Its Not Often That Sports Games draw a crowd when they're played on the office computers. Alright, so Betty Page's Bondage Crazy-Golf packed them in, but generally the saps who get to plug their way through the endless sports games do so alone, in a corner, while everyone else clamours around the hot new strategy titles, gasping at the beauty of the hexagons and trying to focus on the tiny figures to see if they're wearing trousers. NHL 98, however, drew a crowd. A small crowd, admittedly, but those who witnessed it showed a marked interest in what was going on.
Because it's an absolute cracker. From the moment the completely over-the-top intro starts, you know you're in for a treat. It's very fast, for a start - the fastest version of the, er, 'beautiful' game I've seen since the first Megadrive EA Hockey. Interim versions have improved the graphics a little here and there each time, but this sometimes meant the speed slowed a bit, too. It got to the point where, while it wasn't exactly so slow it would have come second in a sprint for the last seat on the bus with Mike McShane, it wasn't as blindingly fast as the sport should be. Now, however, it's not only very fast, but it looks absolutely brilliant.
The players are huge (especially if you use the excellent close camera option, which moves to frame the action intelligently) and they're so well-detailed that many actually have the real players' faces mapped onto their heads. Eerie. They're also really well animated. The only sports game I've seen so far that manages this level of detail in its players is Konami's ISS64. In the same way. players here move about while they're waiting for the action to start, and react to the most bizarre and amusing situations (such as smacking the sides of the sin-bin when they're sent off!).
Oh, what an atmosphere!
NHL 98 is chocka with superb atmosphere. The narration is fluid, accurate and boasts extra "colour" commentary, which offers you a host of interesting or boring details (depending on your personal viewpoint), and even takes the piss out of the players. There are the usual tinny organ tunes, plus proper "pop music", specially licensed by EA for the game. It also helps that the crowd closely resembles the hysteria and riot of a real ice hockey crowd. If this doesn't do the business for you, just get a bunch of mates to stand behind you and shout a few 'oohs' and 'aahs' when something dramatic happens.
New features for this version include an international championship - as well as having every club team in the States to play with, you get every international side, from Canada, Sweden and the USA themselves, to England and the other duffers. You could argue about some of the ratings (for example, both Sweden and Finland have been World Champions in recent years, and yet they're rated far lower than the USA). Then again, you could just ignore it. Oh, and if you are the type of person who has a hankering to get whupped, you can use the new Internet play mode to get onto EA's gaming site and play people much better than you with faster access times.
If you know the slightest thing about the tactical ins and outs of "hahkey", there are plenty of tactics which can be altered on-the-fly, as developed by Marc Crawford, coach of Stanley Cup holders Colorado Avalanche. If, like me, you wouldn't know a good ice hockey tactic if it skated up and ruptured your spleen, you can just forget all about it - the players still react intelligently.
Basically, NHL 98 is the sports game with everything: it's really well put together, plays fast and intuitively, looks brilliant and has shitloads of violence. Afficionados will appreciate the long-term appeal of indulging in season and playoff play, and trading players between teams; everyone else will just love the speed, full-on head-banging action and instant appeal.
Fans of untrammelled violence will be pleased to know that all the little touches of thuggery that caused such affection in the original game are back (along with a few more!). Cue loads of side incidents which, even in the midst of a tense match, provoke the type of cruel, cackling laughter normally associated with Sid James upon seeing Charles Hawrtrey's head getting stuck in a toilet seat. You can skate into the umpires and smack them flat on their backs. You can whack an opponent so hard into the plexiglass screen that he crashes straight through it. Then, after play has stopped, you can dish out 'afters' by speed-skating into him with your stick held horizontally at throat height, thus rupturing his trachea and ensuring he never reaches the high notes in You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) satisfactorily again. But best of all, probably thanks to a reference in Swingers, the fighting's back. Anger someone enough with cheap-shots and niggling and they'll start a punch up - and you can pummel each other about the head until one of you falls over.
One weird little option in the game is the facility to look at all the goalies' masks. They revolve, and zoom in and out and stuff. I'm not really sure what the point of it all is. Maybe it means something to Americans - perhaps certain goalies are renowned for their design abilities, and fans with an eye for pretty patterns clamour to see their work. Maybe Americans are just bleeding weird. Whatever the reason, this little pastime is about as fascinating as watching tortoises sleep, and means bugger all to me. What next? Footie games providing a chance to compare the patterns of the sticky-palmed bit on goalkeepers' gloves? Tennis games allowing you to check out the racquet grips of the stars? Beach volleyball games letting you check out the sweat-stains in the knick - (Let's stop there, shall we? - Ed.)
Download NHL 98
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
- Game modes: Single game mode
- Up, Down, Left, Right - Arrow keys
- Start - Enter (Pause, Menu select, Skip intro, Inventory)
- "A" Gamepad button - Ctrl (usually Jump or Change weapon)
- "B" button - Space (Jump, Fire, Menu select)
- "C" button - Left Shift (Item select)
Use the F12 key to toggle mouse capture / release when using the mouse as a controller.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
- Pentium II (or equivalent) 266MHz (500MHz recommended), RAM: 64MB (128MB recommended), DirectX v8.0a or later must be installed
Of all the sports around, few have as many built-in, gamefriendly advantages as ice hockey. For a start, there's the speed: it's famous for being the fastest sport around (apart from arm-wrestling on the roof of Eurostar). Second, there's the inherent simplicity - all you do is whack the puck from one player to another, and then slam it in the vague direction of the goal. If you miss, it bounces back and you start again. And third, but most important, there's the untrammelled violence. What other sport encourages you to smash someone in the teeth with a piece of wood, then trap their arms behind their back and run them bodily into a plexiglass screen, all in the name of good, sound defensive play? (Bearing in mind that Western-style bar-room brawling has yet to be officially designated an Olympic event.)
Face it, ice hockey is cool. And you're cool if you play it. Especially if you have a nose that lies flush with your cheekbones, a single scar for eyebrows and teeth in single figures. But let's face it, if you're not playing it already, you're never going to be any good at it. You'll never pull the chicks if you have to use your stick to stay upright on the ice. So what do you do? You play NHL Hockey, because it's almost as cool as the real thing. Alright, so chicks won't swoon as you hammer your gamepad buttons, but there is a reference to it in Swingers, where characters discuss why the fighting got taken out after the original version (the NHL objected).
Whether it's down to that mention or not isn't clear, but the good news is that the fighting's back in this version -apparently the NHL have finally figured out that 90 per cent of the fans go to see people getting their features rearranged. Although the game wasn't finished when I saw it, it still looked mindblowing. Even the intro leaves your brain steaming. It has astonishingly detailed graphics, with or without a 3Dfx card. All the team uniforms are accurately depicted, there are reflections on the ice and 500 real NHL stars have had their faces mapped onto the motion-captured players in the game. This would count for nothing if the game didn't play well. But it does play well - and very quickly.
Some of the lesser details look superb. Players move about the ice really well and even make individual movements while they wait for something to happen; those sent to the penalty box will whack the sides of the box in frustration. With normal commentary, hugely entertaining piss-taking colour commentary and in-game music, it's just... cool. And it looks like it's going to be one of the best sports games around when it's released. If you know what you're doing, there are on-the-fly tactics to call, as developed by Marc Crawford, coach of the current Stanley Cup holders. As for the action, one of my players got checked so hard he actually went through the glass at the side of the rink. What more could you wish for?
If the behind-doors showing at E3 was any indication, NHL '98 has secured an early lock on the Stanley Cup. The vastly improved 3D polygonal graphics depict sleek arenas and players that move with mouth-watering realism. But the most arresting addition was the new coaching feature, which enables on-the-fly play calling for power plays, penalty killing, and a huge array of offensive and defensive situations.
Beyond the usual lineup of pro players and teams, NHL also packs in 14 international teams, a new Tournament mode, two-man commentary (like that of Triple Play '98), trades, and player creation. Other sharp touches include checks and slap shots that break the glass, and player numbers on jerseys. Finally, EA's promising to improve the game speed over last year's somewhat-sluggish showing.
Alter trailing behind Face Off last season, the NHL series returns to the ice with some excellent improvements. Although NHL '98 delivers a board-battering good time, it still hasn't reached the heights that it could, suffering from some hiccups in the controls and graphics.
Setting Off Sirens
NHL '98 is packin' some heat on the features side, facing off with all (he pro teams and players, 14 international teams, the 2 All-Star squads, lighting, and a standard selection of inodes. Gamers can trade, create players and custom teams, and sign and release free agents. You'll be trading right away, too, as the rosters are already outdated (Vernon's still on the Red Wings, for instance).
But the most impressive additions tire the new coaching strategies and line setups. Expanding upon the innovations of NHL. Powerplay '96, NHL '98 supplies a slick playbook for offense, defense, powerplay, and penalty killing, and managers can now set their own defensive pairings and designate lines for such situations as three-man penalty killing.
NHL '98 trips up a little in the control department. Some line improvements, like on-the-lly playcalling and line changes, hit the ice with flair. Blit many gamers will long for icon passing, while skating and passing with the directional pad just don't feel as tight as they should. Speed bursts are finally located on a different button than shooting, though.
Visually, NHL '98 erupts with the PlayStation's best hockey graphics to date. The players dazzle with good detail and startlingly graceful movements, while the well-modeled arenas bring you onto the ice like never before. However, some stuttering in the animations and some polygon breakup occasionally mar the show.
The sounds bust out of the speakers with the same kind of energetic two-man commentary that stole the show in Triple Play '98. Authentic rinkside tunes and strong on-ice effects complete this snazzy package.
Clear the Benches
Fortunately, none of these flaws interfere too severely with the game-play as NHL '98 delivers fast action that's sure to engross hockey fans. The A.i.'s been tuned nicely to develop more realism, eliminating cheesy money shots and individual showboating while forcing players to work as a team by passing well and setting up good shots. The defense remains on the arcade side--checking and hooking are the name of the game here.
All told. NHL '98 clearly ranks at the top of the standings in the current season...though until the promising Face Off '98 shows up, nothing's final. Until then, this is one puck that every hockey fan should score.
- Win face-offs by remaining still until the ref starts to lean, then rapidly jam on X.
- Call the Man-to-Man defense to increase pressure in a tight game. Hut when you have a comfortable lead, stick with Zone--it's safer.
- If there's some space between you and an opponent who's about to shoot, drop to the ice and try to block. In close, it's better to get physical to shut down a puck carrier.
EA's latest addition to the hugely successful NHL series is nearing completion, and should be ready for release on the PlayStation and Saturn this October. It'll be released amidst stiff competition from Sony. Virgin and Acclaim (with FaceOff '98. Powerplay '98 and Breakaway '98 respectively).
Similar to last year's game. NHL 98 will feature fully polygonal motion-captured players, providing ultrasmooth gameplay. Not so similar to last year's game, however, is that-so far-the game actually moves quite quickly Cast year's looked great, but played a bit sluggishly due to the polygons). That was probably the only fault of last year's version (besides the annoying pre-and post-game commentary by John Davidson), so EA's refinement of their polygonal engine could make a huge difference this year.
Other additions to this year's game include play-by-play commentary by Jim Hughson and Daryl "The Razor" Reaugh, smarter Al than last year's version (although it was pretty good already) and. best of all. a new International Tournament Mode that includes the ability to play as any of 14 international teams (including, of course, good ol' Team USA). You can create and customize your own tournaments as well.
Despite the fact that there are now three main competitors vying for the title of hockey king, EA still has the most experience and. ultimately. the most popular name. The improved game engine and extra options could be what pushes NHL 98 over the top.
- MANUFACTURER - EA
- THEME - Sport
- NUMBER OF PLAYERS - 1-8
With its sophomore PlayStation season, NHL '98 knocks the net off the posts with a classy presentation, outstanding features, and promising gameplay.
"Coolest Game on Earth"
NHL '98 leans into the face-off circle with superb features, starting off with the most exhaustive strategy in hockey gaming. Under the tutelage of Avalanche coach Marc Crawford (see "NHL '98: Training for a Breakaway," March), NHL serves up real-life NHL plays for offense and defensive zones, power plays, and penalty killing. Best of all, you can change plays on the fly using the L2 and R2 buttons.
Of course, you'll find all the pro teams, as well as 14 international squads, who chase the puck in Exhibition, Season, Shootout, Winter Break (mimics the Olympic games during the NHL's scheduled break this season), and International Tournament modes. Managers rule the roster with trades, free agents, player creation, and custom teams.
NHL doesn't offer icon passing, but the directional pad handles fairly well, and speed bursts are finally located on a different button than the one used for shooting. However, in this preview version, the skating lacked that on-a-dime responsiveness, though EA's jamming hard on tuning it up. As for the gameplay, EA's striving for "playoff-style" action, but it's too early to judge the success of that or whether the game contains any money shots.
Although NHL Face Off '98 seems to have a slight edge on player graphics at this early stage, NHL '98's headed toward scoring the best overall visuals with solid polygonal players and phenomenal arenas that really re-create the feel of attending a game. Best of all, the speed's already much improved over last year's version, and the action flies by at just the right clip. As for sounds, NHL sports two-man commentary (like Triple Play '98's) and excellent peripheral sounds from the crowd and the organ.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.