Although inexplicably popular in such bleak northern outposts as Durham and Crewe, ice hockey has generally struggled to capture the imagination of the sporting public in this country. This comes as no surprise. As a rule of thumb, any sport that utilises an expanse of water in any of its compound forms is usually a waste of time and effort. Okay, so it's not a universal truth, but it does at least provide the seeds of a theory. Frozen water is in abundance here, and if ice hockey is your bag, NHL 2000 should rock your world. The series is without doubt the definitive representation of the sport, and this millennial version maintains the impeccably high standards.
In these 3D accelerated times it's easy to be blase about graphics, but NHL 2000 really does look the business, from the reflections in the ice to the faces of the players, who can clearly be seen laughing, spitting, throwing tantrums and mouthing obscenities. Unlike EA's football games, the NHL licence enables player likenesses to be used, and their faces have been faithfully recreated, as was the case in their NBA basketball game. Clearly, we wouldn't recognise an ice hockey player if he walked in here and started putting monitors with his stick, but they seem to have made a reasonable effort and photographs of the actual players are included as a reference point. One of the main human aspects that computers can't yet accurately reproduce is hair, a hazard conveniently sidestepped by the fact that ice hockey players permanently don helmets. Basically, they look great and we only hope the same technique will one day be incorporated into a FIFA game.
The visual splendour doesn't end there - and it is a testament to the quality of the graphics that replays and cut-scenes are actually a joy to watch, featuring some emphatic attention to detail.
The action is where it's at though, and it's excellent stuff, opting for straight simulation over cartoon gimmickry. No flaming pucks or bricked-up nets here, just solid gameplay and thumb-numbing thrills. To the uninitiated, the sport of ice hockey would appear to involve grown men on skates knocking the shit out of each other and occasionally flicking a biscuit past the mad bloke out of Friday The 13th. Admittedly, this is pretty much the case, although - perhaps surprisingly -there are a number of rules that must be adhered to.
Naturally, no right-minded person has any idea as to what they are, nor any interest whatsoever in learning them. Having shelled out 35 quid for a game, the last thing you want to be doing is clarifying the intricacies of the offside law.
This is where NHL 2000s arcade mode comes in to play, offering entry level for the ice hockey virgin. Further help is provided by a comprehensive glossary of ice hockey terms, and it really does lead you by the hand, while of course offering hardcore options for those who know what they're doing, ie Americans. It really is easy to get to grips with, and within minutes it's possible to be pirouetting like Torville or Dean and hitting a small disc with a big stick in a fairly convincing fashion. The control system is manageable enough and the manoeuvrability of the players is spot-on, conveying a real sense of momentum. A rudimentary pass and shoot game can be employed almost immediately, with further tricks mastered in time, including a speed burst, skating backwards, and throwing a dummy, or 'deke' in ice hockey parlance. Tackling, as such, involves barging into the man on the puck, and if done properly you can actually put him through the glass, which shatters convincingly. Other dirty tricks involve hooking and elbowing, and essentially it's a question of what you can get away with without being consigned to the sin bin.
As for shooting, no pun intended, but it's often a hit and miss affair. Due to the small target, the aiming is minimal and it usually comes down to trying either a little flick, a slapshot, a cheeky one-two, or giving it some purchase with a power shot. Whether the puck goes in or not probably depends on the relative qualities of the striker and the keeper, combined with a large dose of randomness. Ultimately, like many sports, it comes down to percentages: the more shots attempted, the more goals scored. Obviously, when you do score, it's easy to convince yourself that it was as a result of your consummate skill, although a random flurry of button-pressing can occasionally yield the same result.
As we've come to expect from EA Sports, the presentation is immaculate throughout, with a seamless commentary giving it the full American sports flavour. A host of options are available, the game offering exhibitions, tournaments, play-offs or entire seasons, not to mention a vast amount of statistical tomfoolery. EA Sports might let the occasional ropey football game slip through the net, but when it comes to American sports they generally know their onions.
Whether you're an ice hockey aficionado or not, this is clearly a winner. We can't keep giving it a higher score every year, but rest assured that NHL 2000 is The Greatest Of All Time.
There are few finer sights than grown men of limited intelligence punching each other hard in the face with their fists, particularly in the name of sport. Violent skirmishes are commonplace in ice hockey, hence the old gag about "I went to a fight and an ice hockey game broke out". This is something that's reflected in NHL 2000 and when a player snaps, the game briefly transforms into a rudimentary beat 'em up. The joypad can be used to trade blows until one player falls to the ice in a bloodied, dazed state, whereby they are both ordered to the sin bin. Of course, it's all been done before, but it's still highly amusing.
Download NHL 2000
I'll start off by saying that EA's NHL franchise can be held accountable for the lost hours of my youth. Now on the cusp of a new millennium NHL 2000 must crawl from beneath the shadow of NHL 94, my favorite game of all time. How EA still has to compete with a lesser system after all this time escapes me, but they've made some outstanding strides and came up with a game that even the most hardcore, never leave the basement types, will love. The addition of a big hit button offers up an outstanding amount of power, checking with intent to decapitate. Refs allow a little fisticuffs after the play, so you can deal a cross check once the whistle blows. Players make great efforts to stay onside, so you can keep the rules and have fun. My favorite new features are wonderful goalie animations that include stacking pads and useful diving, and an All-Star mode that isn't based on the computer cheating by clutching and grabbing. Players do accelerate too fast and brake too quickly. It causes the skating to feel jerky and sometimes out of control. Fighting looks silly, and backhanders are unrealistically weak and floaty. In the worthwhile franchise mode there is a draft, a free-agent signing period, and stats stay realistic and competitive no matter how much you score. And Pronger's the cover boy! A great game.
It's close but I have to score NHL slightly higher than FaceOff this year. The subtle things make the difference for me. I really like the Big Hit--it's a great way to level your opponent. Game speed and animation are a notch higher than last year as well. While the physics are not as realistic as those in FaceOff, it feels pretty good. The announcing, replays and TV-style presentation are spot-on as well. Both games are solid but NHL is just a bit tighter overall.
NHL 99 was a major disappointment because of its choppy frame-rate, but this year the problem has been eradicated. As a result, NHL 2000 is awesome. The action is fast-paced and frantic (just like hockey should be), and the opponent Al is fantastic. The new moves are pretty cool (particularly the deke), though the controls feel a wee bit less responsive than FaceOff's. While both games are really good this year, sim fans will probably prefer NHL.
This game falls a little short of being perfect. Unfortunately, the area it falls short in is one of the most important--control. Players still loop in odd patterns instead of going exactly where you direct them. Overall, action on the ice is fast and responsive. Great goalie and checking animations add to the package. Newer features (big hit and deke button) are implemented well, and franchise mode delivers great depth to the series.
In its time on the PlayStation Ice, EA Sports' NHL series has always stumbled short of the greatness it achieved In its Genesis days. With NHL 2000, though, EA's making all the right promises, and if it actually delivers, NHL 2000 might iust be the best hockey game ever.
FAST AS BONDRA?
Recognizing the damage done by NHL '99s molasses-like frame rate, EA's promising right from the start to deliver "lightning fast" visuals. Thank God, eh? But NHL 2000's bringing a lot more to the rink, including the ability to abruptly change the direction you're skating in order to dodge checks, retooled passing that EA says will be more intuitive, and better fighting controls that will let you mash buttons but still get caught up in an authentic hockey brawl. The game will also sport "big hit" and "big deke" moves that are assigned to specific buttons, which should add a- lot to the excitement Unfortunately, N64 fans will be left high and dry this year as NHL 2000 is PlayStation-only.
As far as graphics go, NHL 2000's visuals will showcase new player animations, more detailed uniforms, and sharp player facial expressions. In the announcer's booth, Jim Hughson will return, but Daryl Reaugh's been replaced by ESPN's Bill Clement, and the duo serves up some all-new commentary.
DEEP LIKE DETROIT?
On the features side, hockey's finally getting the depth that other sports games have enjoyed for years as NHL 2000 will offer a Dynasty mode. You'll be able to play with the same team over multiple seasons, conduct drafts, and build your franchise through trades and free agency. A Fantasy mode will let you draft an all-new league, and the Atlanta Thrashers can be kick-started with an expansion draft. During games, classic team rivalries will come to life as, for example, Colorado and Detroit heatedly clash.
EA has turned once again to Canucks' coach Marc Crawford, who advised the development team on deepening the game's strategic side. Let's just hope he also reminded them to put time-outs back in the game! Still, if EA delivers on the potential of NHL 2000's specs, this game should rule the rink this fall.
Gaming's best hockey series is returning to the ice this fall, and yes, EA Sports is promising to fix the frame-rate woes that hampered NHL '99. Another huge improvement to NHL 2000 will be its Dynasty mode, which will provide multi-season play so you can try to build your team for a run at the Cup. EA's also spent time working on specific players characteristics and their A.I. to make them affect gameplay, so you'll have to watch out for Fleury's sniping shot, Lindros s crushing check, or even the seething rivalry between Detroit and Colorado. The controls are also being tuned so that passing and fighting should be more intuitive. Factor in the usual graphical facelift, and NHL 2000's bound to be another huge hockey title.
For folks tired of watching the big hits and incredible scores on TV and instead wish they were the ones creating the havoc, EA Sports has your magic pill. People who have played PlayStation hockey games in the past know there are usually two contenders to consider, NHL FaceOff by 989 and the NHL series by EA Sports. EA Sports has been the heavyweight king in the past and is no different this year.
From the opening intro, NHL 2000 shows why it is king. With some great clips and music by Garbage roaring through your speakers, it gets your blood hot and ready for some pounding action. This game has all the features that gamers have come to expect, like exhibition games, seasons, create a tournament, and shootout. If one season just isn’t long enough, they added the ultra-cool feature of extending a season into a full career where you can manage, build, and play a team over a 10-year span. You can build your team by drafting, trading and picking up free agents. They’re officially licensed and so of course have the new expansion team, the Atlanta Thrashers, players, arenas and international teams.
One of the biggest qualms with last year's version was the frame rate, which the developers took note of and improved with this release. It is wonderful to see how realistically the skaters can turn, accelerate and stop. To get a feel for how much they’ve improved, take your favorite player and watch how he glides seamlessly across the ice to score a goal. They also added a big hit and deke button that gives the gamer an extra move or two when trying to score or giving someone a bloody nose. If you don’t know what a deke move is, just glide down the ice on a breakaway and hit the deke button to watch the goalie get faked out. Nifty, huh? If fighting is more your style, they’ve changed it a bit so that you need to go for an all out assault in order to pull off a victory. They’re so fun that I often found myself trying to cause one just to get in a few more licks on the opponent. AI is pretty much the same as last year, with easy being extremely easy and hard being REALLY hard.
Graphics & Audio
The graphics are simply incredible. The shadows aren’t just big black blocks like in a lot of other games and the faces are done well enough that on close-ups you usually don’t need to look at the jersey to see who it is. The player bodies seem more rounded out and even the ice looks incredibly realistic with scratches, etc.
The sound effects are terrific; shots, checks and post-hitting goals sound like the real thing. The roaring of the crowd and soundtrack will seduce you further into the game until nothing outside of NHL 2000 exists. Jim Hughson is back as an NHL broadcaster and this time is partnered with fellow announcer Bill Clement. Their comments are usually on cue and fun to listen to, although I’ve noticed that at times there’s a large gap between them and the action. Despite the good job they’ve done with commentary, eventually like any other sports game you start to hear the same thing being repeated numerous times.
If you want to own a hockey game, to me it seems like a no-brainer that this is the one to get. If you’re not sure if hockey as a game is your thing then rent it and check out the action and great graphics for yourself. EA Sports is going to have a tough time topping this one next year since there is very little aside from the AI and commentary, which really aren't all that bad to begin with, on which they can improve.