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NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005 PC/Mac CD-ROM

Published by SEGA
Developed by Sports Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £29.99

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005, an introduction.

Last year we saw the first management game from Sports Interactive that wasn't based on football. It was surprising because Sports Interactive always maintained that they would only concentrate on sports where they had the knowledge to make everything as realistic as possible. What casual observers might not have known was that new members had been added to the Sports Interactive team. One of these members, Risto Remes had been the designer and developer of a very promising freeware ice hockey management game called Eastside Hockey Manager for quite a while. Whilst the core of the Sports Interactive team were busy on Football Manager 2005, a new team concentrated on creating the first retail release of Risto's ice hockey management game. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager was released last year and whilst it was a very good game and showed a lot of promise, there were ways in which it could have been improved. Let's take a look at this year's version to see how it shapes up.

What's the game about?

NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005 is much more than a seasonal update to last year's game. The game offers a mass of improvements that make the experience much more compelling. There are more leagues, more players and more teams to manage. Many areas of the game have been improved and many new features have been added. In fact there are just so many improvements that this feels a much more mature product than last years game that anyone would think Sports Interactive have been working on this version for 2-3 years and not just the one.

What's good about the game?

It's difficult to describe just how much the game has matured in the last 12 months and Risto and the gang must have worked tirelessly to improve so many areas of the game. The first thing you'll notice of course is the improved user interface. Last year we had the tired looking, Championship Manager 3 style appearance but this year we have the more elegant style of the Football Manager series (although you'll recognise some CM3 influences on certain screens). More leagues have been added this year to bring the total to over 20. As well as the NHL and European leagues we also have the AHL, and ECHL to give you a more authentic experience. The game now includes 32,000 players and a total of over 3,000 teams. The number of leagues, players and clubs are more than double those of last year's game. The international scene has now been fleshed out in an attempt to make the whole thing feel more realistic. New player Bio screens have been added which give you a text overview, current team and career record for each player. This is a great feature and definitely something I would like to see in FM2006.

The game has so many features that have been improved it's difficult to know where to begin. Scouting, trades and tactics have been significantly improved and are now much more user friendly. NHL EHM seemed great when we played it last year but having gone back to the game after playing NHL EHM 2005, it feels awkward which says a lot for the improvements that have been made in this year's game. Perhaps my favourite feature is the new tactical view. Last year you simply had an overhead view of the game with a blue horizontal bar and player names shifting about. Whilst this was OK it wasn't as informative as it could have been and most gamers would have wanted something similar to the 2D match view that you have in FM2005. The tactical view in NHL EHM 2005 is much better. It's similar in style to the 2D view in FM2005 but it's not a fluent representation of the match. Instead you have what can only be described as snapshots of the action as it unfolds and it works very well indeed. I've found it much easier to understand what's going on and see who's performing well and who isn't. Team practice is now much better and easier to understand. You also now have training camps (2 or 4 teams can be created for the training camp) and it's a great opportunity to check out your trialists. Media interactivity has been improved and I like the way you have pictures of your players next to the news items because it gives them a newspaper article kind of feel.

What's not so good about the game?

Like last year's game there still isn't support for hotkeys to quickly navigate your way around the screens (although you can press the space bar to continue). Pressing the F-keys to move quickly from screen to screen is a feature of Football Manager 2005 that I really appreciate and it's a shame that it hasn't been added to the NHL EHM series. Unlike Football Manager 2005 there is no skin with a right side navigation bar. This may seem like a small thing but after playing FM2005 for so long and using the right side navigation bar, it feels a little awkward for everything to suddenly be on the left. I also miss the lack of a profile. In previous Sports Interactive games you can quickly setup a new game by selecting a previously used profile that contained your name, date of birth and previously managed teams etc. NHL EHM 2005 doesn't have this and whilst it's a minor thing I still would have liked to have seen it included. It's also a shame you can't watch your training camp games but at least you can access a full report of the games and see which players are worth keeping/having.

How does it look?

Thanks to the move from the 800x600 blocky CM3 style to the 1024x768 FM2005 style, the game is much easier on the eyes than last years game. Like Football Manager 2005, the background game pictures have been done away with and have been replaced by a single green background that makes the text information easy to read at all times. The game comes with 3 skins. There are traditional, metallic and a colour-blind friendly skin to select from. The new tactical view features a 2D view which is similar in nature to the 2D view in FM2005 with the round icons representing the players. You can easily tell which player has the puck because he will have a shaded square around him. Replays can be accessed for goals and penalties. I was even surprised to see that you can view a replay of a goal whilst the game is still in progress. Although you can play the game in windowed mode you can't expand the window (like in FM2005), although this is hardly a problem.

How deaf gamer friendly is the game?

Like every other Sports Interactive game we've reviewed, NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005 is absolutely fine for deaf gamers. All of the games information is in text so you'll have absolutely no problems at all. Sounds have been added for the games this year but whilst hearing gamers will undoubtedly appreciate these, it's not much of a problem for deaf gamers to miss out on them (the sounds are turned off by default). The game manual is excellent and covers every aspect of the game in detail. There is even a glossary of ice hockey terms that could prove useful should this be your first contact with the sport.

Final thoughts.

Naturally I expected NHL EHM 2005 to be an improvement over last year's NHL EHM but I wasn't prepared for this level of improvement. Risto and the gang have really gone to town on making this one of the best sports management games ever produced. I would even go so far as to say it's in the same league as the Football Manager series, which is incredible given that this is only the second retail release in the series. I've tried to pick out the best features of NHL EHM 2005 in this review but it would have taken at least twice as many words to fully do the game justice. Suffice to say it's a great game that all fans of the sport, and management games in general, should own.

 

Overall Game Rating: 9.0/10

Deaf Gamers Classification

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NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2005 is a significant improvement on last years game. Without a doubt it's one of Sports Interactive's finest games to date which is a remarkable achievement.