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Title: Ultimate Soccer Manager 2
Developer: Sierra Sports
Publisher: Sierra
Date Published: 1996
Platforms: PC (MS-DOS)
ESRB Rating: n/a

The Best Buy Of The Season
Poor Ultimate Soccer Manager. Living in the shadow of the (in)famous Championship Manager series was always going to result in poor sales. Yet it was still a surprisingly good game; so much so that it spawned not one, but two (to my knowledge) sequels. Let's take a look at the first of the follow-ups.

Like any sports game, USM2 comes with up to date (for its release) teamsheets, in this case for the 1996-97 season. It covers (very thoroughly) the English, Scottish, French, Italian, German and Spanish leagues, allowing you to assume control of a team from any of those countries' competitions. For seasoned football followers, the dated information will hardly matter (and, if necessary, new players can be added to the databases), but this could prove a problem for casual or newcomers to the beautiful game.

Dirty Tactics?
The game can be played with up to 8 individual players via the handy-dandy Hot Seat turn-based approach. Each takes control of his own team, able to modify the attributes of their team and play their scheduled game before passing over to the next player. Unfortunately there is no network play, and all teams much be chosen from the same country. They do not, however, need to be within the same league; one player could be playing an almighty Premier League side such as Manchester United, another a more lowly Second Division side such as Bournemouth.

Each turn can range from a few minutes into many hours, in the same vein as Championship Manager. Whereas you could just let your Financial adviser and Assistant Manager take control of the behind-the-scenes aspect of club management, more experienced players will love the opportunities present, some nonexistant in CM. For example, the many nuances of building and upgrading your club's stadium and surrounding grounds will take a longer time than one would have imagined to master, and is something lacking from rival games.

This is a fantasy game
Unfortunately, there are also areas where the game fails to shine as brightly as it could or should. The interface to the game relies on a toolbar filled with very small icons, all looking suspiciously similar to another, totally unrelated one. There are, on many screens, 'hotspots' linking to other areas (the TV in the Manager's Office taking you to Teletext to view league tables, for example), but this can lead to an irritating spree of looking for the correct hotspot to choose just so you can see how you're doing.

The in-match display is also not too polished, either. Every ground you visit looks identical save the pitch (which only changes for weather conditions), meaning that your meticulous placement of advertising boards is all but wasted. The ball mysteriously disappears whenever it crosses a line (a confusing occurance to begin with, annoying as it continues), and the interface lacks many of the tactical additions which have made Championship Manager so highly regarded. The most useful feature of the menus is the speed increase option.

Rigging: On/Off
At the end of the day, Ultimate Soccer Manager 2 is not a bad game, and has a few nice features which set it apart from the crowd. However, it lacks the depth of options and general flair of rival games, and suffers greatly for it. Many of the problems found within this game were tidied up in the third game of the series, Ultimate Soccer Manager '98, but should you see this game going cheap as I did, it wouldn't hurt to give it a try.

The manual's not too good, though.

This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards. All information taken purely from my own experiences with the game.

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