Franchise Hockey Manager Review
Considering that Out of the Park Development’s signature Out of the Park Baseball series is a constant time sink in my life, there’s no denying I was excited to play their foray into hockey simulation, Franchise Hockey Manager. Not because I was a hockey fan – though I’m a sports nut, I rarely watch hockey – but because I was hoping FHM would allow me to learn the ins and outs of the sport, as OOTP did with the deeper complexities (and constant heartbreak) of baseball, both as a game and a business. With a huge array of tools, customizable options, and historical information, FHM certainly does that – but in the most inconvenient ways possible, forever keeping me at arm’s length with its frustrating design and presentation.
FHM: Close, but no cigar (yet)
I can only imagine FHM is penetrable to the most hardcore of hockey fans; from the moment I opened FHM, I felt overwhelmed by the plethora of menus, sub-menus, line-up options, and the like. Admittedly, OOTP is constructed in a similar fashion – but there’s a much more streamlined approach to regular gameplay (translation: reading stats, looking through menus, game simulation) that doesn’t quite translate as cleanly to the hockey side of things. In ways, it’s almost too similar: being a different game with a different style of management, FHM begs for a more distinct user interface, instead of a simplified version of OOTP’s.
And in execution, FHM just isn’t as engaging as I’d hoped it would be. There’s just not a lot of personality to be found: as a way to organize spreadsheets of stats and information, and provide a passable realistic simulation of games, FHM has the basics down pat. There isn’t a player not to be found, no rock unturned when it comes to tweaking game options and league settings: but without the personality, the life found in OOTP’s news sections and in-game dramatics, FHM is a bit of a flat soda.
That’s not to say there isn’t any fun to be had playing the game; as I stated, hardcore hockey fans looking for a managing fix will be mostly pleased with what they find: building an NHL powerhouse (or other world league; they’re all in FHM for you to explore and dominate) is a thoroughly rewarding experience, a culmination of luck, tactical mastery, and smart management. Just don’t jump into the in-game simulation: the game’s rudimentary, unattractive match engine is far and away the most frustrating aspect of FHM in its current form. Eventually, I’m sure it will be fixed – OOTP Developments is known for their constant updates, and desire to listen and respond to player feedback – but in it’s current state, is an entirely hands-off experience, void of any visual imagery to aid players in any kind of tactical management.
FHM is a mixed experience: for every exciting moment drafting a huge prospect or making a massive comeback during a playoff game, FHM’s impermeable game design and lack of engaging aesthetics make it a hard recommendation for anyone except the throwback-sweater owning diehard hockey fan. A rough game with a lot of intriguing features, it seems FHM is still a year or two away from entering the upper echelon of OOTP and Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series.
- Deepest hockey simulator around, bar none
- Fully customizable game options ensure a unique experience every time through
- Cluttered, difficult-to-comprehend UI
- Unattractive in-game presentation
- Lack of extensive game manual detailing gameplay, man management, etc