The challenge with putting out an annual franchise is that the development cycle is painfully short so big changes and improvements tend to lag a bit. You’re so busy working on getting a game out that factoring in feedback is a challenge unless you’ve already planned to integrate it in the next game. Look at the plethora of EA Sports games on an annual release cycle or the complaints of stagnating Call of Duty when they were on a two-year development cycle.
That brings us to Franchise Hockey Manager 3, the first FHM game released in its new annual release schedule. While Out of the Park Developments made big changes from 2013’s Franchise Hockey Manager to 2015’s FHM2, they didn’t have time to overhaul that game’s issues in time for 2016’s FHM3.
There are two big changes to FHM3 when comparing it to last year’s game. The first is the acquisition of the NHL license. While the names of the teams were in FHM2, this year’s game includes all the NHL logos and jerseys so it feels like you’re playing in the big leagues. It’s a cosmetic change more than anything but it’s a critical one for the perception of the series.
The game also features the ability to coach games from behind the bench. I mentioned that I couldn’t find this in last year’s game but it was right there from the start in this year’s. Granted, I gave up on this after about three games. The only real benefit to standing behind the bench is to match lines. You don’t have any other tactical options easily available to you.
OOTP Developments also touts a new role-based tactical system. It’s an interesting idea that I like in the Football Manager franchise. Each player can play two different roles, be it more physical, defensive, positionally rigid, counterattacking and so on. Naturally, each player is better suited to certain roles. The problem is that each role is limited to certain positions and certain lines. It’s a problem when my line of Vanek, Larkin and Athanasiou have to play on the 4th line so they get the roles they’re best suited to. Sure, I give them almost 2nd line minutes but it doesn’t make sense that I can’t use them to their full ability by putting them 3rd on my depth chart.
Also promoted on the Steam page is the “Path to Glory” which is legally distinct from the “Road to Glory” modes in EA Sports games. I give them a hard time over the naming but it’s a career mode. It’s nothing different from what you would have seen last year with the exception of player-character having various RPG-style attributes that I don’t see as making a huge difference but I’m sure there is if you play a few career modes over long periods of time with very differently built characters.
On the whole, though, you can go back to last year’s review and most of the same points I made there will apply this year. The exception is that I can’t figure out the salary cap screen this year. There’s nothing to that plainly says how much money you have left in cap room or how much is being used. It’s all sort of a jumble that mixes me up with positional totals, money in the minors, and payroll budgets (rather than cap hits) all thrown onto the screen. I just wanted to know how much I could add at the trade deadline (if anyone offered me a deal which the AI is reluctant to).
Once again, the glaring omission from FHM3 is any sort of feedback on your team or players. Where is your team succeeding? Why is it losing? What tactical or lineup changes can help you improve? Do different players thrive in different situations? What about the optimal combination of players and roles on a line?
On that note, there is a massive lack in tactical depth in FHM that Football Manager has and could be applied here. As I noted, when you’re behind the bench, there aren’t a lot of tactical options available to you but without feedback, you wouldn’t be able to use them effectively. It would be nice to have options to tell players to cherry pick, stretch pass, carry the puck, dump and chase, bang, trap, short passes, cycle deep, cheat on the breakout, pinch at the blueline and so on but they’re not there in the game or out of it. Even just a little slider to set offensive and defensive pressure and tactics depending on timing and situation would be nice. Actually, wasn’t that in last year’s game?
For a game that wants to combine the on-ice and front office jobs of a coach / GM, FHM3 does a good job of the off-ice parts of a GM’s job but really let’s you down when it comes to simulating a coach’s job. It could just be a complete lack of a tutorial or an intuitively designed interface to point out where these features are. The feedback and interface hold this back from appealing to more people because you are treated like a GM whose only knowledge of the team comes from reading a three-paragraph game summary and stats in the local newspaper. That and this game seems to have the Ron Popeil “set it and forget it” mindset when it comes to task delegation. You can pick whether you or the AI performs various tasks at the start of the game and there’s no way to change it later. Again, that could be the interface but it shouldn’t take me a month to find that.
The problem with FHM 2 and 3 is that I find they’re closer to being a take on fantasy hockey rather than completely taking over a hockey team. Perhaps I’d get more enjoyment from doing a game with a complete fantasy draft of all the players in the NHL/world (i.e. NHL and KHL). I used to do that all the time. Check all realism at the door and perhaps that’s where the real fun of FHM will come through.
If you’re looking for an evaluation of the graphics or sound, there isn’t much here. The in-game portion is particularly underwhelming as a dot shows what portion of the ice that play is in which is a step down from 2D management simulators like old Football Manager or Motorsport Manager. I’d even say that I preferred the in-game element of Basketball Pro Management though its interface wasn’t any better.
The perception of EA Sports is that their games often remain the same apart from a couple of small tweaks, a roster update and maybe one big new feature but you don’t miss much from skipping a year. Franchise Hockey Manager 3 is the same in that regard. They have the NHL license, a few little tweaks, a roster update and a fresh coat of paint but there’s nothing game-changingly new about it to make me think that it would be worth $40 if you dropped $40 on last year’s game.
Despite what I’ve said above, the game’s not bad. There’s just nothing really new worth talking about. Heck, I should be happy that OOTP thinks that they’re near lock for the playoffs when they’re completely healthy. The problem is that I said all that really needs to be said in last year’s review. If you want a franchise or owner mode hockey game without the on-ice component, this is what you’re looking for and it does that competently well.
Like I said last year, FHM will always run into the juggernaut that is Football Manager when the game is judged. I’m not nearly as big a soccer fan but FM will reward you for being clever and punish you for not and, most importantly, show you the results of your decisions. I have actually cheered and jumped out of my chair when orchestrating a clutch goal because I know that I played an important part of it, even if my assistant is telling me what I should be doing. FHM lacks that proverbial carrot.
That all being said, I’m looking forward to FHM4 because the potential of playing the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft as any team and sandboxing in a 2018-19 Quebec Nordiques / Seattle Hockey Sonics expansion draft could bring a huge tactical element to the off-ice game. Now about the on-ice game…
Franchise Hockey Manager 3 was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X. A retail copy of the game was provided for review by Out of the Park Developments. Your impressions of the game may differ depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether you think that the Detroit Red Wings could secure a playoff spot without injuries.