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LMA Manager 2001 (PSX) Review

Background Info

Screens (4)

LMA (League Managers Association) Manager 2001 is the sequel to last year's acclaimed Playstation soccer management title, LMA Manager. Developed by Codemasters, the same British developers behind Colin McRae 2.0 and Jarrett & Labonte Stock Car Racing, LMA 2K1 is a simple take on soccer management that is perfect for casual soccer fans. However, the limitations of the aging PSOne hardware mean that the game doesn't have nearly as much depth as the reigning champ of soccer management games, Championship Manager, and hardcore soccer fans might want to look elsewhere.

Presentation/Graphics : 70
Just like with Championship Manager on the PC, assigning a graphics rating to a management simulation like LMA Manager 2001 is a difficult task as the gameplay hardly depends upon the quality of the graphics. That said, Codemasters still did a fairly decent job with LMA 2K1's visuals. LMA 2K1's menu screens are all very crisp, clear and logically laid out. Codemasters have also spruced up each of the screens with various graphical touches. For example, in the background of the training menu you see various animations of players doing a few kick-ups or some passing drills.

One major area in which LMA 2K1 differs from Championship Manager is that there is a graphical representation of the matches rather than a text-based representation like in Sports Interactive's masterpiece. The graphical representation of the matches comes in two forms: a simple 'live' version and an enhanced graphical version for the post-match highlights. The 'live' graphical engine is ridiculously plain and is nothing that couldn't easily be done on the SNES! In fact, the 'live' graphical engine looks a lot like a side-scrolling version of the old PC classic Sensible World of Soccer, but with even less detail. That said, the whole point of this graphical representation of the match is just to give a general idea of the flow of the game and it does that well.

After the final whistle you're taken to 'Football One' and here you see the major highlights of the previous match. This graphical engine is a lot more complex, and looks like a grainy version of the Fifa 2001 game engine. However, for some odd reason the goals scored in the 'live' view of the match, sometimes don't look like the those shown in the extended highlights. For example, in one match I viewed, a headed goal in a 1-0 win in the 'live' view of the match appeared as a shot from outside the 18 yard box!

Presentation/Audio : 80
Apart from the rather bland music that plays in the very first game menu, the only sound effects in LMA 2K1 come from the crowd sounds during the 'live' visualization of the match, and the commentary during the enhanced post-match highlights. Fortunately, while the sound effects may be sparse they're certainly not lacking in quality. During the 'live' matches the crowds are very loud, and most importantly, they're very responsive to the on-field action. The various chants, jeers, cheers, 'oos' and 'ahhs' really help to create a very engrossing aural experience, which helps to compensate for the poor on-field visuals. The commentary in the enhanced highlights is handled by Ray Stubbs, while analysis is provided by Anfield legend Alan Hansen. I've always been a huge fan of Hansen (yes, I am a Liverpool supporter) and MOTD, and his takes on the match add a lot of atmosphere and authenticity to the proceedings.

Interface/Options : 85
LMA 2K1 only has leagues available from two countries; Scotland and England, and while you can pick any team from either countries' four divisions it's a far cry from the 16+ countries (each with several divisions) present in the most recent incarnations of the Championship Manager series. Fortunately, LMA Manager 2001 still has a very impressive array of options considering the game is on the aging PSOne. Rather than go over the specifics of the tactics, squad management and finance options here, I'll cover them in detail in the Gameplay section of this review.

The rosters are up to date till the end of this year's EPL and SPL transfer deadlines, so some of the later transfers such as Jari Litmanen to Liverpool are present. There is also a large selection of foreign players and you can attempt to purchase or scout any of the players playing in the top divisions of the major European leagues such as the German Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga.

Codemasters have given each of the players a fairly decent variety of player attributes and there are 11 in total. Again, this is a far cry from the 31+ ratings present in CM, but the limited number attributes suits the simple nature of the game, and the strength of each attribute is assigned through sliders rather than numerically. Stats tracking is also fairly limited, but again, this is understandable due to memory limitations – there's only so much you can fit on a memory card. Over the course of a season simple statistics such as goals, assists and disciplinary records are kept.

In terms of gameplay modes, there are two main options--a default mode where you simply select a team and manage away, and a Challenge Mode. The Challenge Mode is very similar to the scenario modes present in games such as Striker Pro 2000 and ESPN MLS Extra Time. There are a total of 14 scenarios (challenges) that range from the relatively straightforward staving off relegation with five games left to go in the season, to taking a 3rd Division to the EPL in only 3 seasons!

Gameplay : 79
I'll be up front and say this now; I was not expecting much of LMA Manager 2001. I know it had some favorable reviews in Europe, but I really felt that the limitations of the PSOne in terms of processing power and storage space would really limit what Codemasters could do with a soccer management game. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and the programmers deserve a lot of credit for creating a very console-friendly and simple management game. It's not nearly as complex or engrossing as the PC-based Championship Manager, but it's still a lot better than I thought any console based management game could be.

You start off your managerial career picking a team in either Scotland or England. Navigation throughout the menus is done by using the shoulder buttons, the front buttons (L1 & R1) control the primary menu selections, while the back ones (L2 & R2) control the sub-menus. The game works through a similar turn-based system like in Championship Manager; however, you can skip ahead several days, or right to the next match-day.

Once you've been put in charge of a team, you'll want to scour the transfer market for players that will improve your squad. One area in which LMA 2K1 outshines Championship Manager is definitely the scouting. Not only do scouts get their reports quickly, the scouting reports are also lot more thorough and scouts will discuss not only player attributes, but also their performances in prior matches, their attitude, and their interest in moving clubs. Negotiation with other clubs is relatively straightforward and simple – there are no sell-on clauses, exchange deals, paying installments or any other types of clauses available like in Championship Manager. Negotiation with players is also very simple as you just decide upon the length of the contract and the basic wage. Selling players is as simple as transfer listing them. However, teams don't make bids for quality transfer listed players as quickly as they should – to experiment I put Tranmere's Jason Koumas on the transfer list and it was almost three weeks before I got my first bid for him!

Once you've got your desired squad together it's time to set the training regimen. Much like the transfers the squad training is very simple and easy to use, but at the same time you sacrifice a lot of depth and options. Training is simply broken down into allocating time between 'Skill' training or 'Stamina' training, and also determining the frequency of the training sessions. It's very basic and you can't try to train players for new positions or work on very specific areas of a player's skill that need work, yet overall the training does have a large effect on your success over a season. For example, if you work your players too hard they'll become fatigued more quickly during matches and be less happy.

The beginning of the season is also when you'd want to look at sponsorship opportunities – LMA 2K1 allows you to sign sponsorship contracts with various real-life companies such as Coca Cola and Burger King, and various companies differ in the amount of cash they're willing to give you. You also may also want to expand your stadium, and this is also possible in LMA 2K1. The financial aspect of running a soccer club is a large part of LMA 2K1 and while it certainly makes the game interesting, in reality the vast majority of managers have very little input on matters such as stadium expansion and sponsorship deals. I can't image Arsene Wenger calling up Peter Hill-Wood and saying; “Well, maybe if we were sponsored by Nintendo, Patrick would decide to stay….” I would rather Codemaster's have left this aspect of the game out and instead added more to the tactics and player personalities.

A few weeks before your first match you'll also want to send out scouts to check out your opponents. Just like the scouting reports for players, scouting reports for teams are also very in depth, and your scouts will inform you of players to be careful of, formations your opponents like to use, their form, and their playing style.

Once you've gone through the scouting report, you'll want to set up your team's formation. LMA 2K1 features 11 different formations; unfortunately, they're all too rigid, and there's no way to create any custom formations. This is quite disappointing since you can create complex custom formations in ISS Pro Evolution so you would think you'd be able to do the same in a management game. Furthermore, you can only select one opposing player to man-mark; likewise, you can only select a single player to take all the free-kicks. This is a far cry from the total control to create formations, logic, and assign different players to take set-pieces on specific sides of the pitch like in Championship Manager. In terms of strategy you can only change attacking, passing and distribution styles on a very basic level. While I understand there are limitations with the PSOne's hardware, the inability to create custom formations and have more control over the tactics is a real disappointment.

When you've figured out your favored formation, it's onto the real meat and potatoes of the game – the match. Once on pitch you're not just a helpless spectator to the 'live' graphical representation of the match; rather, you're able to adjust formation at any time and, more importantly, you can also 'shout out' various instructions to your team, such as telling them to press, to use long ball tactics, to go on all-out attack or all-out defense, and many more. These instructions do make a large impact on the outcome of the match, and you'll find yourself constantly blaring different instructions at your charges. Matches can often be very exciting, and it's always nail-biting to see your team cling onto a one goal lead going into injury time just praying for the final whistle.

Overall, in terms of gameplay LMA 2K1 is solid--the game is fairly simple and can be a great deal of fun. However, when compared Championship Manager, the whole management process and especially the tactical aspect of management is greatly simplified. A lot of this has to do with the limitations of the 'live' graphical representation of the matches. I don't want to get into a full blown discussion of the pros and cons of the graphical representation of a match like in LMA 2K1 or a text/stat-based representation as in Championship Manager; however, one major area where the text/stat-based engine excels over the graphical is the analysis of individual match-ups and performance. For example, if a particular opposing player is running your team ragged in Championship Manager and you want to know which players are being affected, not only can you look at player ratings, you can also see statistics such as passing percentages and tacking success. You can then combat this by putting in your toughest midfielder and telling him to man-mark the player causing the problems and also order him to go into the tackle strongly. Conversely, in LMA 2K1 when a particular player is having a great game on the field (perhaps this player is getting a lot of the ball in the 'live' view), his player rating only gives a small indication of which areas he's excelling in, and you're not always sure how to nullify him. LMA 2K1's rather simplistic graphical visualization isn't complex enough to depict all the possible actions of players like in Championship Manager, and as I said before, the graphical engine is merely a means to get a general idea of the ebb and flow of a game.

This doesn't mean that LMA 2K1 is a bad game, it's just very simple compared to Championship Manager. In the end I think simplicity is what Codemasters were aiming for – rather than take on Sports Interactive and try to create a stat-based simulation, they decide to go with a more simple and beginner-friendly take on soccer management. LMA 2K1 is a fun game to play, and can be addictive, but it really pales in comparison to the complexity and immersiveness of Championship Manager, not only tactically but also when it comes to man-management of players. You never feel as attached to players in LMA 2K1 as you do with the Jamie Victory's, Willie Howie's and Andri Sigporssons' in Championship Manager. Furthermore, the lack of many countries and involvement of the media means that you don't have the same feeling as if you're forging a management career like you did in Championship Manager.

Replay Value : 85
The regular game in LMA 2K1 will keep the attention of most gamers for quite a while, especially if you choose to manage a team from the lower divisions and try to take them to the EPL (or SPL) title. However, due to the lack of leagues you can't move around and take jobs in other countries and there just isn't that same feeling of forging a managerial career that's present in Championship Manager. As such, when you finally win the title and/or conquer Europe a couple of times with your team you can't decide to leave and take up the managerial spot at Barca or Bayern. The Challenge Mode adds a bit of replay value, yet it still suffers from the same lack of depth. If you've never played Championship Manager before, LMA 2K1 will definitely hold your attention for a long time, but if you have played Sports Interactive's masterpiece you may find yourself putting down LMA 2K1 once you've conquered the domestic leagues and Europe, as the small number of leagues and lack of immersiveness compared to Championship Manager cuts short the replay value even with the 14 different scenarios.

Overall : 79
As you read this review you may feel that I am perhaps being a little unfair to Codemasters by comparing their title on the aging PSOne to Sports Interactive's Championship Manager which requires a much more powerful PC. However, as I have said before, everything in gaming is relative and most gamers have PCs that are at the very least powerful enough to run Championship Manager 3 (if not some of the newer incarnations). Furthermore, it's a lot easier to import the vastly superior CM3 than it is this game--just like ISS Pro Evolution 2, LMA 2K1 is not being released in North America and as such you'll need to get your hands on a PAL PSOne and a multi-system TV in order to play it. LMA 2K1 is a solid game and its straightforward and simplistic nature make it a good introduction to those who have limited soccer knowledge or who've never played a soccer management game before. However, hardcore soccer fans and those who've been weaned on stat-based management games will find the game a bit too simplistic and should pass.

By: Lavan Chandran 7/6/01

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