This is my fourth year of reviewing the Franchise Hockey Manager series, having started with FHM 3 in 2016, and having now played FHM 6, I find that these reviews become harder to write each year. This isn’t because the game is bad, but instead because they are consistently brilliant, and my vocabulary of superlatives is beginning to reach its breaking point when I try to describe this most recent entry. Franchise Hockey Manager 6 brings an array of updates and new features that brings the series ever closer to feeling like you’re actually stepping into the role of an NHL Coach or GM (or both, if you want to control everything), and existing fans of the series will likely already be fully immersed in the new virtual careers.
The major talking point for FHM 6 is the inclusion of a rivalry system, which attempts to replicate those games that mean that little bit more, and the matchups that can really bring the fans onside. When I think of hockey rivalries, my mind instantly goes to Toronto vs. Montreal, and how fans of both teams will pick out those particular games from the schedule as soon as it is released, and make sure that their evenings are free so that they can potentially hold bragging rights over the other team should results go their way. In FHM 6, the rivalries that you can experience are dictated by rank, from no rivalry at all, through to potential rivalry, all the way to main rivals, which are well-established rivalries, with battle lines well drawn.
These games often feel different to regular games, and you’ll notice that certain players will play differently, depending on their ‘big-game’ rating. Some will rise to the challenge and excel, and others will shrink from the limelight, cowering under the increased physicality of the games and the rise in the number of penalties given to each team. It’s an interesting mechanic, and though it will only show up a certain number of times in each season (more if you’re one of the original six, with more established rivalries, and less if you’re a newer team who no-one really cares enough about to hate) it adds to the feeling of realism, and I could feel myself preparing for these games with a little more care, as I knew that it would mean so much more to my virtual fans and my reputation if we could pull off a famous win.
This is a good point to highlight that FHM 6 once again gives you a strong sense of ownership over your team, and you really begin to fret over the decisions that you’re making and the players that you’re putting into your lineup. One such instance that surprised me with how much it got to me was my first day with my new team, where one of my players reported an injury that he had sustained while helping a friend move. I actually uttered a ‘Why would you do that?!’ to my computer, exasperated over the fact that the season was fast approaching and one of my players had injured himself in such a trivial manner. FHM 6 is full of moments like these, and once the playoffs roll around and the pressure starts to mount, it’s quite amazing how quickly the hours can fly by as you start to become absorbed in the day-by-day minutiae of your players’ lives.
If you don’t quite feel up to throwing yourself fully into a GM career, then FHM 6 also offers the opportunity to play the game on a smaller scale. Historical challenges return, as doe the option of managing a team through an historical season, but you’re also now able to replicate individual games or series in the Exhibition mode. If there was a playoff series, or even a single season-defining game that you wish that you could go back in time and course correct, then FHM 6 offer you the opportunity to do that. You can even pit teams against each other from different eras, meaning that if you wanted to pit the last Toronto Maples Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup against the modern day incarnation to see who would win, you can do that. It’s a huge playground for the fan of historical hockey, and the choice is almost limitless for the matchups that you can make.
Like the majority of frequent sports game releases, FHM 6 also brings a host of smaller scale changes and updates that seek to improve or finesse some of the finer details of the game. Really though, all that you need to know is that FHM 6 continues to meet the high-bar that the series has set for itself, and that for the hockey fan, this is the best management simulation currently available on the market. There’s a simply mind-boggling amount of stuff to do, and the improvements and additions to this year’s offering only bring it closer to what I imagine the real-world equivalent must be like. If you’re looking for a game of this type, then Franchise Hockey Manager 6 is a no-brainer, and I can’t wait to see what they do with next year’s entry to top what’s on offer here.