Ice hockey has always revelled in its bad-boy image, with a large majority of the audience only interested in watching opposing players engage in confrontation and inevitable combat. Body checks at combined speeds of over 20mph, 'accidental' hacks and blatant attempts to initiate mass brawls in full view of the hapless referee all provide an interesting and entertaining aside to the rather less enjoyable pursuit of guessing where the puck is.
It's probably for this reason that ice hockey games fare relatively well with the UK gaming public, especially compared to other sports largely defunct in this part of the world, such as American football or baseball. Consequently, EA Sports has always included scrapping in their numerous NHL titles, and they certainly aren't about to stop doing so now.
The gameplay in NHL 2001 is extremely slick, with players gliding over the ice with consummate ease. In fact, you can easily look very good without being very good at all, with players twisting, turning and accelerating at the touch of a few buttons. Scoring is still a rather random affair, with your shots-to-goals ratio dependent on both the skill levels of the player and the efficiency with which you power up your shot. In any case, the more shots you manage to hit, the more you're going to score.
So with all the latest stats, fast and furious hockey action, an excellent physics engine, lots of atmos and tear-ups galore, how can you go wrong? Well, it should be noted that if you already own NHL 2001, $30 is a lot to pay for a glorified update. If there are any gripes with how the game plays, it's that some people may find it a tad repetitive, and it's irritating that goals are due more to chance than your skill in front of the net. But whether you're a die-hard fan of the sport or not, you're likely to be impressed.
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Hockey is a game of ebbs and flows, and EA captures that with NHL's all-new "momentum" meter this fall. Make a few good plays, and your players will get juiced. Make a blunder and morale drops, along with players' performance. There are new tools to swing the game in your favor too, particularly with your star players who now wield cannon and "one-footed wrister" shots.
Aside from the fundamentals of hockey, 30 NHL teams (expansion teams from Columbus and Minnesota included), 20 international teams, licenses galore, NHL 2001 features a lot of original features to get excited about. Thanks to the power of the PS2 all your favorite NHL players will display emotion on their faces (mostly anger, what other emotions do you ever see in hockey?) and through body language (that's right, hitting and fighting is what we're talkin' about). The most anticipated new features are better player models, motion-capture and updated physics. Fresh ways to score include "cannon shots" and one-footed wristers. Icons will let you know who's in a slump and who's hot. A Fantasy Mode with dispersal draft and multiplayer season play are possible as well. EA has this slated for a fall release.
As it nears completion we can tell you that EA's newest hockey game is absolutely breathtaking. This game comes so close to recreating the feel of a hockey match, it's scary. The animations are amazing--players rub their jaws after a fistfight and grimace during hard hits. Fast gameplay didn't take a backseat to the graphics either--it's deep as ever, with season, draft and shootout modes, in addition to selectable uniforms and tons of stats. This is gonna rock come November.
While EA's hockey franchise was revered during the Genesis days, it was a hot and cold property on the PlayStation. Given the recent gimmicks EA added to the PS version (slapshots enhanced with a cannon sound effect, NFL Blitz-style checks), I was fearful about the direction the PS2 version might take. Well fellow puckheads, to quote Wayne and Garth, let me just say...Game On! NHL 2001 for the PS2 is a possible Rookie-of-the-Year candidate on the PS2 sports scene. Passing, skating and scoring are as intuitive as ever, and the added power of Sony's new console enhances some previously problematic gameplay issues. Remember how the deke used to be so herky-jerky that you never really knew when to shoot? Forget it. Now moves string together beautifully and goals are rewarded with the appropriate amount of fanfare and excitement (watch your players jump and pound the glass near a group of riled-up fans). It's awesome. There is some minor slowdown near mid-ice, but this hardly breaks up a game-play experience which is immersive and deep. Minor gripes include, again, the big hit (turn it down, or off) and other issues which can be dialed in a little better with your own tweaking. Man, I never thought I'd relive the joy of the Genesis Ice Age but this is a very promising start. Once EA adds the much-needed franchise mode, and the inevitable online option, I'll be in heaven.
Although Madden might be the EA PS2 game that's getting the lion's share of the hype, I think that NHL 2001 has actually made the most impressive transition to the system. This game looks great from start to finish and has everything that made the NHL series so great over the years. The incredible visuals don't get in the way of the gameplay at all--everything is just as fast and smooth as it needs to be. It's just like the glory days, only with graphics that we could have only dreamed of back then. If you're looking for something wholly new, you might be a tad disappointed, but as far as I'm concerned, this is just about as good as hockey can get.
Hockey returns to the top of the video game sporting heap with NHL 2001. Not since the days of the Genesis could I say that about a hockey sim, but EA once again raises the bar for console sports. The player likenesses and stadiums are stunningly realistic, and the sounds give you a rinkside seat for a game that plays so real it's scary. I never felt anyone got hockey quite right on the current generation of consoles, but after a few speed tweaks to the game settings on this title, the game played as well as it looks. With the huge amount of flexibility built into the settings, NHL 2001 will keep hockey buffs riveted to their PS2S. This is a must-buy title.