Pages: 1 2 3
Review by: Adam Swiderski
Published: October 8, 1999
What’s that noise? It sounds a little like the steel blade of a skate biting into a sheet of smooth ice. It sounds kind of like the sharp crack of taped wood against rubber. It may be something like the rattle of bones and muscles against plexiglass. It’s the shrill tone of a whistle, the snap of a puck on netting, and the howl of a horn signifying a goal. Ah, it must be hockey season. I knew it was here when I flipped on the Madison Square Garden sports station and watched the new-look New York Rangers play their way to a tie with the Edmonton Oilers.
As a sports fan, this was pretty exciting. After all, while I like hockey, the fall is basically football season to me. But the inception of the first year in the post-Gretzky era drew my attention as a gamer as well. Why? Because any sports gaming enthusiast knows that the beginning of the professional hockey season signals the release of yet another installment in EA Sports’ long-lived NHL series. And while opinions on the franchise’s quality have been mixed, it also happens to currently be just about the only game in town for anyone who’s looking for a complete representation of pro hockey. As such, this series, more than any other, has found itself the subject of intense scrutiny over the years.
There’s no doubt that every version of NHL has pushed the boundaries of technological sophistication farther and farther from its roots in the heady days of the Sega Genesis. This has been especially true in the past few years, with the onset of the 3D revolution bringing detail and visual accuracy that is almost unmatched in the sports genre. Hockey fans, however, want more. They want features and options that allow them to play the game the way they think it should be played. They want depth and statistical tracking, the ability to mold a team and take it all the way to the Stanley Cup. Most importantly, they want a game that will give them hockey as they’ve seen it on their television screens. I’m not talking about presentation, although EA Sports seems to have cornered the market on that, too. I’m talking about real hockey, with the appropriate offensive and defensive strategy, realistic interaction between players on both teams, and accurate scores and stats. And while the fun factor and polish of the NHL franchise has always been there, few would call what it presents genuine hockey.
With that in mind, EA Sports set out to reinvent itself with NHL 2000. Sure, they would improve the graphics again. But the main focus, according to preliminary reports, would be to add a feature set that would impress even jaded fans, while improving on an AI that had garnered its fair share of complaints over the past couple of years. The end result, we were told, would be a hockey simulation that would not only capture all the excitement of its ancestors, but also demonstrate real brains and depth. And when the list of features began to surface, it certainly appeared as if the game was on the right track. A full franchise mode with consecutive season play for up to ten years, replete with between-year draft and free agent signings. More on-ice strategic options, including offensive and defensive tactics. And, most importantly, an adjustment to the unrealistic computer control that has left many past buyers of NHL titles feeling cold. Could NHL 2000 possibly address all these issues while maintaining the personality and atmospheric spark that had defined it for over six years?
In order to answer that question, it’s first necessary to understand exactly what NHL 2000 attempts to bring to the table. As you probably know, its primary goal is to allow computer owners across the country the opportunity to take to the ice with the real players, real teams, and in the real arenas of the National Hockey League. For years, it’s offered high-impact action and gamepad-crunching play, the speed of which — while bearing little resemblance to what goes on in the NHL (especially in the past couple of years) — has certainly been popular with consumers. The last few versions have seen the addition of elements such as player trading, more advanced player ratings, and the ability to create players from scratch. What has most often been noted, however, are the advancements in graphics technology that have recently brought such touches as highly-detailed player models with the real faces mapped onto them. The result has been that each year’s NHL has set a standard for visual atmosphere.
Pages: 1 2 3