Does this year's hockey offering from EA Sports
match up to that of year's past?
EA Sports has been the staple of the gaming industry's sports
explosion ever since the days of Super Nintendo. I can still remember
chugging along on my Sega Genesis playing Madden '94. Needless to say
the company has grown a bit and is now one of the best respected and
one of the largest game development companies in the world. Its NHL line
of games has also been something to marvel, with the franchise following
the same stellar form as the company by growing and morphing to suit
the taste of a specific year. While some years may not have turned out
as well as years past, for the most part the NHL series has been a staple
of the company for as long as I can remember.
With the recent release of the Xbox, NHL 2002 represents
the first sim-oriented hockey game for the young and prosperous system,
and does not disappoint. The game features EA's always-solid presentation,
some very well done commentating (something that has become very hard
to come by in today's sporting environment), and awesome play mechanics.
First we'll start with the game's visuals. On the positive
side, the frame rate issues from last year's PS2 version are pleasingly
absent from this year's Xbox offering (surprise, surprise). Nice facial
textures that move accordingly to the onscreen player's actions are a
nice touch as well as very cool crowd shots. On a goal, the camera will
switch to a crowd view that showcases two or three members of the audience
going nuts for their chosen team. You'll see outfits that match the home
team's colors and uniforms and the fans will cheer and boo accordingly
with the play on the ice. The only two negative aspects of Xbox's inaugural
hockey offering is the absence of fishtails of ice and a fairly bland
color palette. With Sony's Faceoff 2001 (a game that came out last year
even) one of the best graphical features were the fishtails of ice that
would spring up on a turn taken at a high speed. While this is nitpicking
a bit, I've come to expect such perfection from EA Sports. The only other
disability that slightly hampers the visual feast is the bland color
palette. When the camera is at its default view the players seem a bit
washed out while skating around the rink during a game. While the problem
is corrected when a close up shot is taken, this doesn't excuse the normal
camera, which is where most of your time playing the game will be spent.
Despite a few very minor setbacks, NHL 2002 excels in the graphics department.
The gameplay of NHL 2002 stays true to EA form, offering
fast paced and high scoring games at lower difficulty levels and slow,
nail biting low scoring games at higher difficulty levels. The gameplay
modes offered are standard hockey fare including: Season, Exhibition,
Shootout, Playoffs, and Tournament. The standard adjustments can be made
to the season mode - that is where most of us hockey fans will be spending
most of our time. You can adjust the game to allow for bigger hits, higher
scoring games, better pass accuracy, and the list just keeps on going.
If you've got a certain style of hockey that suits you, chances are NHL
2002 has got it. New touches that EA Sports has made to the gameplay
include a brand new breakaway came that slows the game down a bit to
give you a chance to think about your every move. A new camera angle
is presented and the overall feel is that you are actually streaking
down the ice on a breakaway in a real NHL game. A definite thumbs up
for the breakaway cam.
The other added camera angle is something of a mixed bag. I've affectionately
dubbed it the slam-cam. It presents you with an up close and personal view
of a check that you just laid on an opponent. The only problem here is
that the computer makes some odd decisions about when to utilize the new
camera angle. Sometimes it will showcase you creaming an opposing player,
while another time you'll get to see a completely missed check.
The newly added control over celebrations is a welcome surprise
from EA. You can select from a relatively long list of celebrations some
of which are available at the start of the game, and some of them must
be earned by acquiring points and buying cards (see next paragraph for
the explanation on purchasing cards). You'll have the ability to press
A, B, or Y to manipulate the player on screen to perform one of the three
selected celebrations. While it may seem like a small addition, it really
improves the overall fun factor of the game.
The next addition to the gameplay section of NHL 2002 is
one of the greatest additions ever made to a hockey game and that is
the NHL cards of NHL 2002. You acquire points by performing certain tasks
in the game, such as scoring a hat trick with two players or scoring
on a two-on-one. These tasks will amount to a large sum of points, which
can ultimately be spent on playing cards. Each playing card can come
in one of three classes, bronze, silver, and gold. These classes will
determine the resale value of the card and the power of the card. Each
card of one of the 189 available player cards carries with it the power
to make the player featured on the card a "hero" for a certain amount
of time. For bronze it's one period, silver it's two, and so on. The
playing cards aspect of NHL 2002 doesn't stop with measly player cards,
rather it continues on by offering a few added celebrations and some
rather humorous cheats. Overall the playing card segment of NHL 2002
follows true to the Madden games of yore and offers a completely new
dimension to the series.
The sound in NHL 2002 does take a bit of getting used to,
but once you are accustomed to the commentating you'll be fan just like
me. The incoherent banter of the two commentators is a bit rattling at
first, but if you take your time and listen to what the two puckheads
are saying, it's actually pretty funny. They interact with each other
just like real commentators would and even go a bit further by talking
about a few "off color" subjects. The crowd noise is fairly standard
fare, cheering for a goal, booing for poor play - it all makes sense.
The hits are also nicely done, being able to hear the grunt and groan
of the player being pummeled is a real treat to the ears. The audio package
in the game is a definite improvement from year's past.
The control format is also standard, offering deke, pass,
shoot, spin left and right, and speed burst, as well as a cool big-hit
button on defense. The play mechanics also stay true to NHL games of
the past offering quick and solid controls that perform nicely under
The overall feel of the game will definitely appeal to hockey
fans of all ages will definitely be able to appreciate NHL 2002 in one
way or another. Some may fancy a fast paced game, while others may be
into the card trading aspect of this year's offering. Regardless of what
you enjoy, if you're a hockey fan, NHL 2002 is the way to go on the Xbox.
Hates ice skating.
NHL 2002 is a solid game all around with only a few slight
blemishes on the surface. The gameplay is solid as usual
for an EA Sports game. The formula of solid gameplay,
plus solid sound and controls makes for a hell of a hockey