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NHL 2002

Review By:  Dean Tester

Developer:   EA Canada
Publisher:   EA Sports
# of Players:   1-4
Genre:   Sports
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:  

01-02-02

Here in Canada we are finally getting snow. Just in time too, being as it's Christmas and all. It's also just in time for NHL 2002. Merry Christmas to me, I got one of the best sports sims out there. A lot of EA Sports products have been lacking lately, but with stiff competition from Visual Concepts they've started pumping out their best games ever. Proof of this lies in NHL 2002. True, it lacks in new features, but what can you do? It's had everything you can possibly think of for a hockey game for the past few years. What makes this game stand out is how much these features have been improved. The game is much more realistic than past years, and the graphics have gotten amazingly better from just a year ago. Even the announcers are getting better, with the lovely stylings of Don Taylor and Jim Hughson.

The first thing I noticed in this game is the soundtrack. A lot different from what youíd expect from a hockey game, but it does really help you get into the game. Most of it's new music that does frequently get played during hockey games, so it just adds to the realism. They got several good bands, including Sum 41, Treble Charger, Gob and the Barenaked Ladies. They also have a few classic songs which add to the mix. After watching the astonishing intro to the actual game, I noticed they had the same old Jim Hughson I remember from past NHL games. I also noticed the new guy, Don Taylor. While he doesnít quite add any useful commentary, his witty comments do not grow old quickly. He says quite a few humorous things, and there is quite a variety. The only problem I noticed with the commentary is the good old bad timing. When you skip in between plays, or the announcer just canít keep up with you, youíll hear him talking about you getting a delayed penalty call when your on a breakaway. It can get annoying at times. Another slight error I noticed is one glitch, if you are losing and you have a power play, right in the middle of your powerplay theyíll sometimes say "They finally killed off that penalty. Now they can get back to equalizing." As for in game sounds, youíll be glad to know that the bone-crunching, pad-smacking, and mesh-rippling sound effects are great. The sound is one of the best aspects of this game.

Once I finally got into the game, I was amazed, too amazed to skip the intro. The opening sequence to the game no longer gives you goaltenderís stats or commentary, it gives you an amazing warm-up sequence for both teams. It was spectacularly done, and the graphical aspect is amazing. The detail is amazing, they have their real faces, and even the people in the crowd are randomly exchanged. Every time their warm-up is slightly different, but each is just as spectacular as the next. To top it off, they have the music blaring to pump you up for the game. Once I started playing, I noticed that it used a standard overhead, slightly tilted view. This is probably the best view in the game in terms of gameplay. However, some of the other camera views were not quite as well done as they should have been. I noticed that the broadcast view, which I usually play with on other NHL games, was oddly very far back, and it was impossible to play well on. Also oddly, there were only 5 camera views, which seems strange due to the variety of camera angles in past NHL games. Most of them were poorly done, but luckily there are a couple views that are usable. As for the in game graphics, they didnít impress me much, except for the close up views. When you are far back in an overhead view, its often hard to get all the details you want. However, I must say that it was still very well done graphically.

When I finally was finished raving about the graphics, and sounds, I got into the game. Now there are only really 4 buttons you need to know, and those are your X-Y-A-B buttons. However, there are a few great futures you can use for dekeing or just getting around opponents. The L and R buttons allow you to easily perform spin moves, which once you get used to it is great. The most noticable thing though, is the custom deke. While staying going in one direction, you can actually control the puck by holding the Y button down. Its hard to use, but once your used to it, it can be a valuable asset. The controls were well done for this part, and it seemed to be an easy game to learn, as I went from beating the easy mode 4-1 to beating normal 6-2 in just two days. However, while easy and normal modes are rarely difficult, the difficult mode brings new meaning to the word. This is mostly due to the lack of scoring. Iíve taken 104 shots in a single game without scoring a single goal. This seems to me the most unrealistic part of the game. The computer seemed well paced though, taking about 30 shots and scoring 2-5 goals on average. This is one thing Iíd like to see changed for the next EA games, and something that has always been a problem. Its too easy to dominate the play, but too hard to score. Also, you can get around everyone without using any type of system characteristic to the NHL. Its basically street hockey, and seeing as this game takes place on a rink, it should be more like a real NHL game. However, if youíre the type of person who doesnít care if you can just drag one person up the ice and take a couple shots, your AI will react well to the offensive and defensive systems used in the game. Aside from the actual gameplay, there are several things that greatly influence it. The most obvious thing you will notice is the icons that you see next to some of your players. These symbols include big hitter, big shooter, sniper and hero. Hero is a new feature that turns certain players into a hero near the end of the game and slightly improve their stats. Players also get injured, whether it be a minor injury that lets them play but reduces their effectiveness, or a major injury that knocks them out for a few games. Players can even get the cold, and you can choose not to dress them if you donít want to make them sicker. Goalies for once suffer from fatigue, if they play too many games in a row without a break they will not perform as well. Players can also get on a hot or cold streak, which will also influence their stats slightly.

Aside from this, the out of game options are plenty. Besides just choosing beginner, easy, medium or difficult, you can edit several features, including game speed, pass speed, and even how fast the puck rebounds from the goalie. There are also some more advanced settings, you can even determine the puckís elasticity. All of the rules are also fully customizable, but nothing noticeable has been added here. However, the most original and most impacting new feature would have to be the NHL Cards. Its like collecting trophies or gold medals, except you use them to buy NHL Cards which in turn can be used to aid you during a game. There are 189 cards you can get in all, but there is a gold, silver and bronze version of each of them. Every player card will turn that player into a hero for a certain amount of periods during your game, and they can be activated at any time. However, you have to earn these cards by purchasing them with points. To get points, you must complete certain tasks in your games, like scoring a shorthanded goal or winning 10 faceoffs in a period. There are tons of tasks to complete, so you will never be in short supply of cards. Also, if you get doubles, you can always sell them back for more points. Aside from the standard player cards, there are also wild cards, which often do odd things, like turn all your players into big shooters for a period. These points can also be used to activate cheats, celebrations, or "easter eggs," which add a completely different aspect to the game. This unique feature is what really causes this game to shine.

Aside from all this new stuff, its got all its old features. You can customize your lines, make trades, change team strategies, or even draft players from scratch, creating a whole new league. There are also custom teams, which you can do some crazy stuff with. You can even multiply your favorite player 30 times and use him for your entire team. You can also assign custom players to these teams, which is probably the most practical use for them. The create a player feature is just as good as always. You can change everything, from their appearance to their nationality. You can even make an entire team of guys that look exactly like one of the featured bands in the game, the Barenaked Ladies. Aside from that, its got the standard modes, including Season, Playoffs, Tournament and Shootout. Its also got quick play, to get you right into the game.

Although I havenít really had the chance to experience multiplayer, the couple games I did play arenít much different from any other NHL game. Up to 4 players, and can make for good fun with your friends. The thing that really makes it stand out from other sports sims is how well it plays when youíre on the same team. Instead of having one player do all the work after he gets the puck, it effectively lets each player get the same amount of puck time. However, since the AI is so impossible to score on in difficult, and so easy to score on in medium/easy mode, its really hard to have a good game without crazy scores. If your playing without difficult mode on, youíd better hope that you are damn good at defense.

Highs:

  • Well done graphics, and excellent presentation of the game
  • High quality announcers, and great sound effects
  • A really good soundtrack
  • A lot of new features, especially for an annual installment
  • Actual real life strategies can be used for effectiveness
  • A relatively good AI
  • NHL CardsÖ need I say more?

Lows:

  • Camera angles are poorly done
  • In game graphics arenít up to the caliber of other Xbox games
  • Although more realistic than other hockey sims, still lacking in that department
  • 104 shots and no goalsÖ
  • Too easy to dominate, too hard to score

Final Verdict: 

Overall, itís a debate between revolutionary and rehash. Every few years, there is an NHL sim that comes along that is actually worth buying and using as the model for the next few years before someone comes up with a zany new idea. Iíd say this is that game. If your planning on buying an NHL game in the next 3 years, this is the one to get.

Overall Score: 9.2

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