Here we go again! The new release of the ever-popular NHL series is out the door of EA Sports. I will warn you, though; I am far from a sports fan. I grew up around motor sports but with a family that shunned all others. That has still carried over to my adult attitude. Hockey is one game that I can sit down, watch an hour of, and not be totally board out of my skull. Fast action, rapid transaction of events, the winner in the last seconds, it all adds up to a good time. Hockey is exciting and NHL 2002 conveys that attitude to as the previous itinerations have for the last few years.
Options are numerous, to include custom teams, importing faces, different levels of rules and AI attitude, and changing detail levels of players and arena. I always play on simulation. This year, I decided to try out the other options of “beginner.” I scored well over 20 goals in the first (short) period alone. I am thinking that I am a little more advanced than that. Barring that, I am glad that I did! The announcer actually walks you through some basics of game play and I thought it was a great touch. Whether or not the earlier versions contained this feature, I do not know, but at least it is here.
Yearly updates to the graphics and sound engine are mandatory for me to remain interested and actually plunk out my hard-earned dollar and it happened here. Last year, I was impressed with the detail of the players. This year I am impressed with the detail of everything else! The audience, the first few rows anyway, work well with the short “cut” scenes between plays. This detail alone is a great touch. Something that many may not notice and take for granted if they have not been playing NHL since 97. 🙂 Game play is smooth and the difficulty levels seem to scale rather well. An over abundance of scoring is possible on “beginner,” but throw the game on simulation and prepare to be in for a challenge. The announcer’s ability to crack a “good” joke still is pathetic, but I guess you cannot ever replace the Live-in-the-booth improvisation that true announcers have to face.
As always, multiplayer is well implemented with the ability to play on LAN or use EA Sports match making service via TCP/IP. My(a big Ducks fan) and I (Sharks!!!) go head to head over the LAN with no problems at all! The games response was fast and truly enjoyable. Controller configuration is completely customizable as well as having different configuration setups for others in the house, if need be.
Last year, it seemed that I would score a goal on pure luck. A “round-the-back-off-the-skate-through-the-score-board” would never go in, but a lame blooper straight down the pipe would hit often. The general rule, the more times you shoot, the more often you score. It seems that it is not “all” luck in NHL 2002. Some great shots went in and the stupid ones were normally blocked, but the tired and true way of “get puck, shoot,” still is very valid. Moving the puck around with the game pad seemed effortless, but I usually opt for a “high” cam for the largest view of the ice. Players are very fluid in their motion and the game “speed” seems right on the money. In years past, it would seem that it would take only seconds to take the puck from one end to the other and back, but EA Sports has seemingly toned the arcade feel down a bit. Only thing that does is make a much more realistic game, always a plus.
Having the ability to play a full season (142?) games is also a plus, but I will never be able to find the time to do so. Armchair interactive hockey playing is my forte and I think I will keep it at just that. Regardless, there is a new “feature” of “NHL Cards” that can be collected and traded from player to player. Collecting these cards is not an easy task, though, because you have to accomplish particular events to earn additional points giving you the right to purchase more cards. Options include unlocking “cheat” codes, making players “Hero’s” for a period or two, etc. However, I like it. What is the only draw back? No multiplayer support added. I was hoping to be able to use that as a scoring system to find out how well (or poorly) I am doing against my in house rival. Unfortunately, no such luck. Therefore, if you wish to play from beginner on up to simulation in single player mode, you can earn many points just by completing the “easy” tasks with the same user profile and rack up those cards.
Since at the time of this writing, I am strapped with analog connections, I usually do not dally with any “online” gaming services unless they offer much more than what I can do locally. That essentially means that I did not even attempt to log on to EA’s match making service, but the option is still there, regardless.
After a few great hockey games and no “required” reboots, NHL 2002 was well worth the money to support this franchise. I am hoping that when next September comes along, that the whole audience is modeled and you can see the players sweat.