Top critical review
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Good match engine, but managing your squad can be a trial
on 11 May 2005
I've enjoyed playing football management games for a while and I've been waiting for someone to release a decent rugby equivalent.
The scope of the game is pretty good. It includes a large number of leagues and national teams from around the world, and there are plenty of players in the database. The first weakness, though, is that the developers only seem to have the official licence for Zurich Premiership and the top French divisions. This means that the Celtic League, for example, becomes the "Gaelic League" and you come across players like Brian o'Drescoll and Chris Peterson. This will be minor niggle for most people as the biggest markets for this game will doubtless be in England and France, but as a Scot I find it ruins the fantasy somewhat to find that none of the payers or teams in your domestic league are given their real names.
The match engine is the best feature of the game. Matches can be played in either 3D or 2D. I have a pretty decrepit system which can only just cope with the 3D graphics, but anyone with a reasonably up-to-date system should have no problems. Mercifully, the 2D version (which looks much like that in Championship Manager) is good enough to make it enjoyable on slower machines. You do not set out your tactics in advance. Instead, you are presented with a list of half a dozen or so styles of play in defence or attack which you can change at any point during the game. So while attacking you can, for example, choose to keep the ball in the forwards as you rumble up the pitch before selecting "Wide" to watch your players spin the ball out through the backs when you feel you're within striking distance of the try line. Similarly, in defence you can choose to focus you efforts around the base of the scrum, concentrate on the centre of the line, set up a cover defence, etc. At set pieces you are given the option of different up to about 20 "attacking gambits". These are illustrated on a chalk-board style window that pops up while the game pauses for you to make your choice. As in real life, these don't always come off, but when they do it can be a joy to watch as your off-side winger comes into the line to slice through the defence to score between the posts. You also have the option to select individual players during the match and ask them to perform in a particular way, so you can ask your inside centre to make miss-passes or your open-side flanker to close down the opposition fly-half.
I haven't played the original Pro Rugby Manager, but I have read in reviews that it generated some odd results. That hasn't happened to me yet in this version of the game. Teams generally play to a pretty consistent level. There are high-scoring, one-sided matches, but usually these reflect imbalances in the qualities of the teams rather than freak results thrown up at random by the game code.
The greatest disappointment of the game is the management side of things. All the necessary information seems to be there - the database is large and it covers a wide range of different types of attributes and payer information to work with - but it's not very well presented. The interfaces all look very nice with lots of bright colours and background photos, but it it particularly irritating that you can't do simple things like filter your own playing squad. This means that whenever you make team selections or try to sort out training regimes, etc you have to scroll up and down the one squad list, which can contain 50 or 60 players. Surely it's not been beyond the wit of the developers to allow you fliter your squad to you can look at just your forwards or just your backs? It might sound like a minor niggle, but once you've been playing the game for a while it gets really irritating as it slows down the amount of time it takes to do anything. Other irritations include the fact that you can send scouts out around the world, but when they come back with a list of 200 players or more, you can't view their playing attributes as a list to compare players against each other. You have to enter each player's own profile to see what their abilities are like, so you either have to keep it all in your head or put them all on your shortlist one by one before you can really check them out. Other details of the game, such as how to promote players from your youth teams, are often pretty obscure, and the finance side of things is depressingly simplistic.
Lastly, I'm surprised that you don't get very much information in your "news" page. This presents you with alerts to player injuries, the need for contract negotiations, etc, but it doesn't present you with big news about the fantasy world you're playing in. For example, my team won the league, but no message popped up to say so. The season just ended and I had to go through the various menus to check the league table to find out how things had finished. Similarly, international competitions like the 6 Nations rumble on in the background without any reports appearing to let you know how things are going on. It is, of course, possible to check it out for yourself, but if you're used to something like Championship Manager where you're given regular alerts whenever anything significant happens (like someone winning the league, international scores, progress of the World Cup, etc) it makes you feel like you're inhabiting a strangely silent world. Some improvements could be made in this regard to make the PRM2 world a little more fun to be a part of.
That said, I do enjoy playing this game. The match engine really makes it worthwhile once you get to grips with how it works. If only they could raise the quality of the management side, they would have a very good game indeed. I look forward to seeing what improvements they make for PRM3.