I'll admit right off the bat: I've never watched a hockey game and I've never played one either. What makes me think I can review this game then? I'll tell you, I'm the perfect person to review this game because not having any experience of hockey, my opinions are based solely on the game itself, and that's what you're here to read about...
EA have a long and prestigious line of sports titles. Each year the most popular of which are updated; basketball, football, soccer and of course, ice hockey. A lot of people complain about EA's tactics but any real sports fan I have talked to has always gotten the most up to date game as soon as it hit retail, there must be a reason, so I decided to find out.
Being British, American football is lost to me, we get very little coverage over here and to be honest, the sport is little more than a softened up Rugby with body armour and helmets (real men bite each others ears, punch, kick and stamp on legs). This leaves our national sport, soccer (or football as we call it over here). Unfortunately, I seem to be the only British male who can't stand football so I decided to try out NHL 2002 which was recently released on PC and PS2.
Anyone who's played an EA sports title will know they are immaculately presented and being aimed at console gamers, easy to navigate. It really is hard to beat the presentation on NHL 2002, it's got some named tunes on the soundtrack and all the menus and options are consistent and logically placed.
The great soundtrack from the menu is carried into the game in what is one of its strongest points, atmosphere. The crowd roars, the music blasts and the commentators lead into the game as the teams go out onto the ice for the pre-game warming up. As I've never been to a game nor seen one on TV, I can't vouch for how authentic the opening scenes might be, but they're totally electrifying and serve well to get the juices flowing in time for the game proper.
There is full provision for game pads, joysticks and keys for controlling the game, and you're able to map whatever functions you like. It must be said that though you can play the game via keyboard, it's a frantic game and not one that's wholly enjoyable on keys.
As the game starts, I was pleasantly surprised that hockey is quite an uncomplicated sport and even quite violent! I must confess to smiling when I see a game has a "cause pain" type button specifically set out on the controls, in NHL this is the "Big Hit" button, and one I enjoyed using a lot; especially when particularly violent events are rewarded with instant replays from multiple angles in slow-mo.
The game is infact interrupted frequently (unless you turn off replays) by events such as penalties, shots at the goal and point scoring. There are a variety of replay angles and even some pretty nice "Matrix" style camera swoops, all explained of course by the superb colour commentary.
The gameplay itself is something I wanted to save till last in the hope that if you remember nothing else from this review, it's the last thing I say: This game is smooth.
I don't mean smooth as in the quality and speed of the graphics which are as always above par; I mean the "feel" of the game.
Hockey is of course, played on ice and as such, the players skate across the surface and corner in circular sweeps, this takes a little bit of getting used to but once you figure out the passing and shooting, it can lead to some spectacular looking games which I must be honest, are as enjoyable to watch as to play.
The flow of the game is just perfect and with variable period times in the menu, you can set it to be just the right length for a quick blast or a drawn out game. There are hundreds of options you can effect the game with: the ability to create a player or a custom jersey, import your own wav files or mp3's to play in the game and the much vaunted new feature to the series, NHL cards to name a few.
The NHL cards are a simple but great addition to the game; events are triggered off as you play the game, maybe a player becomes a big hitter or you win 10 face-offs in a period, whatever it is, you'll score points which you can use like cash to buy a pack of cards to go in your sticker book. There are cards with players on, they make up the majority, but there are also special cards which open up all the extras in the game like easter eggs, cheats, and special one-time powers to use in the game and so on, so forth.
This is a very refreshing approach to activating cheats, special celebrations and play time super powers, it forces you to play the game quite a bit before rewarding you with the points you need, then it becomes a motivating factor in continued gaming, you just have to have all the cards!
In all, I can't recommend this game enough, infact, for the oldies among us, I'd go as far as to say this is the most enjoyable sports game I've played since the seminal classic Speedball 2 was released and just as good in 2 player mode too!