|I remember when the NHL
used to matter. When I was a kid, I lived in the Chicagoland area, and one of the teams I
lived for was the Blackhawks. Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Eric Nesterenkonow that
was hockey. And back then a lot of folks followed the NHLyour average sports geek
knew names like Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke and Phil Esposito. But that aint the way
it is now. Ask your average sports fan whos the best shortstop in baseball or the
best tight end in the NFL, and youll get a quick answer. Ask them whos the
best defenseman in the NHL, and youll get a lot of blank looks. Sure, there are
still some rustbelt and northeastern hockey hotbeds, but outside of Canada and those
all-tundra countries, hockey is now a B sport. I dont know why this
happenedmaybe its because hockey has never been a great TV sport, maybe its
because the many Americans who moved south during the 70s and 80s just want to
forget about anything having to do with ice, maybe it was all those Mighty Ducks movies.
But the NHL has seen better days.
The real-life NHL, that is. Because the NHL in video games is pure money. Of all the major (or once-major) sports, theres none that translates so well to the PC or console as hockey. You can even think of Pong, the Ur-video game, as a sort of lowest-common-denominator hockey game. Who didnt waste hours of valuable adolescent hours playing NHL games on the Sega Genesis instead of studying for the SATs? Why is it that EAs hockey games win tons of awards every year, and their Triple Play baseball games are flashy pieces of trash? Because hockey was made for video gaming, thats why. So we were really looking forward to NHL 2K, Segas hockey game for the Dreamcast. Like a lot of others, we loved the graphics IN NFL 2K and NBA 2K; unlike a lot of others, we found the gameplay to be lacking in both of them. So we thought that maybe the third offering in the 2K series, being about hockey and all, would be the one that finally fulfilled the Dreamcasts sports game promise. We were deluded.
Because while NHL 2K looks good, it still doesnt look as good as the earlier games in the series. Unfortunately, it does share the other games subpar gameplay; in fact, NHL 2Ks gameplay is probably the least fun of all the 2K games, somehow managing to be both simplistic and unenjoyable at the same time.
Graphically, NHL 2K just isnt as sharp as either NFL 2K or NBA 2K, but it has its moments: the motion-capture on the players looks good, the arenas are stylish, the ice gives a nice reflection effect and deteriorates as the game progresses, and shavings fly when players stop suddenly. Unfortunately, one of NHL 2Ks most serious shortcomings is its limited and often unplayable camera angles. If you play on the default setting, you get the full effect of NHL 2Ks graphics. However, its nearly impossible to play a competent game of hockey from this view. However, If you switch to the best view for gameplaythe ¾ overheadyoull forgo most of those nifty graphics. Its not a happy dilemma.
Sound is a mixed bag; while I found the announcing by Harry Neal and Bob Cole mostly benign, I was surprised by the lack of loud, visceral sound effects. Body checks didnt crunch enough, slap shouts didnt echo enough, and the organ music was mixed way down. Worst of all, no siren goes off when a team scores and the crowds are strangely silent. Anyone whos been to a hockey game knows just how much of an aural assault such contests can be, and its unfortunate that NHL 2Ks sound seems more like Wimbledon than Winnipeg.
But the plays the thing, and a host of faults can be forgiven if youre having a ton of fun. Unfortunately, NHL 2K just isnt that much fun. First of all, like all the 2K games, its a little too arcadey. This is OK on rookie setting, of course, but as you amp up the difficulty, you expect a deeper game of hockey. It just doesnt happen here. Much of this can be blamed on the AI. While you can call defensive and offensive plays, they dont seem to make much differenceamazingly enough, even on the aggressive offensive setting, you teammates will rarely camp around the net, and I cant tell you the number of times Ive seen the goalie sprawled outside the net and the puck loose in the slot and nobody anywhere near the biscuitor seemingly very interested in it. The opposing AI isnt very impressive, either; its a little lethargic on offense, and a little loose on defense. Its pretty easy, even on all-pro setting, to set up breakaways and one-timers. Not that this will help you much, because the worst thing about NHL 2Klike the old EA Sports NHL seriesare the super goalies. Thats right, you can breakaway and have the goalie one-on-one and still get blanked. All the time. And even beautiful one-timers dont go in the vast majority of the time. Ive made more goals in NHL 2K throwing in sloppy slapshots from the point than from breakaways and one-timers, and thats a problem.
While NHL 2Ks control is pretty good, especially the passing, you cant remap it and there are no deke or fake shot buttons. They would be welcome additions, especially since the shot controls dont seem to faze the super goalies at allIve shot high, shot low, shot left and right, and still the goalies easily thwart my wrist and slapshots. And NHL 2K has great puck physicspucks will often go caroming off into the crowd, and occasionally theyll pop up over the ice. Unfortunately, you cant dump passes over opposing players sticksall passes stay on the ice, making them unrealistically easy to intercept.
If youre looking for eye candy, NHL 2K will probably be worth your dime, and after all, its the only hockey game in town for the DC. But if youre looking for a great hockey game, youd be better off sticking to the Playstation or the PC.