|Sports games have been a part of videogaming since the days of the
Atari 2600 and Intellivision. In fact, good sports games are a key to any console's
success in this day and age. Sega knew this when they introduced the Dreamcast.
They unleashed NFL 2K and NBA 2K and gave the system (and themselves) a reputation
for having some outstanding sports games. At the same time, they put pressure
on any other sports titles they were to release. NHL 2K is the first title
from Sega Sports to have to live up to that reputation.
Let me say, right off, that this
game certainly looks the part of a next-generation console hockey game. The
graphics are top-notch in almost every aspect. From
the detailed, texture-mapped faces of the players (that actually move their
mouths and show emotion) to the "Made in Canada" inscription on the
puck, NHL 2K certainly does not lack in the graphics department. Players will
spray a cloud of ice crystals when they make a sharp turn or abrupt stop. The
protective glass on the boards shatters realistically when a puck hits with
a little too much force. The ice gets continually marked up as the game progresses.
Graphically, there is little to complain about and a lot to admire.
Controlling the game is NOT an issue. The Dreamcast's' analog stick makes
controlling the players' on-ice actions a breeze. It took about an hour or
so for me to get comfortable with the game's control scheme but, once I did,
I was moving around the ice without much problem at all.
The game's camera angles are a bit
disappointing. The "on-ice" (default)
angle is the best, but it's still not without faults. An angle that's slightly
higher would have worked better. There is a three-quarters perspective camera,
but it's a little too far away. The other angles, including a side angle, an "action" angle
and an overhead angle, are curiosities at best. They might be useful to watch
the computer play by itself, but they don't work at all when a human player
is added into the mix.
commentary, delivered by Harry Neale and Bob Cole, is good but a little stiff.
It sounds as if some of their reactions are coming from cue cards
rather than the on-ice action. Still, the commentary does an admirable job
of keeping pace with the game-in-progress. The other sounds in the game are
fantastic, giving the game additional atmosphere on top of the great graphics.
If nothing else, this game has the looks and sounds of a hockey arena down
2K may alienate some hockey
gamers by having more of a simulation feel than an arcade feel. Games played
on NHL 2K tend to be low-scoring affairs
with a lot of puck-freezing and face-offs. The goal-tending, when performed
by the program's AI, is one notch below "Superman." Actually, some
goalies may have had magnets implanted in their bodies because the puck seems
oddly attracted to them. So much so that, during replays, one can watch the
puck alter its course and end up in a goalie's glove when it was clearly headed
to the back of the net. During regular speed gameplay, this "magnetic
goalie syndrome" isn't apparent. Only during instant replays can one see
this odd display of physics in action. The goalies aren't always "magnetic." They
do allow you to score on them, you just have to learn some skills that other
hockey games don't necessarily require you to learn, like perfecting one-timers,
passing precision, and actual teamwork. Breakaways don't mean instant scoring
in NHL 2K.
Actually, this reviewer didn't really
mind that the puck's physics sometimes seemed altered. Most of the time,
I admired the realism of the puck deflecting
off objects and heading in another direction. Several goals were scored in
this manner, just as in a real game. One thing I did mind, though, was the
game's relative lack of fighting. Not that I subscribe to the old "I went
to a boxing match and a hockey game broke out" school of thought, but
fighting is a part of the real sport. Much more so than it is in NHL 2K. I
played the game for several days before I saw my first fight. I wasn't expecting
Soul Calibur when I bought the game, but there's no way to increase the frequency
of the fights to make them happen more often. The setting is either "fighting
on" or "fighting off." There's no way to adjust the frequency
of penalty calling or injuries either.
That brings up the relative lack of options in the game. Unfortunately, the
game lacks some basics, like the option to play a shortened season. The player
ratings do include many rankings including leadership, balance, thoroughness,
acceleration, and stick handling but the game loses any points earned for that
by not having any jump pack support. Wouldn't that be a given in a game that
includes bone-jarring action?
In other words, the game looks and
feels a bit rushed. It's as if BlackBox spent a great deal of loving care
on the graphics and then began working on
the actual gameplay as an afterthought. That's not to say the gameplay isn't
any good. Thankfully, they were able to complete enough to make NHL 2K a playable
hockey game (and, in fact, quite an enjoyable one), but not enough to deliver
the "mother of all hockey games." NHL 2K can shame many a console
hockey game, but it is not the best one ever made.
If you've got a Dreamcast and you've been itching to play hockey, you could
do a lot worse than to buy this game. You may want to rent it first to see
if any of the many small problems overshadows the average gameplay and the
excellent graphics in your mind. I recommend this game to the casual hockey
player, but I realize it might not be enough for the hard-core hockey fan.
Maybe next year.