"For the rest of you, LMA 2004 can be easily summed up: It's LMA 2003 with cosmetic changes to the gameplay and an updated roster. Just like any annually-released sports game, if you've played one version, you've played them all."
Unusual as it seems, I want to rattle through some disclaimers.
Firstly, for the benefit of any readers who may be American, the word 'soccer' will not be used. Football isn't a game where lily-arsed pansies dress up in medieval armour to charge around for very, very brief periods. No, football is a game where the ball is primarily guided by the foot. Foot - ball; with me?
And now that I've alienated so many of you, it's only fair to say that any that don't follow this football are about as likely to understand some of the in-game references as I am to grasp similar phrasing in sports such as, say, baseball. (I would, however, love to know what a knuckleball is; to my untrained ear it sounds delightfully painful.)
...Are they gone?
For the rest of you, LMA 2004 can be easily summed up: It's LMA 2003 with cosmetic changes to the gameplay and an updated roster. Just like any annually-released sports game, if you've played one version, you've played them all.
...That should have got rid of the rest of them. Anyone left? Curses. Then, let us begin.
Football management games, in essence, give you the role of the power behind the players. It is your job to select the team and choose the positions, tactics, and roles of your chosen squad of eleven. You wield supreme power to sell old players, buy new ones, and to promote the youth team-members into the senior squad. LMA 2004 gives you the chance to take the reigns of not only the vast majority of European clubs, but to even build your own team from scratch and lead them to victory or defeat.
As you can expect from such a title, the wealth of tinkering and fiddling you can subject your chosen team to is tremendous. You have the basic options of swapping and changing your starting eleven around as you see fit, can shift your teamís formation to fit the situation, and even dictate individual roles to your first team players. Want a midfielder to drop just behind your strikers and support them? Not a problem. Would prefer to negate your wingers and move the ball primarily up the centre of the pitch? Easily done. Want to protect the quarterback from embarrassing sackings? I told you in the disclaimer - wrong game, dammit!
The big question in titles like these is not so much how good it is in and of itself but rather how it compares to previous incarnations of the series. It's nice to be able to report that this game fares well - but not well enough to warrant a fresh purchase over what is essentially an updated version unless youíre a fanatic. It's to good see the most annoying bugs fixed, however, and the general overhaul that took place is welcome.
The biggest update lies in the presentation; in fact, it's hard to see how LMA 2005 will improve on it. Watching your team play is an enjoyably smooth process, enormously helped by clear recognition of who the players claim to be. Not only do they look the role, but they play like their real-life counterparts, too: Owen is undeniably deadly in front of goal; Giggs will blitz past unwary defenders with a combination of skill and speed; Beatie remains sadly underrated; Vieira will still pick up more red cards than the rest of the Premiership combined; and so on. The voices of Liniker and Hansan (commentators, for those who donít know) also lend a nice touch of familiarity to this game. Unfortunately, the rest of the audio carries on the seriesí trend of being bland and dull.
Also fixed are the numerous flaws that plagued earlier versions. Your players will no longer (or less often, at least) seem to lose track of where they are on the pitch and run the ball unnecessarily out of touch. Neither will they seem oblivious of opposing players in close proximity and give the ball away cheaply. Watching the games is so much more exciting in this update, and goals really do come from the playersí skill and your tactics, so much so that you can see the shape the game is taking and adapt. Perhaps you'll score from a mazy run though the middle, cleaving the defence in half; maybe you'll whip in a corner or cross between the uprights with a bulleting header; or maybe youíll run onto a loose ball served up by a sloppy defensive error. Watching your team play transmits to you what it working and what is not; you can pick out those that are having an off day and perhaps substitute them, or maybe you just need to fiddle with your tactics to enhance your teamís performance. LMA 2004's predecessors failed to transmit this.
The biggest error has also been fixed, a bug that made any 'keeper that collected the ball on the edge of his area blindly rush outside the limits he can legally handle the ball in his urge to distribute it to a teammate. The whistle would blow, the 'keeper would be booked, and a free kick would be given to a very sensitive area. I almost whooped with joy when I saw my goalie actually taking steps backwards after collecting the ball!
It's obvious that the players you command have been gifted with a new sense of personality that helps set them apart from the collections of statistics that they more closely resemble in the earlier instalments. Not only will your teamís morale be recorded, but their own personal happiness, too. You will be told in the training reports if people aren't fitting in with the other players, feel they are not getting a chance to play in the squad as they should, or are perhaps getting a bit too big for their boots and believe themselves to be ďaboveĒ your team. This not only affects their training and play, but unhappy players are considerably harder to retain. Keeping them content goes a long way towards the smooth running of your chosen club.
Of course, you need not only keep your cast of football players happy, but the fans and board of directors, too. This involves juggling the successful running of the team, and also arranging the delegation of roles to middle-management personnel such as a commercial manager, assistant manager, and medical staff. Youíre also responsible for the upkeep and upgrading of you home stadium and the careful balancing of your funds. It costs you to purchase the best players the world has to offer, but you only have a set budget, so ensure you chop away the dead wood. There are a million tasks to undertake, some vital, some not, but all ensure you always have some matter to take care of.
LMA Manager 2004 should probably be avoided by those who already own and are happy with a football management game, but for those wishing to update from a much older edition or those curious to how such a game operates, you can't go far wrong for a console management sim. Grab yourself a rival manager, activate the two-player option, and let the rivalry run wild. Few things are as satisfying as stuffing your friendís team 6-0; it's a thing of pure beauty, and the bragging rights never get old.
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