Football Manager, or Championship Manager as it started life, has been the cause of many a flunked exam, failed relationship, and job loss, such is its addictiveness.
The annual update to the life-stealing game is here in the shape of Football manager 2009. And as usual, its developers Sports Interactive have thrown even more refinements at it, making it just about as close to the real thing as is humanly bearable.
Of course, all of the game data in Football Manager 2009 has been updated to include the latest players transfers and league information. In fact, the database is so ridiculously large that you'll probably find the guys from your local park team in there, all complete with profiles, pictures, history, etc. Luckily, the interface is intuitive enough to cope with the sheer range of data, options and functions, using an Outlook-style approach to organize the various different menus.
Probably the most significant addition to Football Manager 2009 is the new 3D game engine. This means that rather than watching games play out with little discs representing the players, you can now view the action in a more realistic fashion. Granted, the graphics are not exactly Pro Evolution or FIFA standard, but it still gives you much more of a flavor of what's happening in the matches and helps you to analyze individual player performances more easily. There are a range of different views and angles to choose from, including the good old floating discs.
Your assistant manager in Football Manager 2009 is much more useful than he was in previous versions. He's now able to give you feedback during matches about the way the tactics are going, as well as sorting out training schedules and giving team talks. You'll probably welcome all this help, since this is the most involved Football Manager game in history.
These days, real life football managers are forced into much more interaction with the media, and the new press features in the game reflect this. Every day, you get reports of transfer rumors involving your players, or players that you're allegedly interested in. Though sometimes annoying, this can be useful for discovering players based on names being bandied around by the papers. In Football Manager 2009 you're also expected to take part in press conferences, carefully choosing your answers to a stream of questions posed by journalists (who, incidentally, are from real-life local newspapers and media outlets).
All of this means that Football Manager 2009 is the most involved soccer management sim in history and playing it genuinely does feel like a full-time job. In a way this takes away from the addictiveness of the early versions of Champ Manager, where it was much easier just to switch on your PC and play out a whole season in an afternoon. These days, you could feasible spend a whole real-life day playing just one in-game day.
That said, Football Manager 2009 does offer an unrivalled gaming experience, and the changes to this version make it well worth upgrading to if you have 2008.