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Football Manager 2008: Unbelievable, Jeff

Football Manager is utterly compelling despite having no fancy graphics, no gore, no stereo sound. Just numbers, the same as always. Now that's game design

I managed to tear myself away from the mesmerising Halo 3 to install the demo of Football Manager 2008 yesterday. I didn't get into last year's version -- thanks, World of Warcraft -- but a few hours spent guiding the mighty Swindon Town through their gruelling preseason reminded me why I spent most of my university years playing its predecessors.

What always draws me in about FootMan is its extraordinary depth. I can spend hours hunting down players, comparing them, putting them on shortlists and making offers -- hours, basically, of looking at lists of numbers without anything actually happening. No fancy graphics, no gore, no stereo sound. Just numbers, same as it's always been. Now that's game design.

In a way, FootMan bears a similarity to Halo there. Both have developers who, thanks to a solid hit first time round, have the time and money to develop an excellent relationship with the fans and make subtle tweaks to each sequel that enhance the gameplay without altering the core dynamics.

Of course, FootMan comes out each year with the most significant revision being the updated squads. This year there are tweaks to the interface, to make information more accessible, such as a transfer centre where you can see the progress of all your wheeling and dealing. The playing experience has also been massaged, with a revamped international system and a more detailed relationship with fans and board alike. I can't wait to get stuck in, but I think Halo 3 is the more pressing engagement.

FM 2008 is out on 19 October, and you can download the demo now from the Sports Interactive Web site.