Hockey is not a very popular game when compared to the likes of soccer and basketball, which is a shame; hockey is freaking awesome. It’s fast paced, tactical, powerful, and it has fights that end only when a helmet gets knocked off. It’s a game created by boys when thinking about what they would like to watch when they grew up, and I totally respect that feeling.
Franchise Hockey Manager 3, in the meanwhile, is a game created by hockey fans for hockey fans. There is no tutorial, not lexicon, no encyclopedia nor dictionary -- if you don’t know what an enforcer or a garbage collector is in the world of hockey, or which of your players can drop pass and deke successfully, you will find no hand holding here. Franchise Hockey Manager 3 offers little guidance, and it fully expects you to live and breathe hockey by the time you pick it up -- or at least, have a very strong disposition to learn.
The game initially put me off when launched -- it has no music, no sound effects, no soundtrack of any kind. The menus are silent, the button clicks are silent, the matches are silent. Graphically, it is just an UI, with no pictures, no charm, and no effects anywhere whatsoever. It ends up feeling more like a spreadsheet than a proper game, and even for a “simulation”, it feels absurdly sterile.
Once launched, the title offers two main game modes: “Path to Glory”, a standard career mode lasting on average 25 to 30 years where you start unknown and build your way up; and “Sandbox”, which offers you the choice of playing a completely made up league from scratch or play historical matches going back all the way to 1931. The latter is a nice touch for long-time fans of the sport, who might want to recreate the famous 1936’s match between the Red Wings and the Maroons -- hopefully ending before the sixth overtime this time -- or do what Cherry didn’t and give the cup to Boston on the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals. It is a nice idea that should be adapted to other sports games whenever possible.
Franchise Hockey Manager 3 is licensed by the NHL, a majorly important feature which allows the league’s team names and logos to be used in the game and gives players the ability to control said real teams. Weirdly, though, the game does not follow proper NHL rules -- roster sizes, trade limits, and draft lotteries are all wrong, and that is unforgivably jarring in a title that aims to be a hockey simulator. The worth of a product is judged by the attention it pays to details, and in this case, that value is unfortunately sorely lacking.
Speaking of simulations, the loading times in this game are inexplicably long. Fallout 4 renders a 30 miles map in less than a minute, yet Franchise Hockey Manager 3 takes almost the same time -- if not more -- to load what is basically an excel book. I understand the technical difference here is considerable, especially the load that the GPU and the CPU pull, but it is still something that must be noted.
The game itself is quite interesting, although not very deep. The tactical aspects are quite fleshed out, allowing you to choose different strategies and even historical plays, while the coaching and scouting system gives you a nice overview of players’ strengths, weakness and psychological profile. However, you can’t talk to players directly or in any way motivate and manage them, which contributes to the “accounting book” feeling that permeates Franchise Hockey Manager 3. The personal touch is present in other similar games, such as Football Manager, so the decision to not include such an essential mechanic here is puzzling. Coaching is as much about inspiration as it is about strategy, and the best tactical hockey team in the world still couldn’t win a single game when uninspired -- hell, the famous Miracle on Ice was 90% motivation.
Overall, Franchise Hockey Manager 3 is important as one of the only hockey simulation games available, especially on computers where EA has foolishly forsaken the PC crowd of sports games for years on end with the absence of Madden and NHL games. However, this is a very specific game for fans of the sport, and it is not very fun at being a game, actually. If you don’t enjoy hockey or can’t withstand the boringness of a 100% spreadsheet and soulless game, stay well clear of it. But if you really like hockey, and especially if this gameplay style appeals to you, pick this up.
Franchise Hockey Manager 3 (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Ironically, a game built on ice needs a hot heart to survive.