Football management games are an interesting genre. Who would have thought that a game where you take control of the finances and management as well as the players of a major football club would be so addictive? As Championship Manager and more recently Total Club Manager have proven these games do have a market and there are lots of budding managers out there. Does this new one from EA have the goods to knock Championship Manager from its perch?
In Total Club Manager 2004 you take full control of a Football club from various leagues around Europe. You have two choices, start with a club of your own choice or choose a random club to begin your career with. The aim of Total Club Manager is to not only win silverware for your clubs trophy cabinet, but also keep the club in a financially sound position and also acquire a new contract or lucrative offers for your services from clubs in higher divisions or stature.
Total Club Manager 2004 features all the tasks a football manager has to undertake. Managing the first team on matchday, setting training regimes, dealing with misconduct such as destroyed hotel rooms after a European win, injuries, suspensions and other problems a team can face during the course of a season. Obviously the focus in Total Club Management is behind the scenes rather then on matchday so don't expect to be getting lots of action and playability out of the game itself in comparison to other football games on the market.
However with that said it's probably time to introduce Football Fusion, Total Club Managers best new feature for the 2004 edition. If you own both FIFA Football 2004 and Total Club Manager 2004 you can play you're Total Club Manager games in FIFA Football 2004. This allows you to control your destiny on matchday and actually works really well. The only problem with this setup is that between matches you will be swapping CDs non stop which will probably leave you only wanting to play the major games such as a European Cup final with Football Fusion.
Total Club Manager 2004 features 32 leagues, 1200 teams and 18,000 players. It does not officially feature the Champions League however, but does feature a European Cup competition. This is more then FIFA Football 2004 and the game does contain content which is not in EA's other formidable franchise. Leagues include the English Premier League (which is exclusive interactive in Total Club Manager 2004), Bundesligue, Primera League from Spain as well as the lower divisions such as the Nationwide Leagues in England. Like in FIFA 2004 you can take a team from the lowest division to the highest, but with a great deal more work having to deal with transfers etc.
If you want to tone down the difficulty level of Total Club Manager, or just focus on the actual first team you can hire staff for your club. This staff includes scouts, assistant managers, stadium managers etc and can bring benefits towards the club. For instance if you hire a physio, the recovery time for injured players is decreased. How much so depends on the expertise of the physio you hire. Also there are different difficulty levels to choose when first starting you career, and you can also boost the cashflow of your chosen club by up to 25 million pounds to help you land some big signings in your first year. Don't expect to be able to lure someone such as Harry Kewell to a Division four club however.
Depending on which club you decide to manage, or are given randomly will determine you goals for the season. With clubs such as Arsenal it is possible to finish in the top three or four for the league and be sacked, whereas with a team such as Wolves, the main goal is most likely to stay up in the Premiership. If you are sacked it is likely that other clubs will come knocking on your door for a signature but it is highly unlikely they will be from the same division, and you will have to eat some humble pie and begin all over again. You also have to face scrutiny from the press and the answers you give can affect your standing with the fans and players involved.
A mini game has also been included in Total Club Manager 2004 for gamers to try. This mini game asks players various questions such as where was the 2002 World Cup held and is in a Who Wants to be a Millionaire format. You can ask an assistant manager for help, discard one wrong answer, discard two wrong answers or get two attempts. It's an interesting diversion from the main game itself but overall doesn't add much to the game.
One disappointment with Total Club Manager 2004 is that there is only three ways to see a match. Football Fusion, Quick Match and 3D Match. The game is obviously encouraging people to use the 3D Match option as they have put a great deal of work into it. The 3D Match engine uses the FIFA 2003 Engine not 2004 which is another disappointment and the improvements EA made for the 2004 edition of the FIFA franchise are no where to be seen. The game does feature all the official stadiums which were featured in FIFA Football 2003 however.
Graphically Total Club Manager 2004 is quite impressive. The only disappointment is the use of the FIFA 2003 engine for 3D Matches and obviously the graphics haven't been improved or added to. Player rosters are up to date however so obviously there has been a small change. FIFA Football 2003 was impressive but in comparison to 2004 it looks like an antique. The interface is really easy to use with four drop down menus available. These are triggered by controls such as the triggers and black and white buttons on the controller.
On the sound side of things EA have again put in a superb licensed soundtrack featuring tracks such as Go from Andy Hunter but the commentary which is used during the 3D Match engine games is used from FIFA Football 2004. One interesting quirk with the commentary is that Chelsea are called the champions of the English Premiership, predicting the winner of the 2003/2004 season perhaps?
Total Club Manager 2004 is a great game which budding football managers will love. It still remains a niche title but is very accessible and the console controls are great. Football Fusion is a great new addition and it makes Total Club Manager 2004 the only recent management game in which you can actually play the games. If you already own FIFA Football 2004, then you should check this game out and see what life is like on the other side of the fence as a manager.