The NHL season has started, but it's still too early to tell how everything is going to shake out. This means it's the perfect time to jump into Franchise Hockey Manager 4 from Out of the Park Developments, and take control of your favorite franchise to ensure that the Stanley Cup goes to the right place. Simulating what happens this season is just the tip of the iceberg in FHM 4, however. Naturally you can take your franchise far into the future, but the game also extends into the NHL's past (back to 1917), has international team management, and allows you to set up regionalized leagues (of countries, regions, or even with teams from states like Minnesota). I spent some time with the game recently, and am excited enough that I want to play more.

Guiding your team through scouting, drafts, and free agency periods is essential to building a dynasty like in any sports sim, but the gameday decisions were what really hooked me. First of all, the tactical system you decide to play is important in giving your players the structure they need to succeed. Choose from presets like the dump and chase, flexible triangle, heavy cycle, neutral zone trap, 1-2-2 forecheck, which sets offensive and defensive roles for your lines. From here it's up to you to choose the right players for these roles and further refine their duties to give your team the edge on the ice.

It took me a little while to understand the game's tactical system and how to even make things happen within the U.I. but overall it's not hard to figure out (the online manual helps) and an option to have the A.I. maximize things for you is available.

Of course, setting things up on paper in your office before the game is different from having to make adjustments once the action starts, but that's what's fun about the title. During the game, you'll see how your tactical setup compares to the other team's (in the upper-right corner of the screen below), as well as who has the overall momentum. Down a goal and not getting a lot of shots on net? Try changing the roles of the existing lines or mixing up the personnel within those lines. Even when I didn't have the firepower of the other team, I was still able to get goals or at least play good defense and special teams to give my team a chance. The strategy tab allows you to tweak roles and also shows you which of the tactics actively counters those of your opponent.

Key to understanding the tactical battle is your players' game rating (GR), which is a 1-100 scale that tells you how effective that player is in performing his role. More than just their potential or skill ratings or other hockey stats available, this tells you if you've set up the tactics right. It was very satisfying to juggle up the lines and roles when I was not having any success, and seeing a players' GR increase and even see some goal production because of it. Managing on this level is not only important when you're down in a game, but also when the inevitable injuries hit and you're calling up players from your AHL affiliate to fill in the gaps.


Click to enlarge 

The in-game experience is also exciting due to the play-by-play which I admit can be confusing as the on-ice icon jumps around, but it does a good job of conveying when the puck's being held in your zone or there are powerplays/kills. Despite the usefulness of players' GR, there is an unknown aspect of your players' performance that's not conveyed through the various stats. What's our puck possession like in each zone of the rink? Where are the areas we're giving it away in and under what kinds of situations? How well is each line doing against the opponents' lines? Apart from hits, are we "working hard?" These may be slightly esoteric questions even in real-life hockey, but they represent a missing aspect of the FHM 4 coaching experience that left me at a loss at times for how my team was performing. In a larger sense, it's the kind of thing that happens in a sim title when you're not directly controlling the action or able to see it graphically play out in front of you from second to second.

The game has a lot more, including the interesting historical teams and challenges featuring real historic players. I've only scratched the surface in terms of customizing the experience from a roster, league, and team standpoint (I'm sure there's a way to get college hockey going), but there's definitely enough here that's piqued my interest. 

 

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

REVIEW ROUND-UP 

Madden NFL 18 
NASCAR Heat 2 
NHL 18 
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 
FIFA 18 (shown)
NBA 2K18 
NBA Live 18 
Golf Story 
Project Cars 2 
Forza Motorsport 7 
NBA 2K18 (Switch) 
FIFA 18 (Switch)
GT Sport 

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week

Football Manager 2018 Beta Begins 
The game is out November 10.

FIFA 18 Patch Tweaks Passing, Goalkeepers & Brings Back FUT Guest Play 
The patch is available now on PC, and will be for the consoles "in the coming weeks." No mention of Switch, however. Click the link for the patch's full details.

EA Sports Starting New FUT Esports Competition 
Qualification includes the in-game FUT weekend competition as well as through live events.

Tennis World Tour Gets A Release Date