Thursday, May 7, 2009

Review: Ice Rink Manager VII

've seen plenty of cynical money grabs in my time, many of which made use of highly regarded licenses and slick marketing in order to pry as much cash as possible from eager – and in short order, desperately disappointed – fans. So it was with no small measure of apprehension that I opened up my long-awaited copy of IRM7, inserted disc into drive, and began the pleasingly brief process of installation.Within minutes, I was faced with the familiar sight of the IceRinkSoft splash screen, and began the process of reacquainting myself with an old but rejuvenated friend.

For those readers who are desperate for a hint as to the game's quality, but have thus far resisted the urge to scroll directly to the score, I will torture you no longer. If you are a fan of the Ice Rink Manager series, buy this game. You will not be disappointed. The thrills, spills, and above all, the sheer tactical intensity of managing an ice rink have been captured here with the affectionate attention to detail found in all of IceRinkSoft's games, and the gritty realism of the series' previous installment has been more than matched.

That's right: for those of us who doubted that IRM6 could be topped, it's time to eat humble, icy pie. The ice physics have been improved, the economic simulation revamped – and, remarkably, further deepened – and the patron AI is now stunningly lifelike. No longer will skaters simply move around the rink in perfect, robotic circles, but instead are governed by a startlingly human system of motivations and realistically flawed thought processes. I don't want to spoil anything, but the first time you witness a clueless skater traveling in the wrong direction (counter to the established flow of ice-traffic) you'd better hope that
unlike this reviewer you are not in the process of eating breakfast, or your keyboard will be at serious risk of milk-and-cereal damage!

Such pleasant surprises abound in IRM7, and could fill several reviews, but are best left to be discovered by the player. A brief look at the feature list, then, before my closing comments.

The thing that smooths over the ice after people have skated on it is, as promised, now directly controllable by the player. It is glorious, and could justifiably have been held over for one of the inevitable expansion packs. IceRinkSoft are to be applauded for resisting the temptation to do so.

The revamped economy, stunning artificial intelligence and improved ice physics were noted earlier, and all add immeasurably to the overall experience. My only complaint is that the physics are, if anything, too detailed, putting excessive strain on systems lacking a dedicated physics processor. This is ultimately a small price to pay, however, and fans of the series must surely have come to terms with the need to keep up with the latest hardware in order to get the most out of each new edition of IRM.

Other notable additions include five new employee types, a streamlined user interface, and a staggering two hundred new rink designs.

This is truly a tour de force, and the only question that remains to be asked is how IceRinkSoft could possibly top this one. A strangely familiar question, and one that has been emphatically answered so many times before, but never with quite such flair as in the transition from IRM6 to IRM7.


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