Fall. Autumn. Pre-winter, whatever you want to call it. The leaves on the trees are turning a different color, there are three major holidays in a row coming up (in the US), and grown men in skates are in full swing of flying around the ice trying to put a rubber puck into the net.
Growing up in Buffalo, NY, my first exposure to hockey was a fateful night in 1999 during the Stanley Cup Finals: Sabres versus Stars. My friend and I stayed up until 4 a.m. just to experience the most heartbreaking loss in Sabres history. We all know Hull was in the crease and it was a no goal, but I digress.
With the release of Franchise Hockey Manager 5 from the folks over at the OOTP Developments team, I can reclaim Buffalo’s lost Stanley Cup from 1999, and create the bustling dynasty that we so rightfully deserve. Let’s look at the latest iteration of this fast-growing text sim.
What I Like
The first thing I noticed when opening the game for the first time is the much cleaner UI. It’s brighter, and things are laid out in a way where users can quickly navigate to wherever they must go in the game with ease. We’re getting closer and closer to Out of The Park Baseball levels of UI and navigation. I can jump from the NHL home page, to my team’s home page, directly to a page that compares players, minor league reports, etc. It’s all so streamlined, and it made my experience playing that much better.
The depth in this game is something to behold as well. When starting a new game, you have the option to not only include the NHL and AHL, but all the lower leagues as well such as the ECHL, CHL, and almost every international league you can think of. For fans of the international tournaments, they’re all represented as well. Olympics? Check. Hockey World Cup? Check. Gretzky Cup? Check. They’re all there.
As a big fan of line mixing and matching, this game handles that aspect of hockey extremely well. Is your second line left winger struggling to generate points? Put him with your first line center and see if he can up his game. Doing a save with my Sabres, Jeff Skinner was failing to succeed at all on the second line, so I moved him to line one and paired him with Jack Eichel. He instantly got seven points in his first batch of games on line one. You must find the right mix of players, build chemistry and then your team can find its identity. It’s cool when you see it all come together.
The AI logic seems pretty well put together. I didn’t see any outrageous trades between teams. In fact, I was impressed with almost every trade that I saw go down between the AI squads. Aging vets on bad teams being traded to good teams with the chance to win a Cup in return for draft capital does exist here. Disgruntled players being shipped out of town to improve team chemistry does exist here.
The historical play is also another incredible aspect I loved. Starting from the beginning of the NHL with the original six, all the way until now, you can replay and continue from any year of the league, beginning to end. Will Gretzky still be the greatest ever in your league, or will a relative unknown rise from the depths and surprise everyone by becoming the greatest to ever lace them up? Will the Canadiens still be the toast of the town? Or will another dynasty emerge? The possibilities are endless. To watch records be set, broken, chased and everything in between is exhilarating.
Speaking of endless possibilities, fictional play offers an outstanding amount of content to customize and craft the world you want. Want a small league full of teams from a certain region? Check. A 14-18 year-old teen league where you can develop and draft the next generation of pros? Check. You can have an entire global league with teams from every continent, competing in a league with as many games as you’d like, playoff teams, rules, trading guidelines, and almost anything else you can think of. The depth is amazing.
What I Don’t Like
With all the raving I’ve down about the depth and the customization, I want even more from this series. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by OOTP Baseball and its vast depth that I expect the same from the FHM series, but I think that’s the right mindset here. Maybe I’m being a little too critical, but I want to feel like I’m living inside a living, breathing hockey world. I get mail and news stories about trades, player performances, milestones, and other things. However, there doesn’t seem to be any random events, trade rumors, power rankings, or anything else that makes me feel like I’m in a living and breathing world so to speak. It can be a bit repetitive when you’re looking for something to wow you.
Another thing I didn’t like was the lack of “facegen” for NHL players. For those of you who don’t know what facegen is, it was introduced in the OOTP Baseball series. Instead of using real player portraits, there is a 3-D facial image of the player that changes between a frown and a smile depending on the player’s mood. The fact that we don’t have to download mods to get these facegens is sometimes taken for granted, but in FHM you will need to get a user-made mod. Once you figure out how to install it, it really does bring a lot of life to the game.
Editor’s note: The team reached out to us and offered this information for clarification.
I only had a few other nitpicks, such as the loading times being a bit of a chore, and I wish the icons on the UI were a bit bigger — everything seems a bit squashed and bunched together, which can put quite the strain on the eyes.
If you’re a hardcore fan of the sport, this is the hockey game for you. You can get lost in this for hours upon hours wondering where the time went as you wonder if your 20-year-old superstar can lead your team to the Cup, or if the European vet you poached from one of the overseas leagues is the one to take you over the top. If you’ve ever wanted to coach or be the general manager of a hockey team, this is a solid start to living out your fantasies. With the endless amount of customization, you’ll never run out of ways to create your own hockey leagues. I expect this series to take significant strides next year and beyond. It’s right on the cusp of greatness.