NHL 2K3 (PS2)
This year at the Olympics the Canadians showed the world why they should never take pity upon them. It’s been forever and a day since the Winter Olympics and yet they still continue to brag about how excellent their hockey team is. See Canada? See why we never throw you a bone? Because you never know when to shut up and be thankful. If Canada needs a lesson on to be humble about their success than they should look no further than Sega Sports and their consistently excellent Sports lineup. The reigning champions of sports games just continues to deliver quality title after quality title and all the while, handling their success in a very modest manner, a true sign of a champion.
Carrying the torch that was built by NFL2K and ignited by NBA2K, NHL 2K3 successfully continues the company’s tradition of producing quality titles. 2K3 plays just as you would hope and expect a high quality title to play, it’s fast, it’s furious and best of all, it’s realistic. Realistic and entertaining? You may think that’s impossible but if that’s your train of thought, you obviously haven’t played a Sega Sports title.
Last year’s game was an excellent hockey game that went heavily unappreciated mainly due to the small exposure that it received on the now defunct Dreamcast. Now the series has been brought over to a highly visible platform and has been given some room to shine and boy, is it ever so bright.
Powered by ESPN, this year’s game takes hockey games to a whole new level with tight gameplay and some impressive innovations. You’ll have all sorts of strategies and moves at your disposal in your quest to ignite the twine. You’ll be able to deke, saucer pass and dump your way into the opponent’s zone. Basically everything that you see in real life has been beautifully recreated here. There’s even an excellent board game where you can actually pin your opponents against the boards as you fight to move the puck out of the corner. I’ve always wished that someone would finally create a realistic game along the boards, this is the culmination of my wishes.
Like the other Sega Sports franchises you’ll have your usual assortment of modes. This means exhibition, season, playoffs, franchise and tournament play. All of the modes function just as you would expect, exhibition allows you to pit two teams against each other, season allows you to play a full season, playoffs is for those who are impatient and want to get to the cup and franchise allows you to play for multiple seasons. As with the other Sega games, you can also participate in the Sega Sports Challenge.
If you’re a fan who enjoys pure and unadulterated hockey then you’ll want to jump right into the franchise mode. You’ll be able to take full control of your favorite team, signing players, honoring contracts and managing the team as you please. I found this mode to be the most enjoyable as I transformed my Los Angeles Kings into Stanley Cup Champions. I made a few trades, throwing Heinz and Smolinski to the Rangers in return for Bure; I was able to build a powerful offensive juggernaut.
I just wish the presentation in this mode were done a little better, shades of NFL 2K3 would have been nice. I especially wish that there was a weekly wrap-up that would tell me about the happenings around the league. I felt that information such as injuries occurring around the league were too difficult to dig up. I’d also like to know how my opponents are doing, what the weekly wrap-up did for NFL 2K3 was it made me interested in knowing how the rest of the league was doing. In NHL I often felt that I was alone and the only team worth knowing about was mine. This sounds like a perfect situation to incorporate a bit of NHL2Night or Sportscenter.
Presentation qualms aside, this is the best gameplay of any hockey title this year. The on-ice action unfolds quite beautifully thanks to some superb animation. Each player is composed quite nicely, featuring plenty of nice little transitional animations to help piece the action together. You don’t just see a player transition from a back state to a sprint instantaneously, you’ll see him pivot, turn around, accelerate and then proceed into a sprinting motion. The animation is just superb, fully replicating the look and feel of the sport. The game generally tends to move quite quickly however, thankfully you have the replays to slow down the action and give you a little glimpse into the masterful work.
Maneuvering your players is quite simple as well thanks to the excellent layout of the Dual Shock 2. The left stick controls your player, the right stick is mapped out to help with line changes and in-game strategies, the x button passes, the square shoots, L2 and R2 sidesteps, circle sprints, triangle dekes and dumps the puck into the zone and the right button lets you go freestyle as you can maneuver the puck at your own discretion. There are an awful lot of moves here and those are only the offensive ones, you can do some excellent things like get down on your knees to block a shot or leap forward and sweep the ice with your stick in a desperate lunge at the puck. These moves aren’t just for aesthetics either, you’ll be using each and every single one throughout the course of gameplay.
One of the nicest ideas to come along in quite some time was the mapping of the line changes to the right analog stick. Tapping up on the stick lets you change the offensive line (the front 3 players) while tapping down lets you selected the defensive line. Tapping to the left and the right lets you select and change your strategy on the fly. I felt that this was one of the nicest innovations to this year’s game as it let you change lines without cluttering up the controls.
The game plays the same was as real hockey plays, this means that it places a heavy emphasis on the teamwork aspects of the sport. If you try to be a hotshot and run the puck down the middle of the defense you can expect to have the puck deflected and stolen. Instead you’ll have to spread the defense and position your players for the best possible shot. I personally loved this style of play, I felt that other games such as NHL 2003 and NHL Faceoff 2003 were far too easy on the player. Arrant passes and mistimed shots are highly likely to be deflected and blocked just as they are in real life. Goal scoring in this game, much like in real life, is an acquired art that takes a lot of patience and hard work. Don’t expect to score five goals right from the start because it’s just not going to happen.
Penalty calling seems to take an uncharacteristic break from reality; I have yet to see an interference penalty called on my players. Even if I check a guy clear on the other side of the rink away from the play I can escape without a penalty. This is a stark contrast to real-life hockey which this year, has cracked down on the interference penalty even more so. The title is basically spot on with the rest of the penalties however, even featuring nice little animations specifically crafted to go along with infractions. This means that if you hook someone you wont’ see a generic hooking animation but instead you’ll see the offender hook the player as his victim is spun around on his way to the ice.
When it comes to the actual on-ice presentation it’s actually pretty well executed. I wish that Sega could have acquired some better announcers as their current team really falls flat. Guys like Bill Clement and Darren Pang come to mind for the position. It’s not that I don’t like the current team it’s just that they seem to fall a bit flat in the game’s more tense moments. They do an excellent job of keeping up with the action but it all seems a bit too choreographed. The commentating isn’t based on the on-ice action either but rather the player input. So that means if I were to pass the puck to Adam Deadmarsh but it were to be intercepted by a defender, the announcer would still say “Passes it up to Deadmarsh” as the puck leaves my stick.
The rest of the game’s audio is your standard hockey fare meaning that it meets the quota, but doesn’t really do much to surpass it. I enjoyed the little ditties that played between stoppages and the rink announcer is a blast to listen to but the rest of the audio isn’t too inspiring. Sometimes I’ll hear the announcer yell “There’s no doubt about that one, everyone heard that one ring to post!” but in actuality, I didn’t even hear it myself. I do like the sounds of the audience though as it really engulfs you in the action.
While the game is nearly identical to its Xbox brethren it really falls short in the online realm, that’s because there is none. For some strange reason you can’t play the PS2 version of the game online, only the Xbox version. This not only means that you can’t play against other people online, this also means that there won’t be any roster updates for gamers to download as the season progresses. Again, I’m not sure why the programmers opted to leave it out of the PS2 game but I really wish they would have included it.
NHL2K3 is one of those games that’s truly a rarity in today’s market place. It manages to encompass so many of the aspects that makes the game of hockey fun to watch and follow. While it does have a few faults, it’s light years ahead of the competition and does well to secure its place atop the mountain of hockey games.
Yes yes yes, this is how you make a hockey game. Take notes competitors because Sega Sports, Visual Concepts and Treyarch are taking you to school. Much like the rest of the Sega Sports lineup this year, this sports title excels at nearly aspect, providing a rather stellar experience.
Rating: 9.1 Excellent
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile