“ All 6 top European leagues playing at the same time. UK, France, Spain, Germany, Scotland & Italy. Over 11, 000 players to buy. Improve stadia & club facilities. Design your own tactics Sponsors, merchandising & enter the stock exchange. Fully animated matches. „
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What could a game as dated as Ultimate Soccer Manager 98 offer the modern gamer? Being a hardened football management fan I was surprised I had never heard of this title on its release. Always intrigued by the prospect of a competitor to the Championship Manager series and looking for something to spend the tail end of a twenty-pound amazon voucher on I purchased it for less than three quid of Amazon.
What Ultimate Soccer Manager 98 (from now on USM 98) does that makes it stand out from its more illustrious brethren is provide a simple to use, uncluttered user interface. However, it is ingenious in that it still maintains the attention to detail and sheer weight of statistics essential to the success of any "serious" football management title. Those of you who are fans of the genre will find this falls in between the simplicity of Premier Manager or LMA and the sheer depth of the Championship Manager series.
Navigating the game is simplicity itself. Pick a team from the seven major footballing countries of Europe be it France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scotland, England or the Netherlands and a difficulty level that determines your transfer fund and away you go. Presented with an isometric view of your club and its surroundings everything can be accessed from here be it the transfer list, your squad or the advertising features. For example clicking on the stand leads you to stadium improvement whereas the pitch leads to all match, training and team selection options.
Where this game may appeal to none football fans is in the sheer depth of the management options. Such is the scope of this game you are able to manage everything from hot dog prices to what you are stocking in the club shop. At times you may forget this is a football management simulation as it can become more like a "Sim City" style business simulation. Pure football fans will be pleased that there is a stripped down "coach" option which when selected leaves the computer to deal with all that boring business stuff leaving you with the important stuff. Buying and selling players, training your team and selecting the squad and tactics necessary to make them world beaters.
USM 98 excels on a football management level in so many ways not least in the innovative transfer system. Considering the age of the title it is ahead of its time in that transfers are done by a number of drafted letters of interest, negotiations with both club and a player's agent. As such some considerable business savvy is required as you may successfully have an offer accepted form a club only to have the players agent inform you they are not interested. You may have to offer incentives for goals; clean sheets or even games played to the club in question. Just like in the real world it is the players who have the power as they express their displeasure at being dropped, left out or trained to hard and to make matters worse so do your coaching staff!
On a match level USM 98 is appealing due to its simple to use team selection tools and variety of pre-set formations. Everything from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 wingback is available at a click and for the real fanatics all tactics can be developed via a subbuteo-style board so you Chelsea fans really can play that 9-1-1 you always wanted! In game plays can also be tailored before hand so you may want your players to play route one, link-up play or even over the top. All this is made all the better by the graphical representation of your efforts. It is rare that a management game allows you to watch the match itself with anything other than a bit of commentary but USM 98 is different. Presented with a left to right pitch you can alter tactics, make substitutions and see your players attempt to complete the pre-arranged set plays in glorious colour. Ok the animation is a bit dodgy but it is nice to see a genuine attempt to make the matches interesting and of course the less patient have an instant result option or can increase the match speed by up to 16 times.
As you can see Impressions the creators of USM 98 have thought of pretty much everything. Those of you worried about the out of date nature of the title (after all you want to manage your favourite team with current players) will be pleased to know there is a player editor. This in itself is unique in a management game so you can rename your team to match the current one. As such this is game that can never go out of date. It has an almost endless lifespan and thanks to some handy hints and tips from your assistant manager a pleasing learning curve that makes this the first football management game instantly accessible to all. Of course the graphics and sound are limited as with all football management games but if you wanted graphics and sound football management is not what you would be doing now would it?
Full of little nuances such as newspaper journalists offering post match interviews and meetings with your disgruntled chairman this is a truly top class management game that boasts the statistics and weight of numbers of a Championship Manager title but is so much more playable. It is only a shame that it has never reached the success of its counterparts as further development would have surely made this a leader in its field. As a result it is a great if outdated game that at less than three quid on amazon and only needing minimum system specifications is a bargain basement edition to anyone's gaming collection.
CD Rom 4x
The system requirements really are minimum specification. It does run on xp too and there are a number of patches available to fix any problems you may have.
Price £2.95 used on Amazon