NHL '98

a game by THQ

Platforms: PCPSXSega GenesisGenesisSNESSNES

Genre: Sports

See also: Hockey Games, NHL Games, NHL Games

Overview

When I reviewed EA Sports' NHL '97 last year, my most prominent opinion was that finally someone had made a sports game that was as fun to play on the PC as my old EA NHL '94 was on Sega. NHL '98 does '97 one better (I gave last year's version a 90), and in doing so it accomplishes the difficult task of keeping up with the incredible advances made in the other genres, especially when it comes to 3D accelerated graphics.

Gameplay and Controls

While the graphics and audio seem to have undergone a huge transformation since '97, the gameplay, controls and interface don't seem to have changed too much. You still get a flawless and extremely intuitive user interface with loads of cool graphics and videos, and you still get gameplay that includes all the subtleties that make this game worthy of a big fat score of 91. There are still some annoying problems with the AI that it seems to me would be easily fixed with a patch, but for the most part gameplay is very realistic, smooth, and intense at all levels of difficulty.

Graphics

I was originally assigned NHL '98 about 2 months ago. I played it a few times and was moderately entertained, but it didn't do enough for me to feel compelled to finish the review on time. After a little harassing by the editors and some guilt, I finally clicked that little icon again, and because I'd installed a 3D accelerator in the meantime, I turned on the 3D option ... it was a completely different game, and was simply amazing. Now when I was looking at the level of detail I finally noticed how cool those little guys look skating around down there.

Don't get me wrong -- without a 3D card, you still get plenty of graphical bang for your buck. You get real player faces, logo searchlights flying all over the place, checks that shatter glimmering glass, and the still-spectacular speed of EA's graphics engine. What does 3D mode add? Just more shadows and contours. But that fact alone adds so much to the game that, if you don't already have one, get yourself a card (no, I don't own 3Dfx stock, but I wish I'd bought some before Christmas when it was impossible to find an Orchid Righteous 3D card anywhere). Though subtle shadows and contours don't seem like they'd add much to a game, in combination with the pumping audio EA put into this version, you'll feel like you're right there -- "in the game" as EA likes to say.

Audio

What jumps out at me most in thinking about NHL '98's audio is that the same guy yelling "Hey, Dean!" is still yelling it on breakaways. Or maybe he's yelling "Feed me!" I don't know -- but it's got to be the NHL team's pet audio byte. I look forward to seeing if it's still there for NHL '99.

Anyway, have I mentioned yet that the audio kicks butt? Well, it does. Turn it up. Now turn it up louder. The quality of audio in this game helps add so much to the realism that if you don't have a good sound card and good bassy speakers, you're doing yourself a huge disservice. When you pay 45 bucks for this game, part of what you're paying for is the effort that went into making that audio, so you'd best take advantage of it.

The play-by-play and color commentary are programmed exceptionally well, too. All the words flow nicely together, and it's a rare occurrence when the announcer stutters between the base phrase ("Great hit by...") and the player name ("Jagr"). Most of the time you really believe that Jim Huson and Darryl Ray are watching the same game you're playing and just saw Jaromir Jagr make that great hit. If you take one team in the playoffs you're likely to hear at least a couple repeats of comments you heard in the last game, but heck, real color commentators do that too. I'm taking the Mighty Ducks to the Stanley Cup and I've heard in every game how "once they found their home in the NHL" they started kicking butt, or something to that effect.

Computer AI

The computer players are pretty smart (as hockey players go), and do their jobs well when you aren't controlling them. But I have a couple of complaints: 1) Far too often, right after a face-off (and especially when they're on the power play), the computer team decides to change up their line. When this happens I feel like a frustrated father who just left on a car trip with his family and my kids all forgot to go to the bathroom. Like, guys, we just had a stoppage of play, do you think maybe you could have changed lines then? 2) No matter what the offensive strategy selected, your line mates simply do not go to the net often enough to create scoring opportunities. If I've got a 2-on-1, I expect my buddy to go to the net so I can draw the defense to me and pass to him at the last second for an easy one-timer. But usually he ends up stopping in the middle or the top of the offensive zone.

Documentation

The booklet is 29 pages and is good enough, but was lacking in detail in a couple of areas. The specific thing I was looking for was a brief explanation of how the different coaching strategies affect the play of the team.

System Requirements

Required: Windows 95 (Windows NT not supported), 90 MHz or higher Intel Pentium, Cyrix 6x86, or AMD K6 processor, 30 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive (600KB/second transfer rate) using a 32 bit Windows 95 driver, DirectX 5.0 (included on game CD), Hi Color (65,535 color) capable 1 MB PCI video card with DirectDraw compatible driver, sound card with DirectSound support, keyboard, mouse, 2 or more button joystick or game pad.

Recommended: Pentium 166 MHz CPU or faster, supported 3D graphics accelerator, 45 MB free hard disk space for game plus space for saved games (additional space required for DirectX 5.0 Installation), Gravis GamePad Pro, 8X CD-ROM drive using 32 bit Win 95 CD-ROM driver, 32 MB RAM.

Bottom Line

When you think about the huge leaps non-sports PC gaming has taken in the last few years, it's pretty easy to see that sports games haven't really kept up the pace. It's common enough for game makers to successfully create a virtual corridor you walk through and kill monsters. But there are many more logistical difficulties to making a great sports game, like trying to figure out how to fit an entire hockey arena onto your monitor, or making the players large enough to see superb detail while still allowing you to see enough of the ice to know Brian Leetch is about to check your lights out, or Teemu Selanne is in a great position across the ice for a one-timer. Yet EA's team continues to handle these logistics well, and they continue to dominate the pack in a genre where very few game makers even attempt to compete.

NHL '98 Downloads

NHL '98 download

Overview

Next to football, hockey has to be the most represented sport in the video game arena. It seems that just about every developer has released a version for the 1997-1998 season. EA Sports has been doing hockey games for as long as I can remember, and their NHL series has to be up there with Madden as the longest running sports series around.

Here we are in 1998, and as expected, we get our yearly rendition of the NHL series, NHL 98. With a totally new game engine that claims to be faster than the previous NHL titles, NHL 98 is clearly the best hockey game around. Smarter AI, tons of gameplay modes, real NHL color and play-by-play, and tons of improved game options highlight this year's release. Which leads me to say one thing: EA Sports has figured this hockey thing out.

Gameplay

NHL 98 is the best hockey game of the year. It is that simple. Nothing comes close to the realism that this game offers. The game does have a few minor annoyances that will be overlooked and forgiven because the upsides greatly outweigh the negatives. To shake things up a little, I will clear the air of these annoyances first and then go into the great positives of the game.

The biggest annoyance I had with the game was the annoyingly long pauses during gameplay and line changes. I don't mean pauses during actual action, but the pauses between the on-ice action. Say, for example, you have a penalty called on your player that requires the player to be sent to the penalty box. You watch the player skate across the ice and into the penalty box. Then, the camera zooms out, goes black for a second and then zooms into the face off. The whole process takes roughly 15 to 20 seconds, the whole time of which I am mashing buttons in a futile attempt to bypass all of this. Yes, it does give a "television" type feel to the game, but after playing a few games, it becomes more of a time-consuming annoyance. The sport of hockey is supposed to be fast and furious. These breaks just slow the action.

The second minor annoyance is very trivial, but it bothered me. I like hockey games that allow the gamer the ability to control the player even after the whistle has blown and the action has stopped. I love having the ability to get in a cheap shot or two after the whistle. This is a part of hockey, so it should have been included. There is nothing more rewarding than slamming into a celebrating offensive player after he scores a goal and blasting him to the ice. Too bad they don't let you.

Enough of the trivial negative details. Let's talk about what makes this game good. First and foremost, it is accurate. That is correct. You actually feel like you are playing hockey (not that I know what it feels like). Your player acts as if he is on ice and all players react the same. This is not one of those games that lets the computer-controlled players rip around like they are on rails. Everyone is treated to the same player physics, which makes the game more realistic and fair.

It took me a few games before I realized what it was about this game that really made it feel so real, aside from the obvious physics. It finally hit me. I was playing on defense and the guy I was controlling was nowhere near the action. I was trying to get him back over to the puck and hit the speed burst button. My player slammed face first into the glass. Since he was nowhere near any action, I figured he would just bounce off unaffected. Instead, my player slammed headfirst into the glass and went sprawling across the ice. This was awesome. It meant that no matter what is happening on the ice or where you are positioned, you have total control of the player. Long gone are the days of situational controls, depending on the player's current location or situation.

Another thing that really blew me away about this game was the player animations. Talk about attention to detail. When a player got knocked down onto the ice, it looked like a real person getting knocked down. The arms and legs would go sprawling in different directions. Also, when the player would get back up, he did not just magically appear standing again. You would see him pull in his arms and lift himself off the ice. It was also a riot when a person was sent to the penalty box. He would skate to the box (takes a bit long), open the door, sit down and start throwing his arms in the air while yelling some mumbled complaint at the refs. This was classic and made me laugh every time it happened.

Another plus is that fighting is back in the game. It seems that the fighting was removed from a previous version of NHL. Not to worry. You stand a great chance to get in a brawl. Admittedly, the fighting engine is a bit weak, but are you here to play hockey or Tekken? All it takes is one too many cross-checks, and you will be dropping the gloves and throwing down in no time.

This game is also chock-full of options. Just about anything you can think of is available, so I am not going to list them. Let's just say that the game has all of the stat tracking, modes, and customization that you would expect from a top notch EA Sports title today.

Graphics

This game has some great graphics. Like I said above, the player animations are incredible and as realistic as I have ever seen. The stadiums and crowds were also well done and looked great. I did have a little trouble finding a camera angle that I really liked. I like to play the game zoomed in fairly close so you can see all of the hitting action and animation of the players. But there was just not a good camera angle that was close, yet far enough away to still see the action around you.

Bottom Line

If you like hockey, you will love this game. It really shows how far hockey has come as a sport and in video games. This game reminded me of the old-school NHL games I used to play on the Genesis. I have never been a big fan of the sport of hockey, but I have always enjoyed hockey video games and this is my favorite of all time.

reggie posted a review

NHL 98 features much faster and refined gameplay, which took the series ahead by introducing international competition, with 18 International teams to choose from. Other game modes include Season (option to pick between 25 or 82 games) and Playoff (best of 1, 3, 5 or 7 matches) and a Penalty Shootout mode.

Along other new features such as "in-the-fly" tactics developed by Marc Crawford. The players now being less angular, with less pixels showing in the textures.

reggie posted a review
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