Sega Sports brings you the last US Dreamcast game. - Review By Alex Tsotsos - Page 1/2
There was a time when Reagan was president, everyone wanted hair like the Flock of Seagulls, and Genesis hockey was king. It was always way ahead of the competition when it came to sheer ease of play, and in the time between the death of the Genesis and the release of the Dreamcast, that style of hockey was often imitated but never duplicated.
With the advent of the Dreamcast came NHL2K, the third installment of the great 2K series starting with groundbreaking games depicting football and basketball. I looked forward to what Black Box could do with what is truly the world's finest sport, and rushed to the store to buy NHL2K the day it was released.
It sucked. The gameplay was spot on, but AI problems led to computer controlled teams going offside innumerable times in a game, fighting penalties that would take an entire period to serve, and even wasted scoring chances for passes to teammates beyond the blue line. The AI was moronic until you got up to All-Star difficulty, and then it was just cheap. There were also audio problems galore, like incidents where the announcer would call the wrong player getting hauled off to the penalty box.
OK, rookie mistake, I thought. Everything will be fixed once NHL2K1 comes out. Little did I know at the time that the debacle over NHL2K was so great, Sega decided NHL2K1 could use an entire year of additional development.
So here we are two years later with the second rendition of next generation Sega hockey. Does it improve upon its predecessor? Without a doubt, yes. Is it the best hockey ever on the Dreamcast? By default, yes. Can it compete with the main competition, EA's NHL 2002? Not in your wildest dreams.
Graphics And AI
The first "shot" of any game you play is of those beloved 2K series crowds, where each fan is given its own animation. This is still the best audience of any sports series on any system. The players however, still lack any sort of true differentiation. NHL 2002's players are all rendered with loving care, and taking a step down to NHL2K2's player models just suck. You never feel like you're close enough to see any detail to the players, and you can only really identify the players in instant repla. This is a stark contrast to the uncanny detail given to the players in the NBA2K series. The body types in NHL2K2 are much less blocky than in its predecessor, and the players look more like athletes than nightclub bouncers. Multicolored lights illuminate the players during the home team introductions, and fireworks light up the arena. All the arenas are accurately reproduced (even the dreadful "Ice Den" seats in America West.) Ice shavings spray in a nice parabola when you put on the brakes, and every skater leaves a trail behind him as he skates.
Probably the biggest improvement between NHL2K and NHL2K2 is the AI. Granted, it was downright broke in the previous version... Apparently the AI still doesn't know about the benefits of dump-and-chase tactics. Goalies also stay between the pipes, and you'll never see those brilliant plays that Roy and Hasek make when way outside the crease. The liner notes for the game emphasize how the goalies are much stingier than those in the game's predecessor, and it's very true. Goalies follow the play very well. They can be beat, though, and I've done it with a good mixture of shots. Five-hole goals are much more common in NHL2K2 than in NHL 2002.
To test how much stats have a bearing on the game, I set about making the world's worst goalie, "Blind Man Wilson." I put him on the Avalanche and set them against the World All Stars. Even with pitiful stats, Wilson only allowed two goals. I decided to run another test and placed Wilson on the Thrashers against the World All Stars. It was a 1-1 tie, and Wilson got the #1 star. Do stats play a big role in the game? Methinks not.
The defense adapts very well to the play and one-on-one breakaways are extremely rare. The offense will almost never shoot the puck from outside the point. They will also never hang around the blue line when they should, and always seem too many steps behind you when you cross into the offensive zone.