by EA Sports Reviewed by: Alex Karls
I’ve never played hockey. Not once. I’ve played a great many athletic sports (only casually) throughout my life, but my inability to ice skate has always kept me away from hockey -- that brutal, face crushing, frenetic sport. This hasn’t kept me from watching the occasional game however. Before I begin, let me preface this by stating that I’m not as much of a fan of hockey as I could be, but I’ve always appreciated it for its complexity and sheer intensity. To this end, I’ll try to give you a good idea of the fun I had playing this title and, hopefully, I won’t get bogged down in technical issues that I’m not an authority on in the first place.
EA Sports has been making sports games for quite a while now and it can often be said that the line of games produced by this one division of Electronic Arts is definitely the lifeblood of the company. Refining what they learn each time, I’m happy to say that NHL 2002 is most definitely the latest and greatest evolution in a series of what have been relatively good games. Offering more features and gameplay modes than nearly all competitors, you’ll get the chance to take the helm of any of the 2002 hockey teams, and proceed to use it to crush your opposition.
Focusing on quick, strong gameplay and the excellent graphics that grace all of the latest EA Sports games, NHL 2002 provides a good arcade/console style game that doesn’t take much to learn and is easy to control. You can play a quick game if you’re just looking to do a single match, or start a tournament or season to indulge in a long-term campaign against the computer. There is even an NHL Cards feature, which lets you collect this year’s entirety of the Top Deck NHL card series, store them in a binder, and examine them to your hearts content.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The first thing you’ll need is a good gamepad. Not what I’d call a severe flaw, but a bit of a disappointment nonetheless, is the fact that keyboard play really sucks. This game, like most sports titles, really needs a gamepad to work well, as you’ll get better control and quicker response out of it than you would with the arrow keys and space bar. Thankfully, there are only about five different controls you’ll need for most gameplay, so you won’t have to move your hands back and forth between the gamepad and controller too often.
Once you’ve started a match, the first thing you’ll notice is the wide view area you’ve got to work with. Not too constricted, you can see enough of the rink at one time to properly control the flow of the gameplay. You’ll be able to control one player at a time (with the rest of your team handled by the NHL AI), attempting to pass, block, and deke your way to a goal shot. If you’re feeling particularly cocky, you can even take control of your goalie and do a little free skating while you’re waiting for the punk shooter on the other team to line up for his shot. Don’t worry about your back, as the AI in NHL 2002 isn’t stupid, and actually performs the way you’d expect an actual team to handle itself. This, I believe, is because of the wide variety of parameters that NHL 2002 takes into account (more on that ahead).
You can create new players, partially modify the ones you’ve got, and even change the coaching strategy that your players follow while you’re not directly controlling them. This doesn’t sound like a lot to deal with at first, but this is where I’d pay the most attention, as there are hordes of different alterations you can make. If you want to create a player, you can modify things like his hero factor, agility, and even aggressiveness towards the other team. The coaching strategies let you change whether you’re using a triangular layout for your players, or a positional one, complete with a helpful graphic display that lets you know how the changes you’re making are impacting your overall game.
Finally, you can play the game in a number of different ways. You can create a fantasy league, play through all the games in that league, participate in a tournament you’ve created yourself, or even take your chosen team through a whole season of hockey. If you just want a quick buzz, you can just play a single game, with random teams or the same one you’ve been using the entire time.
EA Sports included a small in-game browser that can poll EA.com or a list of servers from the NHL 2002 master server. You can play most all of the normal game types online with friends and, aside from taking a while to setup a connection, I found the online experience to be rather smooth. I suspected that the game browser may have needed a little work before release, given how long it took to load a server list and actually communicate with the master server, but once that was taken care of, it was smooth sailing. Even when I was getting beaten (which was regularly, due to my lack of mad Hockey skillz) I found the game to be performing at top-notch levels.
The graphics in this game are stunning. EA Sports has a strong foundation of making amazing looking games and NHL 2002 doesn’t disappoint. From the gleam of the helmets to the motion of the players, nearly everything looks realistic and highly detailed. You’ll need to look hard to find signs of clipping problems or tearing effects, as they just aren’t there.
To be fair though, there are a few things I found a little disappointing about this part of the game. Minimum system requirements aren’t all that high, yet the game still seems to have a few performance issues. I was using an Athlon 800mhz processor with a Geforce 2 MX card, and I was still experiencing a lot of slowdown during the parade sequence at the beginning of each game. An added burden comes in the form of the color commentary that, while entertaining, takes a large chunk out of the system to run well. There were a few problems with the way cloth rolled over the bodies of the players, and they still don’t know how to make hands with real, operable fingers, but those things are barely noticeable.
NHL 2002’s audio is pretty good, with a mix of pop background music for the interface and realistic sound effects that just make you want to scream ‘bueno excellante!' The puck, stick, and skate sounds all come across well, even on a poor sound card, and in the background you’ll be able to hear the commentary speaking volumes about your game. As the emotion meter builds up, you’ll even get to listen to the crowd boo, applaud, or hush as you play.
Windows 95/98/00/ME/XP, 300 MHz Pentium, 32 MB RAM, 100 MB hard drive, DirectX 8.0, 4x CD-ROM drive, and 4 MB 3D video card.
Even as a novice, I had a lot of fun with this title. I’m not normally a fan of sports games, as I usually enjoy a bit more of an arcade style game, but NHL 2002 kept me in my seat, playing game after game. Even with its help, I’m still not good at hockey, but with a game like this, who cares? With excellent graphics, strong gameplay, and top-notch design, this is definitely one of my favorites of 2001. There are so many customizable features in this game that it’s just impossible to go into them all. If you’re a true fan of the sport, you probably won’t find a better hockey title this year.
Review Posted On 30 October 2001.
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