Brace yoursele oh-gentle reader-type person, for we are about to embark upon the kind of review journey that only comes along just once in a lifetime, or once every time we come close to our editorial deadline date and have too much software and too little space. There are two hockey games sitting in my criticism in-tray and I shall attempt to compare and contrast, con-1 trast and compare, both titles within the breadth of a single review. All without the use of a safety net or stunt double of any kind. I can hear you gasping now. (Those are I sighs of exasperation as they wonder how long you can keep this waffle going. Ed.) Hum.
Jolly hockey sticks
I'll start with Alex Dampier Pro Hockey '95; a sort of FIFA International Soccer but with weapons. Actually, that's something of a misnomer with regards to these two games as the best aspect of ice hockey - the fighting - is absent from both camps. I remember in my youth playing a game called Face Off which carried the subtitle "I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out". How true, I thought, as each game turned from sports simulation to basic Street Fighter variant within a matter of minutes. Of course my playing style didn't help much (abandoning the puck and running at the opponents with my stick held high and chanting a war cry), but the spirit was there. Unfortunately. Brett Hull seems to have gone for the cleaner, family values side of the game and has taken the blood with him. All that is left in the game is the sport. Humph, now where's the ftin in that?
Well the fun's certainly not in Alex Dampier either, that's for sure. As I said, it plumps for an isometric. FIFA-style viewpoint, and as with that much flawed footballing extravaganza. it's all style and no trousers (or hockey masks). The controls are fiendishly difficult to get to grips with, diagonals never being the best of directions for keyboard users, although joystickers don't fare much better. The real trouble is that the players behave as though they're on ice. Yes, I know that sounds like a daft comment, this being ice hockey and all. but let me explain... You are supposed to be controlling adept ice skaters who can turn on a sixpence and control a puck like it was attached to their sticks. But in Alex Dampier you (or rather, I) spend most of the game desperately sliding from one side of the rink to the other while trying to change direction, or comically slamming into the wall as though it were a bad episode of Animaniacs (not that such a thing could exist).
Brett Hull, on the other hand, is exactly how an ice hockey game should be controlled. For a start it uses a top-down view, thus making things much easier to control and making sure you can see every part of the rink. (Another side effect of Alex's isometric view is that if the puck enters the bottom right corner of the rink, it becomes obscured by the wall around the pitch meaning that all your players end up piling into the corner, having not the foggiest idea where the puck is, and comically slam into the wall again.)
Brett's still isn't perfect - your players do still slide around a bit before turning, but not as much. And because the up. down, left and right controls mean up, down, left and right, you have much more control over their direction. In fact, I was actually able to lose games due to a lack of games-playing skill rather than a lack of adequate controls, which would have proved exceedingly frustrating, to say the least.
I would love to be able to say "What Alex Dampier loses in controls, though, it more than makes up for in presentation," at this point, but I can't. I mean, it is nicely presented, with a smashing intro sequence (occurring before the installation procedure surprisingly) and pleasing in game graphics and sounds, but then Brett Hull is much the same and neither of them are more or less impressive than the other. Both games also have the now-obligatory real-life sports announcers, calling each game as it's played. Alex Dampier loses out here as his man, one Bob Conner, only appears between periods to deliver a state-of-play so far, whereas Brett Hull employs the services of a man who is rapidly becoming a hero of mine. A1 Michaels is back and this time he's intelligible. In case A1 is new to you (and I think I know him and his wife and two kids in Los Angeles well enough to call him Al by now), he first appeared, to me at any rate, in Accolade's Hardball 4 last month, sounding like a man with an artificial voice-box. This time round he's offering a play-by-play, running commentary and sounding much better for it. It helps to add to the atmosphere (and understanding) of the game when there's someone explaining all the actions as you're going along.
Let's even the score
I wouldn't want this to turn into something of a Brett Hull lovefest, though, so let me just even the score slightly by saying that Brett is no more innovative with the game of hockey than Alex is. Both of the games have simple move around/shoot and pass controls, and precious little else. All the usual presentation options are there (tournaments, leagues, multi-player exhibitions), and all the usual instant replay and basic team management options, and both are very professional in their approach.
And they're neck and neck...
"So which is the better of the two?" I hear you all cry. Well, I'm going to be slightly controversial here and say neither, really. Yup, you heard me. Neither game is better. Which is not to say they are both as good as each other; rather that neither is as good as NHL Hockey '95. If you really want an ice hockey simulation, that's your ticket to satisfaction. Which basically means that we've just wasted your time by spending two whole pages comparing the various merits and faults of two games that are both wholly and completely inferior to a third that was reviewed several months ago. Still, it kept you all reading, didn't it? Who says magazines are dead?
Download Face Off
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP