For years, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager was the way to go for all of the aspiring Lou Lamoriello’s who wanted to have a run at the Stanley Cup, trade away superstars for first-round picks, or chase their favorite player to attempt a blockbuster trade.
Despite the unique offerings in the first three editions, the NHL Eastside Hockey Manager series was shut down. Officially, it was due to “piracy” and “low sales”, but the developers should also have accepted that hockey was hard to promote when compared to soccer. Also, going with a digital download only in 2006 was quite a gamble for the series as the video gaming market was still dominated by brick-and-mortar stores at the time.
[Note: the screens on this review were taken with third-party mods]
Even if the game was shut down and no new editions were released, the folks at The Blue Line — which today, is still the go-to website for EHM resources — managed to keep the series alive with roster updates and a handy utility to change the starting point in order to stay up-to-date.
Fast-forward to 2015, and unexpectedly, EHM got back to the rink with a Steam Early Access version, which emerged from the EA stage in December of that same year. Development continues and we are now at the 1.4.1 version, and at this point, a 1.5 update is more than likely, but likely won’t be out soon.
— Eastside Hockey EHM (@eastside_hockey) January 26, 2017
When you launch the game from Steam, you are presented with a home screen with different choices. Of course, the most used options will be the “Start a new game” and “Load last game”.
You can also create and join online games (more on this later).
You can use different databases for new games, and Steam Workshop has plenty of options. It looks like The Blue Line will soon release a new database update with more playable leagues. There is also a handy tutorial option for the less experienced players.
For this review, I launched a new game with the Minnesota Wild in the NHL. You can manage and coach in more than 30 playable domestic leagues (including the NHL, the AHL, the Russian KHL, the Swedish SHL, and much more), and 13 international leagues (including the World Cup, the WJC, the IIHF WC, and more).
You can have a deeper look on the game’s features at the title’s official site.
The first thing you should do when you launch a new game is acquainting with the game system. Players are rated with 27 technical, mental, and physical ratings, while for goalies this number goes down to 24. The database is pretty realistic — there is always the odd overrated or underrated player — and incredibly deep — did you find a 15-years-old on YouTube? Chances are good that he’s included.
Just like real-life managers, you need to do a lot of multitasking while you play. You should not only focus on your team’s success on the ice, but also about the present and the future situation.
In the NHL, the salary cap just makes it tighter, even if it’s not too hard for the more experienced players to avoid having financial or cap-crunch problems. You can trade players trying to stack up prospects, or to have a better chance at the Stanley Cup.
The trade system isn’t perfect, but did you hear about a sports game with a perfect trade system? I did not.
EHM’s main strength is the mix of realism and immersion for the player. It’s close to impossible not to get attached to your team and even to your players once you have traded them out.
You’ll always want to check how they are doing in their new team to understand if you did well trading them away or if you should have kept them. Or perhaps being not that happy when your favorite player decided to sign with another team for two million less than what you offered.
While you are trying to explore better ways to improve your team’s rosters, you’ll have to win games. Or if you prefer to tank, you still have to ice your prospects to get them progressing. And you want to get them in the right way to have them actually progressing (do you remember the Oilers with Nail Yakupov? You kind of need to do the opposite, most likely). The game features a seemingly endless array of tactical options, as you can see in the screenshot below. If you don’t like to micromanage, there are preset tactics that you can use.
If that’s not enough, you can still set individual tactics for each and all players in your lineup. Your tactics can have a huge effect on your results, though it would be better to have more feedback on your tactic’s usage.
Earlier I mentioned that you have to do a lot of multitasking. During the season, you also are responsible for scouting players to do the ultimate, Panarin-like UFA signing off overseas leagues, or draft the most underrated player with your late first-round pick just to get a core player in a couple of years.
The draft is overall a great experience. The game features not only the NHL Entry Draft, but also Canadian Hockey League drafts (including the Import draft). You get regular rankings throughout the season, so be sure to scout the best players.
If you can, scout them all. Sending a scout in different countries can do wonders for your recruiting campaigns. You can stop the draft to negotiate trades in real time, and the experience is great if you are a draft enthusiast. It’s great if you are not one too.
Online gaming has grown much bigger if we look at it today, rather than 10 years ago. Unfortunately, EHM hasn’t been able to catch up. The module is still the same, and thus the online experience is overall pretty cumbersome, as the game needs to connect to the server literally every click you take.
It doesn’t stop a lot of people to enjoy participating in big online leagues with the full NHL controlled by human managers (once again, refer to The Blue Line for more), but I certainly didn’t enjoy it too much.
Last, but not the least, the game features a full 2D mode to play out games. The screens are very informative, even if available space may be used in a better, more concise way. You have a good chance to influence the style your team plays, make changes on the fly, and so on. Your best rookie just had a terrible mistake? You can bench him or give him another chance. Your third line right winger seems in great shape? Move him to the second line or give your third line a boost in ice time.
Apparently you can’t contain the opposition’s top unit? Try matching their first line with your best shutdown trio. But remember, you are responsible for what your players will become. Just as it is in real life, some players will need more ice time, others will need more control, other players will be just fine whatever you do.
Usually, sports don’t go well with a one-size-fits-all approach, and EHM is no exception.
- A mature, well-rounded game
- An immersive title that will get you saying “just another game”
- Great database and excellent selection of playable leagues
- History and stats recording could and should be much better
- The UI should be modernized
- Online mode not appealing
Final Score: 9/10
Eastside Hockey Manager is available for PC only on Steam priced $19.99. If you are a Mac user, you can use third-party solutions to play the game.