Videogame company 989 Studios has released another entry into the sports sim gaming arena with a 2003 update to its "NHL FaceOff" franchise. While there are those game fans who are always hot to snag the newest games and decide relative value on their own, remember the videogame rental section of your video store. "NHL FaceOff 2003" for the PlayStation 2, in keeping with a sad tradition, comes off as mostly mediocre. This week on "Extended Play" we're going to run through "NHL FaceOff 2003," but if you must buy a hockey title, this probably isn't the one for you.
Efforts, effort, and more efforts
"NHL FaceOff 2003" delivers all 30 NHL teams, updated player rosters and arenas to the devoted hockey gamer. The likenesses are mostly passable and the arenas well represented. Play by play by pro announcers Mike Emrick and Darren Pang adds a little spice to the moment, but it's slightly inaccurate.
In-game options include the requisite numbers of camera angles. Penalties come and go with suitable pomp. Slow-motion replays let players relive various highlights. Plus a simple corner interface lets players make adjustments between whistles without impacting the flow.
"NHL FaceOff 2003's" practice mode lets players choose the number of skaters, which is helpful for practicing moves and power plays in preparation for the big games. Additionally, a token shoot-out mode lets you square off versus a goalie.
Overshadowing all of the aforementioned features, however, is a chance to play as General Manager and build up a team from free agents and rookies, trades included, for some ten years. Between seasons you examine the various retiring players and sign yourself a dream team. Frankly there's a lot to like about the potential replay value there, even though the presentation is kind of old school.
Unfortunately for would-be enthusiasts of the series, "NHL FaceOff 2003" seems unable to overcome its negatives. The reality is that games come down to gameplay, and that's how it should be. In this game, it's sadly and frustratingly common to see players behaving unnaturally. For example, pulling the goalie away from the net in shootout mode can often prove to be an effective defense. Also, skaters have a tendency to skate around in circles, appearing to ignore the puck. Ramping up the difficulty doesn't add much either, except that opponents can definitely steal the puck from user-controlled players, and everybody gets kind of rowdy.
In all fairness, there are a substantial amount of animations in "NHL FaceOff 2003," given all of the cutscenes and special moves. But the transitions between the various animations can be choppy. For example, goalies move from prone to standing with a rather stiff, rising-from-the-dead animation.
Textured well enough, suitably brutal, and sporting fairly evolved team-management options, it's too bad the gameplay experience weakens the overall score. "Extended Play" can only extend 989 Studio's "NHL FaceOff 2003" for the PlayStation 2 an underwhelming 2 out of 5.