The first thing you'll notice is just how much slicker this is than last year's awful Championship Manager 5. Thanks to a Mourinho-esque amount of rebuilding effort and general tweaking, Championship Manager 2006 now features clear, readable menus and a control system that actually works with a joypad, rather than last year's counter-intuitive, mouse-requiring shambles. Just being able to see what you're doing in CM2006 makes all the difference.
While the beef of training regimes, transfer markets and contract negotiations remain similar to CM5 (except with all the niggling flaws and bugs now finally ironed out, as far as we can tell), it's clear every aspect of the game has received some form of spit and polish, even if it's as basic as replacing a spreadsheet-style table of numbers with a more user-friendly graphical bar chart.
But the big changes have happened to the actual matches themselves. While it's still possible to view your team's progress via ball-by-ball text updates, the two-dimensional 'tiddlywinks' match screen of old has been replaced by new-fangled 3D views. They're still pretty abstract compared to LMA Manager's graphical theatrics, each player looking more like a deformed Subbuteo player than a recognisable human being, but it makes following your team's fortunes much easier. And just to make things even more helpful, you can carry on tinkering with your team during matches, CM2006 helpfully sweeping you back to the action with a replay whenever something important happens.
This being Champ Man, the sheer amount of data to plough through is bewildering, with nearly 60 playable leagues from all over the world on offer (that's getting on for 40,000 individual players). A new Challenge mode has also been included, where budding managers can prove their worth by completing set tasks such as winning promotion or avoiding relegation, while the option to sign in to Live hopefully means the long-overdue facility to download updated team rosters has finally been realised (although Eidos is still to confirm this).
CM2006 is all but finished - the only thing left to do is shoehorn in January's last-minute transfers, ensuring the most up-to-date game possible. Check out the full review coming soon.