Continuing our journey through the football management journey with a look at the Spectrum years. Part one can be found here.
Eschewing the more typical league set up, Tracksuit Manager takes us into the world of international football. Your country has performed disasterously at the last World Cup and it is up to you to restore your nation’s honour. You default as England but you can take your pick from across the globe.
Graphically it is remarkably similar to The Double that we looked at in part one. It has the same clean, boxed layout, similar colours and font and a similar annoying propensity to ‘draw’ the menu in each time you enter a new screen.
Fortunately the menus are far more user friendly to actually navigate. Being based on international football as it is, there is of course no transfer market. Instead you have a batch of 100 players from which to choose your 22 man squad, including such illustrious stalwarts as Mike Duxbury, Steve Hodge and Mark Hateley.
Without the day-to-day mechanics of running a club, there is potentially less to do than in a traditional management sim. Entertain yourself then by booking friendly games, or even a five nation tour. Or set your scouts to give you a report on a team or specific player, or just enjoy reading through the reports on one of your own team. These reports are absolute crackers, rating players on all the expected areas such as tackling, heading and passing. But where most games settle for a set of numbers, hilariously this grades them with a short write up. Got a world beater in your team? Then he might find his skills rated as Good, Excellent or World Class perhaps. Picked an absolute rotter? You’ll soon know when you see his passing rated as Grim, his tackling rated as Very Poor or his stamina rated as Cannot Stand.
When match day rolls around, you of course have the option to pick your team from your selected squad of players but you also have a number of team tactical options to choose from, such as marking system, passing style and tackling intensity. Individual players can also be given specific tactical instructions that override team orders, setting one midfielder say to stay back whilst the other bombs forward or set one to tackle aggressively and play it short whilst the other avoids tough challenges whilst looking for more direct balls forward. It is a surprising level of depth for a game this old and touches on a lot of the basic concepts that the modern FM series has since developed, even if here you feel they are rather more superficial in their implementation.
But the real fun starts when the game kicks off. There is none of that drab scoreboard and clock affair here. Instead you get a little picture of the pitch with a red bar to tell you where possession is together with an awesome written commentary, detailing every stray pass, loose header, hopeful punt and top corner wonder goal. It really is fab, adding tremendously to the atmosphere as you feel like you are kicking every ball and jumping for every header and it helps in really set this apart from its contemporaries.
There are some niggles. Inherently with an international football simulator, there is simply less to do than in a game based on domestic football. In the absence of transfers or training for instance there are often stretches of time with little to do but hit continue. You can add a friendly or two sure, or even just watch an unrelated match and enjoy the commentary. But as good as it is it means that each match takes upwards of five minutes to play through to the point that it starts to feel like somewhat of a slog.
In truth this is the sort of game to be admired more than it is to be enjoyed. The depth, the tactical options and the attempt at realistic, blow-by-blow commentary are to be applauded and in short bursts this is fun to revisit. But the detail slows it down without offering any complexity of experience in return and for that reason you may soon find yourself looking for something more immediate and less time consuming.