Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: November 27, 2000
Some people would be surprised that there’s not always a solid wall of snow awaiting them when they cross the border into Canada in winter. Especially in the southern parts of the country, the weather can be quite temperate during the season, often leaving the ground bare until December or even later. Living in Canada, though, I can attest that even if there isn’t snow all winter long, there is a solid blanket of hockey fever. While it’s not our national sport, it is proudly considered our national pastime and many people live and breath the statistics and tales of our favorite competition. All things considered, it’s surprising my copy of EA Sports’ latest foray into the hockey world made it past the delivery persons without them at least asking if they could give it a try. NHL 2001 marks the first appearance of the perennial series on the PS2, and stands as the only hockey title on the system to date.
Some would argue that hockey is one of the most adrenal games on the planet and the opening cutscene, which looks like a Don Cherry production, effectively demonstrates this aspect of the sport. Chances are you won’t even notice, as the opening also introduces the biggest change in the series’ transition to the PS2. The graphics have been ramped up to take advantage of the new console’s hardware, effectively matching the quality found on the PC. These improvements include extensive new facial and body animations, meaning that players will cheer and grin after a goal or scowl when locked into the penalty box. More than just eye candy, the new animations also mean that it’s easier to read the opposition’s moves on the ice, and to more accurately predict their tactics. In addition, the extra details make the goalies much easier to analyze. For example, it’s possible to spot the goalie about to make a dive before you shoot, and thus change your tactic to a quick pass for a one-timer to the net’s top corner — over the prone tender.
Of course, pretty graphics do not carry a series out of its inaugural decade by themselves, and to this end players will find that NHL 2001 builds upon the strong foundations of its ancestors. Mirroring the NHL, all thirty of the franchised teams make an appearance, including the Minnesota Wild and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Additionally, there are 20 international teams waiting to test each other in a tournament or in exhibition play against the best of the NHL. Each team comes complete with a home, away, and alternate jersey, adding some visual variety to the proceedings.
Individual rosters made up of the latest lines have been imported directly from both the league and the international teams, maintaining the NHL series’ commitment to absolute accuracy. Each player’s statistics, including their shot accuracy, skating speed, toughness and more, have been faithfully applied, meaning your team’s favorite defensive enforcer will be as tough in the game as in reality. For those dissatisfied with the current rosters, the create-a-player option has been retained from previous versions. The process starts by assigning the player’s name and jersey number, along with his height and weight. After that, an archetype must be chosen, including goalie, forward, enforcer, and so forth. This choice determines the base values for the player’s statistics, which may then be enhanced by spending points from a pool to improve each category. The overall result is that each new player should be balanced, but specialized in certain skills according to their position. While NHL 2001 doesn’t change the technical process of creating a character much, it does add one feature that makes the game easier on the ears. Instead of falling back on always using a custom player’s number during the commentary, certain first names are recognized and have been included as audio samples: “Patrick’s on a breakaway,” is certainly more realistic than the voiceovers in earlier versions, which resorted to awkward commentary such as, “Number 64 passes to number 22!”