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NHL Hitz 2002 (GC)
Anne McCaffrey's novel is brought to life courtesy of Redstorm Entertainment.
By - Michael Moen

Over the past several years, Midway has made a name for itself producing over the top, arcade-style games in the vein of NBA Jam. This year with the help of developer Black Box Studios, makers of such games as NHL2K and NASCAR 2001, Midway is attempting to bring that same experience to the ice with NHL Hitz 2002. Paring the Canadian developers with a full NHL license, Midway's aim is to triturate the essence of NHL hockey down to it's barest elements-breakaway goals, bone jarring hits and mutual combat.

NHL Hitz 2002 (GC)

Game Type: Hockey
Developer: Black Box Games
Publisher: Midway
Platform: GC

Buy NHL Hitz 2002
Midway couldn't have chosen a better developer for NHL Hitz, Black Box has experience that ranges multiple platforms, making them ideal for the simultaneous multiple platform release of NHL Hitz. Furthermore, Black Box has already established one relatively successful and well-received hockey line in the NHL2Kx series, and being located in Canada should have enough exposure to hockey to understand the sport better than most developers.

The "Fun" NHL Game

Hitz features the kind of straight up, high speed gameplay you'd expect of a title in this genre. Gameplay is a 3-3 affair, with few rules and regulations to get in the way. By virtue of the high ratio of ice-space to players and the lack of tight rules, there's not much to set up here in terms of an offense. You won't be fighting a Jacques LeMaire architected neutral-zone trap to get into the opponent zone and try to draw the goalie off line and look for a centering pass or screen. You're more likely to just thunder down the ice, possibly with the goalie, check your opposition and stuff it in the net. After playing NHL 2002 and other realistic hockey games, the sudden freedom is in a way liberating. Not getting whistled for offsides because your winger is too lazy to get out of the zone and not having to deal with two line passes and their ilk, you suddenly feel free to play a more basic brand of hockey.

Unfortunately, the novelty wears off after a short time and you begin to get frustrated with being crosschecked by the opponents goalie, angry watching a flaming center smashing slap shots past your goalie from center ice and exasperated watching the opposing goalie come out of his net to get the assist on a one-timer. Part of the problem is that NHL Hitz looks so good, it's player models and arena graphics are excellent, that you subconsciously expect it to be realistic. If it looks real, the next logical step is that it should play real. Hitz may have benefited from a more whimsical or cartoony approach to in-game graphics. So much work has gone into making the player models, crowds and arenas look great that it feels almost like a shame to waste them on such an over the top game.

Gameplay comes down to winning the face offs, either by the traditional winning the draw or by bowling over your opponent to get the puck. Once the puck is loose, you're armed with a limited number of offensive and defensive moves that are used to counter one another. If you get to aggressive in countering and checking, you'll quickly find yourself in a fight. The fighting system is well executed generally speaking, with blocks, punches, counters, holds and combo moves. It still feels funny that your players sit totally still, as they do in all hockey games, whaling away at one another. As long as Black Box wasn't going to have to develop many realistic elements to the game, this is an area that could have been improved. Make the players circle one another within a limited area, have a jersey hold where you grab your opponents jersey and pull him in to land a few punches. Anything to liven the fight up a little bit and make it more than just button mashing. It's not that the fight execution is bad, it's good, it's just nothing we haven't seen before.

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