Monday, October 23, 2006

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 Review

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega.
The Good: Comprehensive management and strategy options across multiple real-world leagues
The Not So Good: Overwhelming to new players, daily simulation takes an extremely long amount of time, breadth can result in information overload
What say you? It’s got everything you’d want in a sports management game, but sometimes too much is too much: 6/8

Ice-based sports have taken a hit recently. With the season-long lockout of the NHL coupled with the poor ratings of the Winter Olympics (losing out to America Idol), it seems that Americans are no longer entertained by cold climate escapades. Trying to win back some of the fanfare is the venerable NHL Eastside Hockey Manager series, delivering their 2007 version even though it is clearly 2006. Like most sports management games, you’ll take the helm as general manager of a hockey team and lead them to consecutive last place finishes in their division. Or the Stanley Cup, whatever your long-term goal is.

Being a management game, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 features primarily text-based graphics full of exciting charts and graphs. Other than the overhead 2-D view of a hockey rink during games, there isn’t anything that separates NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 from all of the other sports management games out there. In fact, maneuvering around NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is more difficult than in some other management titles; finding important information that should be accessible from all of the submenus requires backing out of several layers of menus, something that should not be an issue. For example, you aren’t allowed to exit the game unless you are at one of the main menus (and not looking at player stats). This kind of limitation in the user-interface makes playing the game frustrating, as you sometimes can’t accomplish what you want in the order you desire. Finding specific players is also difficult, as the filters are limited and there are a lot of international hockey players included in the game; scouring 200 pages of player names for a potential free agent is a gigantic waste of time. Sound is almost non-existent in NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, although this might be considered a good thing since background music in management games is usually awful at best. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is everything you’d expect in a sports management game in terms of graphics and sound, although it could use a more user-friendly interface to quickly find specific data.

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 allows you to control any team in the NHL or several minor leagues, such as the ECHL. The game is really intended to be played as the GM of an NHL team, as the rosters for the minor leagues are extremely small (nine total players?) and free agent movement is limited. The game allows you to play using the standard game engine or an enhanced league, which includes more micromanagement. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is a very comprehensive game, as it includes everything you’d want to control in a hockey franchise. The game allows you to sign, trade, and maintain your player roster across all of your affiliated teams and also set an overall goal for the team in terms of player acquisition (favor young players, rebuild through draft), intended for more desirable CPU trade offers. Each of the game’s players are rated for physical, mental, and technical skills, although the game does not have a specific “overall” numerical rating (although players are assigned a generic desirability rating, such as “good” or “OK”).

Despite your general manager role, you are allowed to set tactics for your team to use during games (which is more of a coaching decision), including player usage, line matching, and shot targeting. You can also change a number of advanced tactics: aggressiveness, gap control, puck pressure, temp, formations, and more. As you can tell, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 allows you to completely tailor your hockey squad to their strengths and your desired style of play. Of course, the downside to this is the sheer number of options will be daunting for new players and those unfamiliar with hockey terminology who might think “dumping the puck” is scatological in nature. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 has full scouting options and makes managing your scouts pretty simple; you can assign scouts to evaluate the next opponent, the draft, or a specific nation.

You can choose to play the games yourself or let the computer simulate them according to the tactics you have come up with. Watching and coaching the game can involve calling line changes and the like, but since most of the in-game tactics have been decided beforehand, there really isn’t much reason to watch the games. Although NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 has a load of coaching and managing options, the game is not that desirable for newcomers. As I have mentioned earlier, the game is quite difficult to navigate as important information is sometimes hidden several menus below the surface. Also, the game features a lot of information that takes a while to digest, especially when starting a new team. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 does not have a tutorial to ease new players into the game, so you’re just thrown in to the fray. The standard leagues eliminate some of the overwhelming nature of the game, but it’s still quite a feat to get accustomed to the game. Sadly, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is one of the slowest games I have ever played, as it takes half a minute to simulate a single day in the game. Since the game starts in the offseason, getting to actual matches takes quite a long time, and the lack of interesting actions during the offseason makes the wait even more arduous. To begin with, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is quite boring to play until you get into the full swing of the hockey season; the fact that the beginning of the game is quite monotonous does not bode well in attracting new players to the franchise.

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is clearly geared towards veterans of sports management games and the series itself. The game does have one of the most all-inclusive set of coaching options available for any sport, giving the user specific control over every aspect of their organization’s strategy during games. The rest of the game is pretty standard fare (player options, graphics), but the slow pace of the game doesn’t help matters as NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 is probably the slowest sports simulation game I’ve played in resolving daily actions. Gamers who understand the ins and outs of hockey strategy will find a great management simulation of the game, but most people who are unfamiliar with the game will be befuddled by all of the options at their disposal. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007 will appeal to fans of the genre and the sport but most of the gaming public not included in that niche group can avoid the game and not feel worse for wear.