||Sega Sports NHL 2K
Ice, ice, hockey - Review By Fragmaster
Combine the speed and grace of ice skating with the brutality of football, add in some goals, sticks, a scary looking dude with a mask, mix thoroughly, and you get the great game of hockey.
Back in the heyday of the Genesis, Sega managed to completely avoid publishing a hockey game of its own (with the sole exception of a completely forgettable Mario Lemieux game). Why? Because Electronic Arts had the market completely sewn up. EA's now infamous NHL Hockey series was born on the system way back in 1992. Today, EA is the biggest third-party entertainment software company in the biz, and their sports games sell like mad year after year.
Now, Sega's NHL 2K attempts to compete head on with EA's polished brand of video hockey. While NFL 2K and NBA 2K turned in more than capable rookie performances, NHL 2K is different in that it was not developed by Visual Concepts, but by Black Box, a relatively new development house made up of former Radical Entertainment (Brett Hull Hockey, PowerPlay '96, and PowerPlay '98) and EA employees.
So how'd they do? Read on…
NHL 2K's graphics won't take your breath away, but they're up to the level of quality seen in Sega's previous sport offerings. While not quite as slick as the graphics seen in EA's NHL 2000 on the PC, NHL 2K still has its share of graphical flourishes. The ice and glass reflect realistically, skaters leave trails and spray ice into the air, and arenas are accurately detailed right on down to the championship banners hanging from the roof. The players themselves resemble their real-life counterparts with a fair amount of accuracy, and although some of the motion-captured animation seems jerky or unrealistic, overall, NHL 2K's graphics more than do the job.
NHL 2K looks good. The attention to detail really shows in places.
The controls should be immediately familiar to anyone who's ever played a hockey videogame, nothing new here. The analog stick is used exclusively for movement so skating around seems a little awkward at first, but you'll adjust to it quickly. On offense, A passes, Y dumps the puck, X is a wrist shot (hold for a slap shot), and B is speed burst. On defense, A changes players, Y blocks shots, X poke checks, and B speed bursts / body checks. Left trigger changes coaching strategy and right changes lines. Like I said, nothing new.
The AI plays pretty darn well. The goalies are almost always positioned where they're supposed to be, breakaways are far from common, and the other team keeps the pressure on when you're in their zone, preventing you from hogging the puck and wailing on the goalie. The game's default pro mode was challenging enough for me, but there's a more forgiving rookie mode and the almost insane All-Star mode for all you tough guys out there.
Nice kick save, Skippy. These goalies are no chumps.
The interface can be a bit quirky and awkward at times (for example, in many menus there's no way to tell that you can scroll down to change more options), but if you're used to the interface used in other Sega Sports games then you shouldn't have any problems. One nice thing about the interface is that you can change all game settings within the game, so there's no reason to mosey on back to the main menu in the middle of the game. There are plenty of options to mess with. You can turn on and off stuff like icing, offside calls, two-line passes, penalties, and fighting. You can also automate or manually do stuff like line changes, coaching changes, and goalie control. You can edit lines, see game stats, player stats, scoring summaries, trade players, create players, customize your controls… all the kind of standard stuff you'd expect from a decent hockey game.
The replay mode is OK. You have almost complete freedom over the camera angle and playback. It's incredibly simple to use and a great way to get an up-close look at the action.
NHL 2K has a bunch of problems that ultimately prevent it from reaching the lofty standards set by NFL 2K. There's a bunch of miscellaneous sloppiness that will occasionally leave you scratching your head, and a lack of options that'll leave you reaching for another game to play sooner than you may have expected.
NHL 2K's gameplay would be a lot better if there weren't so many little annoyances.
Here's just a few of the little things that aren't quite right in NHL 2K: for one thing, the penalty system is really screwy. You can play an entire game without seeing a single penalty (which I did multiple times), and then see games where there seems to be one period when there's at least one dude in the penalty box at all times. Very odd. The only penalties I have ever seen called are roughing and hooking. The three "stars" picked at the end of the game often don't make sense. As Buffalo, I lost 3-0 one game and my goalie, Hasek, got the first star. Huh? Switching lines and changing strategy isn't particularly easy to do on the fly, and pulling up these hugeish menus can interfere with the gameplay. You'll occasionally see the AI do silly stuff, like ignore a loose puck and stand next to the net staring at an easy rebound. There aren't nearly enough camera angles. The default camera view is OK, but there are only four other views to choose from. A free camera mode would have came in handy because I wasn't able to get the exact view I'm accustomed too. The puck collision seems a little wacky at times. Sometimes you'll shoot a puck that appears to be in your skates. The trade system allows you to trade any jerk for the best players in the NHL, which may please the people who want to unload that rookie for Jagr, but that's not at all realistic.
There's only three gameplay modes, season, playoff, and exhibition. Worse, there's no practice mode or any way to adjust the number of games in a season. Maybe these would be adequate if the game was more fun to play, but it's not. Why? The speed probably has a lot to do with it. The game isn't particularly slow or choppy, but the action is rather slow paced. It seems like the players are skating through mud, at times. Setting the speed to fast doesn't help much. Speed bursts are also pretty much useless, as there's no sense of additional speed. It all feels very bland, sterile, and detached. There's not much personality, attitude, or style. The gameplay is an odd mix of simulation and arcade elements, and it just doesn't seem to mesh right. And yes, you can fight, but fights are few and far between.
The players in NHL 2K look great, except that some of them have pretty weird bodies. Some guys look like their jerseys got stuffed with frozen ham, somehow.
Oh yeah, and it's really hard to score (in the default "pro" mode, at least). I don't know if it's the goalie AI or the touchy shooting controls, but setting off that red light sometimes seems like a rare occurrence. It almost seems like breakaways never work, and you've got to depend on clever one-timers or fluke accidents to get goals.
Following the trend, NHL 2K's audio offerings are somewhat disappointing. There's a distinct lack of "ompf" across the board. Slap shots don't sound especially powerful, passes sound like forks being clanged together, and the crowd sounds as if they're heavily medicated. This is especially noticeable with the body checks. After you floor an opposing player with a brutal hit, you expect to get some bone-rattling audio feedback and an enthusiastic reaction from the crowd. Instead, all you get is a weak "ca-chunk" noise and a little moan from the spectators. Lame. The play by play isn't terrible, but it's not very good. You'll often hear the play-by-play dude remark like "and Hasek makes the easy save" as he's sprawled out on the ground covering the puck for dear life. The color commentary is even worse. Most of the time his witty observations have little or nothing to do with what's going on, and you'll hear some phrases repeated twice in the same game (ex. "Most people will agree that Dominik Hasek has the worse style in the NHL Most people would also agree that Dominik Hasek is one of the best goalies in the NHL.") And by "same game" I mean three five minute periods! That's just awful and annoying. Thankfully, you can quiet them down or shut them off completely.
NHL 2K's sounds could be much better, instead of hearing the hard slap of the shot and the blaring of the siren, I'll hear a tepid little shot and a dull roar from the crowd.
Like the other Sega Sports games, NHL 2K will essentially eat up an entire VMU worth of memory, requiring 190 blocks. This may be a good time to invest in one of those 4x or 16x VMU's…
Finally, there's no Zamboni to be seen. I'm sure the feelings of hundreds of Zamboni drivers across the world are hurt now.
The Final Word
Ehhh. It looks nice and plays OK, but the lack of advanced options, bland gameplay, and a bunch of little annoyances make NHL 2K hard to recommend if you already have EA's NHL '99 or NHL 2000. Rent or borrow before you buy to prevent a potential disappointment. With another few months of polishing and fine-tuning this could have been a serious contender to EA's hockey crown. Maybe next year.
Developer: Black Box
Highs: Looks good, nice AI, good controls, plays pretty well.
Lows: A bunch of annoying problems, lack of personality and advanced options, and weak audio. Gets old quick.
Other: 1-4 players, VMU Compatible (190 blocks).
(out of a possible 10)
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