massive commercial success, with its attention to the minute details of management being its main weapon against the onslaught of Championship Manager. The ability to choose the advertising boards and upgrade your stadium step-by-step endeared the game to hoards of fans; reminiscing of those long Saturday afternoons spent managing Wycombe Wanderers to the Premier League title still brings a sparkle to the eye.
This year's iteration of the game is different to the point of being unrecognisable against the behemoth the series once was. The game itself has been engineered to appeal to a much wider audience, shying away from the micro-management of its predecessors and setting a new focus on accessibility to all. Sure, it has the basics of any competent management sim, but stripped down to the extent that it wouldn't justify a full price release.
That's not to say that the game is lacking in any sense of enjoyment, as by a sizable margin it's the quickest of its kind, loading the next day instantaneously and calculating the day's matches in a matter of seconds. There are of course reasons for this. Firstly, you're only able to play five concurrent leagues at any one time; from England, Italy, France, Germany and Scotland. All the correct team names are there, although when getting down and dirty with player management, the lack of a player license means the names are slightly modified, ala Sensible Soccer.
The balance between management and match-day action is nigh on perfect, with the game engine breaking down all the information on par with Football Manager. If Wayne Rooney is on for a hat-trick and you substitute him, he's going to let you know he's not a happy bunny, and if the other players are having a bad day at the office, your assistant manager is all too happy to inform you of their lack of effort.
Transfer dealings are more enjoyable than either of the market leaders, with multiple options for each transaction offering you a different tone for the same outcome, leaving you able to influence contract negotiations by acting enthused or not in the slightest bit interested. Whether this actually has any real bearing on what goes on isn't something I've been able to measure, but it does make the wheeling and dealing all the more fun, especially when trying to grab that big-name player. How many times have you been told in Football Manager that your club isn't of interest to a player because he would never think of leaving Real Madrid? If you opt for a club with endless riches like myself, asking a player what kind of contract would tempt them is a sure fire way to secure their services and definitely a welcome change.
All this adds to the appeal of Premier Manager and its quest to become the filler in a sandwich of football greats. Zoo Digital aren't pretending that they're going to shoot to number one, knocking Football Manager into the stands in the process; they're looking to make a more accessible game for people with less time on their hands - the kind of person who can't spend time nurturing the star striker's ego when he's unsettled. Management sims are more like databases with a pretty front end than actual games. While these hugely complex database driven monsters might offer the same levels of stress as experienced when your side loses in real life, they can't quite compete with a game like Premier Manager for a quick one hour season where winning the premiership means a five minute tea break and a celebratory biscuit.
Premier Manager doesn't pretend to be something it's not. It's is a fun introduction to management, and, as a smaller, friendlier version of the royalty it once was, it stands up quite well. It might be dethroned and lacking some of its younger beauty, but it still knows a thing or two about the beautiful game.
Premier Manager 2006/07 is also available for Playstation 2