Franchise Hockey Manager 3 Review – PC
+ Good variety and depth
+ Huge time-sink
+ Officially licensed by NHL
- Bugs and issues
- Unwelcoming to newcomers
When I first moved to Canada, I promised myself that I would immerse myself in the culture of the country, and a large part of being in the Great White North is showing interest in hockey. Unfortunately, I had moved to Toronto, and though I attempted to closely follow the Maple Leafs for a number of seasons, their constant pattern of building up hope and then shattering it time and again, coupled with the lockout of a couple of years ago, caused me to fall off the hockey bandwagon and retreat to the safety of my beloved Premier League.
When given the opportunity to try out Franchise Hockey Manager 3, I decided that now was the perfect time to reignite my interest in hockey, and make a virtual name for myself. The cornerstone of FHM3 is the ‘Path to Glory’ mode, where the aim is to start in control of a smaller hockey franchise and work your way up to the riches of the NHL. I started as a couple of teams in this mode, one in England and two in the OHL, and though I didn’t get deep enough in the game to be awarded an NHL team of my own, I experienced enough of a taste of both success and failure to get a feel for the game.
One of the best things about management games like FHM3 is the feeling of developing a group of players and a franchise, and seeing them grow and succeed under your tutelage. There’s nothing better than seeing a player that you’ve nurtured going on to great things, and nothing more frustrating than having a team of supposed superstars failing to perform for reasons that you’re yet to discover. Franchise Hockey Manager does a great job of emulating both of these feelings, and a number of other scenarios, and it’s amazing how playing through a single season in a couple of days can present so many conflicting emotions.
Detractors of sports management simulators such as FHM3 and the Football Manager series often compare the experience to viewing a series of glorified spreadsheets, and while these critics aren’t necessarily incorrect, that description does a great injustice to how well games like these can simulate the entire world of a sport. Franchise Hockey Manager 3, for example, features leagues from twelve different countries, and most of these nations have at least two or three leagues to represent them. There’s a huge amount of content and player choice available within FHM 3, and with each league often having a different ruleset to the others, and each team having different long- and short-term goals, each time the game is restarted, a different experience is produced.
The flipside of this excess of information is that Franchise Hockey Manager isn’t an easy game to get into, especially if you’re not familiar with either management simulations or the world of hockey. Knowing one or the other of these areas will give you enough information to carry you through until you begin to pick up the basics of the other side, but if you’re unfamiliar with both, then FHM3 will feel like stumbling blindly through a series of dark alleyways. Even with my (admittedly fairly basic) knowledge of hockey and my familiarity with management sims, it took me until my third playthrough to truly feel comfortable with what I was doing, and even then I was feeling like there were a couple of elements that I was missing out on.
Unfortunately, for a game as immersive as Franchise Hockey Manager 3, I ran into a number of issues which left the game feeling a little unfinished, and certainly not as polished as other management simulations. The biggest of these issues were occasions where I was unable to continue my game, due to an excessive amount of player injuries, or in one instance, my team having an unacceptable amount of players for the league to allow me to play. This occurred just minutes after starting a new game, and apparently is a common problem for this particular league, making one of the leagues in the game effectively unplayable.
Other issues that I experienced with the game were less game-breaking, but were still noticeable enough to leave a lasting impression. I encountered a number of grammatical and textual errors within the game, which for an experience which relies so heavily on written text to build a world, is a little worrisome. I also had a couple of instances of images staying on screen for longer than they should have, such as the player summary that appears when you hover over a players name, which stayed for a couple of minutes longer than was necessary. While these two particular examples aren’t exactly enough to ruin the game, they tend to rub away the professional veneer that otherwise is present in FHM3, and do just enough to ruin the sense of immersion.
Franchise Hockey Manager 3 offers a fairly compelling hockey management experience, with a wide range of teams to choose from, and enough depth to satisfy even the most stats-addicted hockey fan. Though there are issues that prevent it from being a great management simulation, FHM3 does enough to create the sense of craft and ownership that players of this genre often look for, and there’s enough variety within nation and team choices to create different experiences each time you play. Though it’s perhaps not the most welcoming game to newcomers, stick with it, and you’re likely to be rewarded, even if it doesn’t perhaps provide the instant gratification that gamers are becoming accustomed to.