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NHL Eastside Hockey Manager PC/MAC CD-ROM

Published by SEGA
Developed by Sports Interactive
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager is a game that represents a new beginning for Sports Interactive. The relationship with Eidos is finally over and now they are partnered with SEGA. The founders of Championship Manager now have nothing to do with the game and it's on to pastures new for the development team behind the greatest sports management series of all time. It's not just football management games that will be released in future though. The first game to arrive from the SEGA and Sports Interactive partnership is an ice hockey management game which is a big departure from football. Sports Interactive have always maintained that they would only do a management game if they had profound knowledge of the sport in question. As you probably know though Sports Interactive have recruited some new team members over the last few years and have bought in two development teams who have previously created management games that show a high degree of promise. One of these teams is headed by Risto Remes, the designer and developer of the excellent Eastside Hockey Manager which was a Freeware game. Risto became a member of Sports Interactive and his game was coupled with Sports Interactive's guidance and experience to release NHL Eastside Hockey Manager.

Now I have to admit I'm no expert (If you're a ice hockey fan then just skip this paragraph) when it comes to ice hockey. In fact although I thoroughly enjoy playing ESPN Hockey I didn't know all the ins and outs of the game before playing NHL EHM. The game manual itself is OK but isn't the perfect solution for providing a complete novice with the information they need (it is a very good manual though and it's laid out in a thoughtful way with a good glossary too). Why should it be though? After all it's a game for ice hockey fans not those who don't normally follow the sport. If your interest in this game is because it's been developed by Sports Interactive (and you've previously bought all their Championship Manager titles and eagerly await Football Manager 2005 no doubt) then there's a good chance that you're coming to this game, like me, with little or no knowledge of the sport. In case you're wondering it is possible to play the game without fully realising what's going on as you can leave tasks to your virtual assitants but it's not much fun and you'll have no appreciation for the depth and quality of the game if you take this route. In order to arm myself with enough knowledge to enjoy the game I scoured the Internet for a basic grounding of what's involved with the game. The best two websites I found to help a complete novice are:

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/hockey1.htm
http://www.firstbasesports.com/hockey_glossary.html

On to the game itself then and if you’ve played Championship Manager 3 (or its seasonal updates) you’ll feel pretty much at home with NHL EHM. The reason for this of course is that the game has been built using the Championship Manager 3 game engine. It’s been modified though and it has a different visual style than CM 3 but it still retains that familiar feel. Unlike CM 3 though you'll find a horizontal navigation bar that runs across the top of the screen but again if you've played CM 3 you'll find quite a few of these options familiar. Leagues can be run in Enhanced or Standard mode (called foreground and background in CM 3) and you can choose to have the attributes of other teams (lesser known) players masked if you wish. You can even choose to run the game with fictional players if you want a real challenge. The leagues available to play are NHL, Canada, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Great Britain, Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden. The key differences are areas such as the tactics and this is one area where it pays to know a bit about the game. The manual does a good job of giving you a basic idea of what each tactics option does though.

Regardless of the sport a manager's (or GM in the case of ice hockey) job is never an easy one and there are many problems to contend with. You'll have your work cut out keeping your team members happy. They will tell you exactly what they think of other players in your team or if you haven't treated them correctly. You'll also have to keep them aware of where they stand and let them know if they are in your team just to make up the numbers or whether they are a core or key player. Transfer negotiations are carried out in a similar way to those in the CM series and you'll have to tell a player if he'll be a core player or whether he's a hot prospect for the future etc. Ice hockey fans will be aware that there are some fundamental differences in the rules and transfer regulations between the NHL and European Hockey leagues and all of these intricacies have been been included in NHL EHM. The NHL has Trades, Free Agency, Waivers and Drafts whilst Great Britain, for example just has a more basic buy, sell and Free Agency player transfer methods. The game's pull out chart will keep you informed of what leagues employ which transfer methods.

Graphically the game makes it seem like you’re taking a step back having played Championship Manager 4 and the 03/04 version. The reason for this is that, as we’ve already mentioned, the game has been built around the Championship Manager 3 game engine and it all looks rather chunky in it's 800x600 full screen mode (there's a windowed mode too). If there's one disappointment it's that I wish the game had a 2D overhead view of the rink complete with moving players. I understand that this wasn't possible for this game but I hope that future versions of NHL EHM have this feature. As you'd expect with the game having an official NHL license the game is complete with plenty of NHL pictures for backgrounds to the text, data, logos for clubs and competitions and you'll also find player portraits. You'll also find all of this for the Swedish Elitserien. Most of the other countries leagues have just the club and competition logos but there are some with none of these extras. It just goes to show how difficult it is obtaining the rights to feature all this kind of information for the featured leagues.

Like Sports Interactive's previous titles, NHL EHM will cause deaf gamers no problems at all. In fact there's no sound in the game, not even any crowd noise. All information is displayed in text so you won't miss a thing. The game comes with a 57 page manual of which 49 pages are in English and as we said earlier the manual is very useful and goes to great length in describing what each function actually means. You'll also get a pull-out league guide which informs you of the amount of leagues in a specific country, the player movement methods, the previous season's champions and explains the promotions/relegation procedures where necessary.

Some might think that it was a brave decision by Sports Interactive to venture into a sport other than football but I would say that in Risto Remes they've found someone who's as dedicated to ice hockey as SI are to football. NHL EHM is more or less an ice hockey flavoured CM3 and that is no small achievement. For a first ice hockey management game it's certainly very good and speaking as someone who initially didn't know much about the sport it's managed to keep me interested and I honestly enjoy playing the game. Having played Championship Manager 4 and 03/04 though the interface does feel like you're taking a step back and I missed being able to use hotkeys to navigate around the screens. The ice hockey enthusiast would probably argue that more leagues should have been present too but when you compare it with the early Championship Manager games where you only had the English leagues it compares very favourably. Overall though it's a very promising first version of NHL Eastside Hockey Manager and I for one will certainly be looking forward to the next version.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
Sports Interactive have another great series on their hands. The appeal of the game may be strongest in North America and Canada but fans of SI's other titles should definitely give the game a go. It's not as refined as the final Championship Manager game from SI but it's obvious that it's going to be to ice hockey fans what the Championship Manager series has been and what the Football Manager series will be to football fans.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all. Perfectly accessible to deaf gamers.