If you’re like me, you’re probably depressed over the NHL labor lockout. I’ve been desperate to find some hockey; even going so far as to watch the replays of the classic Kings games that appear on Fox Sports West in the time slots that were supposed to be filled by the actual games. It’s not all that bad though, thanks to the miracle of modern technology you don’t have to say “what if” in regards to the season. Who needs a bunch of spoiled toothless millionaires anyway? There are a couple of choices available to you but which one is the right one? As far as we’re concerned, it’s a two horse race and none of the competitors are named Gretzky 2005
. That’s not to say that it’s not a decent game, the foundation has definitely been laid, but the game just isn’t ready to compete with the prime time players, yet.
This year’s game throws away the tainted Face Off
moniker and replaces it with the name of hockey’s greatest legend. It’s a great move that shows the world that 989 Sports is demanding its rightful place in the world of hockey video games. Right off the bat the game gets off to a running start with a video that showcases the accolades of the Great One. Generally I like to skip introduction videos but this one was so well done that I couldn’t help but sit through its entirety. The level of quality holds up well throughout the menus as well. Instead of giving you a static background, the backdrops are composed of action shots utilizing engine rendered skaters. You’ll notice that there are a bevy of modes available to you including the online mode and the Gretzky challenge. Gretzky challenge is WG2005’s little point-gathering system that rewards you for fulfilling tasks and accomplishing goals. Upon gaining enough points you can obtain access to classic teams and a bevy of other options and goodies.
If you’ve ever taken a 989 Sports game online before you’ll know what to expect in terms of level of quality. 989 has gone to great lengths to ensure that its online applet is convenient, stable and solid in all respects and it shows in WG2005. Finding a game is simple, chatting with others is easy and it’s always convenient to search around and find what you’re looking for. Best of all, most online games tend to be highly stable with very little lag to speak of. Oh and speaking of which, you can talk trash with your opponent if you have the USB headset. A must-have for when you need to school a buddy from across the United States. You’ll also have some pretty good stat tracking utilities at your disposal, although none of them rival the VIP system found in the ESPN games.
The problem with Gretzky is that it doesn’t feel
like real hockey. Players don’t behave and react like they would in real life. Defenders don’t rush the puck; attackers don’t crash the net and the entire pace of the game is just wrong. It’s actually easier to spend the game in your defensive zone because the forward’s breakout speed allows them to blow past the defense. All you need to do is lure the opponent into your zone, stop his attack and head up the ice for a quick odd-man rush. It’s as if the game grasps the basic tenets of the sport, but fails to embellish the finer intricacies that make the sport what it is. Some minor tweaks here and there could fix things up a bit, but the game needs a real AI overhaul.
It’s like your team is comprised of Gomer Pyle, Gilligan, Screech and Anna Nicole Smith. They’re stupid and they actually do the complete opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing. When the opposing team attacks the AI actually moves away from the action, presumably to watch it on the jumbotron. They don’t clog passing lanes, they don’t alter shooting lanes and they can’t cover their men. Players have a tendency to stand around while A-class players like Sergei Federov blow past them en route to the net. And that’s just the skaters; the goaltending in the game is an entirely different enigma.It seems like the goalie’s primary objective in the game is to leave the juiciest rebound possible. It doesn’t matter whether you shoot it at his pads or direct the shot at his glove, there’s a good chance that he’ll find a way to let the puck slip from his grasp. People who watch real hockey will know that the juiciest rebounds tend to come from shots that are directed towards the lower portions of the net. That’s because the goalie can’t react fast enough with his glove, forcing him to rely on his pads or stick for the save. On the flipside, fewer rebounds are derived from higher shots because the goalie is able to snatch the puck out of the air with his glove. Some might say “well, goalies give up rebounds in real life as well” and that’s true, but not rebounds like this. It’s not rare that you’ll see rebounds with enough air under them to make their way past the blue line and out of the defensive zone.
Realism isn’t a strong suit in this offering and it’s further personified by the lack of gameplay sliders. For years sports games have offered up adjustable sliders so that players can fine tune every single aspect of their game, WG2005 noticeably omits this feature. Had this feature been included it may have been able to save us from some of frustration. It would have been nice to have been able to change the speed of the game and the behavior associated with the goaltending.
Another aspect of the game that works against the game is the sloppy control. It’s kind of a double edged sword because the unrealistic gameplay actually makes this an easy game to pick-up-and-play, but the player never feels like he is in complete control of the action. Skaters are unresponsive and the controls are too jittery, causing players to over or underskate the puck far too often. The only strong suit I found in the controls comes in the form of an onscreen targeting system that helps reveal openings in the net. As you rear back to take a shot a little indicator will pop up on the goal to tell you where the netminder is most vulnerable. It’s a nice feature, but it’s overshadowed by the game’s sloppy and messy controls.
All of those screenshots that we showed you a couple of months ago weren’t fiction; this is one great looking game that takes full advantage of the PS2’s hardware. WG2005 crept up out of nowhere to really steal the crown when it comes to visuals in a hockey game this year. It has the most realistic looking faces, the most fluid animation and the best attention to detail in any hockey game this year. From the way the arena’s side scoreboards flash the name of a player as he scores to the way that the goalies take off their masks during play stoppages. It’s a great looking game all around that really took us by surprise. You even get real-time reflections of the players from the boards, that’s something I’ve never seen before in a hockey game. Furthermore, if you have an Eye Toy you will be able to put your own face onto your created player. I got a real kick out of seeing myself on the ice out there with my favorite players.
All of the action is accompanied by the two man team of Mike Emrick and Darren Pang. They’re a competent duo but they do very little to add more atmosphere to the action. I generally like Panger when he broadcasts on TV but this effort feels very phoned in. As is the case with most sports games, WG2005 features a licensed soundtrack featuring tracks from some of today’s most popular artists. All of the tracks fit into the Scream-Mo category that seems to be popular with today’s MTV-infused audiences. I’m not exactly crazy about these tracks but I feel that they will be a hit with the people who pick this game up. It would have been nice to see some generic sports tracks thrown in here as well. When I think of sports I think of the Rocky
soundtrack, not the Warped Tour.
When you get past the poor AI, the messy controls and the poor recreation of the sport, you have the foundation for a very decent hockey game. On paper the game looks great, if the designers can make those ideas a reality they’ll have a contender in next year’s market. As it stands though, the Gretzky name goes to waste here with a hockey game that simply isn’t fun to play.