Now NHLEHM 2005 does play like Football Manager (remember, this is the name SI adopted when it lost the CM branding) except in one major area and that's trades. Unlike the multimillion pound transfer fees slapped on stars of the beautiful game, hockey is all about swapsies. In a way, it is more elegant because whereas Chelsea can simply buy the best players from all over the world, the likes of the Maple Leaps and the Red Wings have to give up something in return. If they want a hot young prospect or established star they have to pass on some of their own players in exchange, often as well as sacrificing a first or second choice draft pick for the cream of next year’s young talent. It requires more subtlety than stomping up to Arsenal and saying “Here’s £30m, give us Henry!”
The AI in NHLEHM 2005 is spot on too, so don’t think you can hoodwink the other teams to give up their stars on the cheap. Impressively though, they will give you a detailed reason as to why they told you to take that long walk off a short pier and the moment you learn that getting the players you want is as much about giving teams the players they want, you’ll start to do a lot better.
In game, the action is on familiar ground. The text based descriptions do a good job of outlining the action and the top down view gives real insight into player positioning and their all round contributions. If you notice someone regularly taking up the wrong positions tell him and watch it have an immediate effect on the game (mind you, that’s only if his stats confirm he’s good at taking orders). I’m not convinced the arcade view has quite the refinement of its football cousin, but it is in a much earlier stage of evolution.
Away from the meat of the game, but still vitally important are the reduced load times. The incredible waiting associated with SI’s earlier CM games has gone down in history, generally suggesting good moments to go make a cup of tea, have a shower or write the great American novel (note to self: must get a move on with that). Things have got slowly better however and in NHLEHM 2005 you’ll do well to get the kettle filled - let alone the tea made - before the game is ready to move on. I still wish SI would introduce some kind of progress bar so you don’t sit there like a prize lemon on the rare occasions the loads do drag on, but I never seem to get it. No matter how many times I ask… (??)
So what have we got: Football Manager in a different skin? To some extent the answer is yes, but would you care if your latest car was designed by Pininfarina? NHLEHM 2005 takes all the strengths from 13 years of sports information gathering know how and remoulds it into a package that no one could find disappointing. Of course, there are small areas that could be tweaked, there always are, but don’t you know that’s what 2006, 2007, 20xx are for…
Hockey has never had a management series like this. NHLEHM 2005 is wonderfully detailed, full of depth, and - despite a couple of minor quirks - tremendous fun. Hockey has been Football/Championship Manager-ed and I have a strong feeling that millions of people stateside are slowly beginning to realise just what a wonderful thing that is.