It’s a unique feeling that’s hard to replicate.
Whether you happened to build your team by signing nothing but the best free agents and trading for key players or you built a dynasty through the draft, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as when your hard work pays off in the form of a championship.
To paraphrase a near 50-year-old song: you planned each course, each careful step, but much more than that, you did it your way.
Since its debut in 2013, the Franchise Hockey Manager series has worked to become a game that’s all about doing it your way. With Franchise Hockey Manager (FHM) 4 that phrase has never had more meaning in a hockey sim.
As expected, FHM 4 introduces the Vegas Golden Knights to the fold for play. Players can either go in with the current roster as constructed, or take a chance and re-do the expansion draft to build them as you see fit.
The game features the modes that everyone has come to expect in the form of custom leagues that allows you to play when and how you want, historical challenges and standard games. “Path to Glory” returns this year, but it is now available in every mode rather than being it’s own standalone offering. Instead, Out of the Park Developments introduced a new Challenge Mode to the game that gives players the option to create a hockey dynasty, but it adds a new level of difficulty towards achieving your goals.
There are no new league licenses this year, but the ability is there via the deep modding community to add the various teams and logos to your game.
There’s really nothing that will pop out to players as being overly impressive, but the updates to in-game tactics, AI logic, player chemistry, and stat tracking all make the game as deep as ever. No longer did I see players like Steven Stamkos or John Tavares end up as healthy scratches despite performing on the ice.
Another new smaller addition to the game are storylines that could lead to various effects on players depending on whether the news is positive or negative. Lastly, new leagues from countries like Belarus, Austria, and Slovakia allow for the inclusion of the European Champions League for the first time ever.
The lack of an online mode remains a head-scratching omission from the game. Online was a part of the second installment, but it was a very buggy and broken experience that led to it being removed from FHM 3. With it still not being apart of the fourth release, it’s a clear sign that the mode just isn’t where the developers at OTTP Developments want it in order to be a part of the game.
That being said, it’s still a glaring omission from a game that seems to be tailor-made for online sim leagues.
The game’s matchup screen looks nearly identical to what you see when you check out NHL.com’s online GameCenter, and it even includes in-game sound effects like crowd noise and chatter. However, while FHM 3 seemed to have too much open space, FHM 4’s matchup screen can feel a bit too crowded with everything going on.
You can see each play as it happens, follow stats, check tactical advantages, and more. Unfortunately, things start to overlap at times and you can lose focus on what you want to find.
A nice positive to take away from the game’s presentation is that everything seems much more smooth than past editions of the game. Simming throughout the year still takes a bit longer than I’d like depending on how many leagues are involved in your game, but everything loads a bit quicker than FHM 3. All in all, responsiveness has been improved allowing much more to get done in the same amount of time.
While there’s nothing that will stand out as a major improvement, Franchise Hockey Manager 4 is still the feature-rich and immersive hockey sim that fans have come to expect it to be.
If you haven’t played the series since FHM 1 or 2, it’s sure to blow you away. If you were big into the last edition then you may not find a lot different with this year’s release aside from the Vegas addition, matchup screen, and some of the minor changes. It’s just as deep as ever, but FHM 4 leaves you with a feeling of wanting more.
**Note: A copy of Franchise Hockey Manager 4 on PC was provided by OOTP Developments to SGO for the purposes of this review**