NHL Faceoff 99
NHL FaceOff '98 (which looked nice, but played like crap next to EA's NHL 98), 989 Studios is back and ready to go head-to-head with EA again with the latest incarnation of their well-known hockey franchise, NHL FaceOff'99.
Even though the game is due to be released soon, this is the first playable version of FaceOff'99 that we've been able to get our hands on. While it's looking better than last year's game (both graphically and from a gameplay standpoint), it's still got some serious Al issues that need to be worked out before release (like goalies skating out to the red line, CPU-controlled players reacting poorly to various situations, etc.). Don't fret though--we're pretty sure these are simply the result of the game still being at a relatively early stage.
According to 989, this year's FaceOff sports 20 percent more polygons and double the amount of textures of last year's version. While it's hard to say how accurate these figures are, the game definitely looks better and runs smoother than last year. The player models are nicely detailed, and each arena looks much better than the ones in FO '98. Another nice improvement to FaceOff '99 is the play-by-play announcing and overall sound effects. The crowd still seems a bit tame (come on guys, this is hockey!), but the two-man play-by-play is very nicely done, and adds a lot to the TV-style atmosphere of the game. Also new are on-the-fly strategy changes, using the Li and Ri buttons for defense and offense, respectively. Then of course there's all the stuff we've come to expect from 989, like Icon Passing (and new Icon Switching on defense-a cool idea), analog control with the Dual Shock pad, and the ability to create, trade and release players (and sign free agents, too).
Ultimately, whether or not FaceOff '99 can stack up depends on how the Al turns out. The game engine is already solid, and the presentation is improved--but if the game has flawed Al, everything else goes out the window. Currently, it's too early to say how things will turn out (like we said, the Al is pretty weak right now), but we're hoping for the best. Hopefully we'll have a review copy in time for next issue.
Download NHL Faceoff 99
Since the NBA and their owners can't seem to work out their million dollar grievances, the only sport that I can turn to is NHL Hockey. I really do not like watching the sport on TV but I don't mind catching an occasional game in person and I really enjoy playing hockey video games. I know it is strange but I can't help it. Since there is no NBA, does that mean I have started watching hockey on TV? Nope, I will stick to playing the games.
NHL FaceOff 99 is 989 Studios take on NHL Hockey. Since this is the same company that is famous for GameDay football, ShootOut basketball and MLB baseball, you know that they have some experience when it comes to making sports games. As with most sports games these days, FaceOff is packed with features and options. Sporting a new TV style presentation and better graphics, this game is just bursting at the seams. Features and options don't make a game but they sure don't hurt.
I have always been a fan of the NHL series from EA Sports. I have been playing that series since 1992. This is my first year of playing the FaceOff franchise so I was pretty excited to try what the other big boys had to offer. Like I mentioned above, the company bloodline has put out some of the best sports games of all times and hockey seems to be a game that is just getting better and better on the consoles. So if you are looking for a fresh take on this game, here you go.
Okay, let me just say that this game has all of the options you could ever want in a hockey game. I remember when games just started to include a season mode and then the big thing was the ability to trade players. Suffice it to say, every option you could ever image is in here. I am not going to go through each thing individually by if you have ever played a hockey game before, you will know what to expect in terms of options.
When you start the game, you will fly in from the rafters of the arena and it is a breathtaking view. You will look down at the ice and you can see the players lining up for the national anthem. My heart began beating a little faster. Things were really looking good. After the anthem, the players skated into position and the referee dropped the puck and it was off. To make a long story short, I played about 10 games in a row and walked away with mixed emotions about this game. There were things that I found myself laughing out loud and even yelling at (in a good way) and there were other things that made me just fell like I was too far removed from the action. Let me start with the good.
This game has one of the coolest things in all of video games. Ready? When a player really smashes another player and causes an injury, they will show a slow motion instant replay. You never really understand how hard your hits are until you see them laying some guy out in slow motion. The first time I saw this, I laughed for nearly five minutes. Now I know that you have always been able to go back and watch instant replays of plays after they happen. What makes this cool is that you don't have to do anything. The replay just happens so you are sure to never miss the really good hits. Also along these same lines, you can check someone over the wall and into the crowd. Very cool.
Now for the average: The gameplay really did nothing to get me overly excited. The control was pretty accurate yet nothing overly spectacular. I always felt like I was away from the action and not in the middle of it. Even when I was in control of the puck, I really did not feel like I was in the action. It is hard to explain but I just could not get into the game.
And now for the bad: Even though I just got through saying how cool it is to see the hits in the slow motion replays, the real speed hits are not nearly as cool. On a rare occasion you will see a good hit but for the most part, the checks just don't feel violent enough. It seems like the guy just skates up and the other person falls down. I was really disappointed.
Part of the problem with the hits may have been attributed to the fact that I never really found a camera angle that put me close enough to the action. I only had a handful of different options to choose from and none of them were very good. I think that the little details were in the game, I just couldn't see them very well because my viewpoint was too far away.
Aside from the fact that there is not a decent camera angle, the graphics are pretty good. The players look and feel real enough and the ice looks very cool. Overall, they get the job done but I just wish you could get closer to the action. One thing that I almost forgot to mention that was very cool was the way that the plexiglass would shake when someone was checked into a wall. That was a nice touch.
This game is not bad but it is not great either. I think that there is some fun hockey to be had. I am not really sure why but I always had a feeling like I was removed from the action. It could have been because of the far away camera or it could have been that this is just how the game feels. I think there are better hockey games on the market but you could also do a lot worse.