The NHL season has started, and Franchise Hockey Manager is back. Out of the Park Developments‘ fourth chapter of the hockey management game was just released for PC and Windows. We were pretty happy with the third installment, and we wanted to check if the game is a step forward.
This fourth episode of the saga was released on Friday and is available on Steam or eSellerate. The game features many novelties that we’re going to explore in the first part of the article.
The biggest thing to happen in hockey this year was, of course, the Vegas expansion, and FHM could simply not stay away from it. You will have a chance to start a game with the real Vegas roster, or you can step up and try your luck in the expansion draft yourself.
Also, you will have at your disposal an all-new Challenge Mode to face more difficulties and play in a slightly different, but perhaps more realistic way to achieve even greater results. If you’re a fan of the always-popular Historical Mode, you will have 30 new historical challenges, one for each NHL team, where you can repeat or improve the greatest NHL dynasties. Or fail miserably, naturally. On top of that, the Historical Mode has been expanded to the 1917-18 season.
Other new stuff isn’t really tuned to get players into a “wow-effect”, but it’s not less interesting: virtual GM and head coaches will now have to deal with players chemistry when forming their lineup and lines, and the tactical system introduced with FHM 3 got fine-tuned to give players more freedom but also more responsibilities. Setting the right tactic is very important for your team, but what’s really of paramount importance is to be flexible enough to understand and correct what’s working and what’s not.
On the less critical side of the new things, we have a new system for the uniform numbers (but it needs some work) and the “storylines,” partly grabbed from OOTP, where players can face positive or negative effects to different on- and off-ice moments. Those are pretty fun and engaging, therefore I won’t give out any spoilers.
Moreover, the league now has new playable leagues (Austrian EBEL, Denmark, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, SPHL, and LNAH) as well as new international tournaments. If you want to know more, and I mean a lot more, FHM producer Jeff Riddolls took the time to assemble a giant “what’s new” list. It’s worth reading if you have five spare minutes.
Related: EA Sports NHL 18 Review
The game, not surprisingly, plays similarly as FHM 3. But not totally. Most of the players prefer standard games, and surely a few of them would be intrigued to play with Vegas, and playing this way is now more of an engaging experience as it was with the first few chapters of the franchise—the third one is included, that is.
You can take control of Vegas since the start and have your attempt in assembling a better squad. Or you can play with the existing lineup (rosters are updated to the NHL opening night rosters) and try to improve the situation grabbing players from the waivers or maybe trying to see if Jarome Iginla is worth a last year in the NHL.
A lot of things were working in day-to-day GMing and coaching in FHM 3, and those keep on working well in FHM 4. However, there are a few glitches and logical problems. An example? The AI still needs to master the way it assembles the offensive lines, as it’s not too good to see stuff like Phil Kessel on the third line, although ice time is not too affected.
Also, things need to be put in the right perspective: it’s not like the Oilers will start McDavid on the fourth line, but in some cases, for example with the best teams or with a young lineup, some players can be played in an odd way. It really sounds like a few teams will get a tactic where they (over-)favor two-way forwards over more offensive guys. The game, however, has already undergone a patch and surely future updates will improve the situation.
I mentioned “logical” problems. Sometimes, the game’s UI and presentation lack logic. If you put a player on waivers, and he gets claimed, you will get a news item telling you that he has been claimed by another NHL team. Then, you will most likely click on him to check maybe on what line he is going to play, or just to check how good he looks with his new jersey, and then you go and do your day-to-day activities, playing out a game included. At the end of the day, you will get a “Player X has been claimed by team Y”. Oh, really?!? But it’s not too much of a big deal.
As said, the game can be very engaging, especially for the ones who like to micromanage their team. If you feel like coaching, you can have a dramatic impact on your games simply by flip-flopping players according to their performance, just like it happens sometimes in real life, or changing the primary or secondary role that players have for your team.
Just like in real life, more versatile players can be very important: you can try to switch to a more offensive approach if you need a goal, but you shouldn’t expect Antoine Roussell to play as Alexander Radulov if you’re managing the Dallas Stars. You can assign to players a role according to the tactic, and their effectiveness will be reflected by points.
More offensive guys, like Radulov, will bring more “points” to your tactics if set to play more creative or offensive roles, while more defensive players should be better off playing solid, 200-foot hockey. You can really lose yourself in tactics, and even if you can’t see the games played out in 3D, you can notice the impact of the tactics just studying your team’s statistics.
The match screen isn’t the best. Frankly speaking, the match screen in FHM 3 was better, even if it had a lot, and I mean a lot, of wasted space. Moreover, not all goals make the highlights, so you can get some odd “phantom” goals which can be annoying if you like to actually watch your games.
International play also needs some work. Naturally, there are overrated and underrated players in any game, but I don’t really think that the AI makes an excellent job in selecting the best rosters. In particular, it seems that international tournament rosters are a bit veteran-heavy, especially in today’s hockey world where speed is more important than ever, and more and more young players get prominent roles even in national teams. This is not a game-breaking problem by any means, since the game does a decent job in this aspect, but I feel like it could be better.
Another thing is that European leagues are still behind in development. We already talked about it in last year’s review, and the situation has improved, but not as much as it could. Transfers, rules, and many little things aren’t so advanced playing in non-NHL leagues and didn’t move much forward if compared with FHM 3. Hopefully, future updates will improve the situation. Another thing is that tournaments like the Memorial Cup and the Champions Hockey League are “squeezed” into their teams’ schedules and don’t have their own, separate page. Those tournaments turn a bit into some kind of invisible competitions, and it would be much better for the players just to have their own tab.
The engagement factor has grown a lot since the first iteration, and it is getting better and better; however, I think that there is still a lot of room for improvement. You should be knowing more about the hockey world around you, and this is even more evident when you have international tournaments. If you have a player in the World Cup of Hockey, that’s good as you’ll get news items about it. Otherwise, you won’t even notice that the competition is getting played.
All in all, the game is good. If you liked FHM 3, you will like FHM 4. If you dropped the game after FHM 1 or FHM 2 and skipped FHM 3, you will be surprised.
[Disclosure: Franchise Hockey Manager 4 was reviewed on Windows PC but will also available for Mac OS X. A retail copy of the game was provided by Out of the Park Developments for paid research and betatesting activities.]