Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98
Hmm... not sure if I agree with this! Release a 'new' version of a game when all that's been changed is the teams? Isn't that a bit, you know, 'money for old rope'?
Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey (the original) was received with open arms and declared to be an excellent sports sim. Okay, we said, it's got its faults, but then so do most games, and at heart it's pretty damn good! Now you'd think that a year on, the programmers would've taken the original concept, kept the good bits and improved on or removed the bad bits, wouldn't you? Sadly though, unless your only problem with the game was 'the teams are a little out of date and there are no player photos', then you're going to be disappointed.
There is very little apart from the aesthetics of the game that has changed, or at least, what has changed, is either fairly unnoticeable, or is still a problem. I'll qualify that in a moment.
First though, let's operate on the assumption that not everyone has played the original, and not everyone bought it. In that case, this is an extremely playable hockey game, and if you like the idea of gliding around an ice rink whacking people in the face with sticks in between scoring goals, you should buy it now!
Sticks At The Ready
To begin with, the analogue stick, quite simply, was made for this game! I can't think of a more suitable medium for the device, as the movement of the players, sliding around quickly or slowly, turning sharply or making long sweeps, suits the analogue stick as if it had been created solely for this purpose.
The puck (which, for all you non-hockey fans, stands in for the 'ball') can have a corona, which behaves much like a tail on a comet, allowing you to easily see where it is at all times. And for those of you who are really short-sighted people, certain camera angles (of which there are seven in all) give the puck a bloody huge indicator arrow which follows it around the pitch. You're likely to find that the problem is going to be not so much finding the puck on screen, as finding your player, since the camera follows the puck.
As with the previous Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey, there are fights between players when they get too riled, or at least, the manual says there are. You see, the fights start when a player's anger meter gets too high, apparently, but I spent ages playing - in fact three whole games were taken up with not even trying to score, instead just chasing the other team and flattening them with the stick - and yet still no fisticuffs! Andy managed to start a fight in seconds, though. Huh, editors!
Face Off Without Guns?
Games start with a face off - not to be confused with the excellent John Woo film, or things might get messy - which is always viewed from a fixed camera angle, following which the camera will readjust to whatever camera you've selected through the options screen. The camera recommended by everyone in the office is the 'high overhead' view, which zooms in and out to follow the action, and enables you to accurately figure out where the goals are, which is always a handy thing.
The game can be played in two modes, either arcade or simulation. Arcade mode can be played either singularly, or, for the best four-player sports fun around, with up to three friends. This makes for some hectic four player action. Basically a simplified version of the normal game, arcade mode has a set number of players (three plus a goalie per team) and a reduced number of rules.
The normal mode, or 'simulation' mode, is more realistic; that is to say, it has more rules, more stats to adjust, and the AI of the players is (supposedly) enhanced. In other words, it's a mode for all those hockey buffs who want their game playing experience to be a mirror of the real thing, from the 'offside' and 'icing' rules, right down to the obligatory random drugs testing. (One of those features is made-up, can you guess which one?)
The AI of the players was somewhat of a disappointment in the first Gretzky game - the players tended to wander into offside traps a lot, or just whack the puck off up the rink to no-one in particular, and the goalies could be beaten practically every time by running up to the goal and tapping pass followed by shoot to perform 'the old one-two'. Things are a little different now.
No Thickie Goalies?
The goalie problem has been more or less rectified - it's now damn near impossible to score against them! Presumably they sacked the old 'Frank Spencer on ice skates' goalies (if you don't understand this reference, ask your parents) and replaced them with, er, 'someone who's really good at keeping goal in ice hockey' goalies. For one thing, they move as fast, if not faster, than the players, and as anyone who's ever seen an ice hockey game knows, the real goalies wear so much gear in an attempt not to lose various parts of their anatomy, that they have a problem moving at all, let alone moving fast.
Graphically, the game is pretty much identical to the previous WG Hockey, the only difference appears to be that now there are photographs of the players (and of course, different teams).
Features such as adjustable rink size, the extremely versatile replay option and the ability to adjust the number of players on each team are still there, which is good as it adds an element of variety, although still nothing that wasn't in the previous version.
The biggest disappointment has to be that you still cannot play with more than one player in simulation mode. After all, as was said back when the first game came out, the most fun in this game comes from playing with a human team-mate against two human players. Would it have been too much to ask for a bit of two-player team action in the league competition? Er... yes, apparently. Ideally, it would have been good to have had four players competing on the same team, oh the fun we would have had... sigh...
But enough mooning (or even moaning). What it all comes down to is this. Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey '98 is an absolutely ace hockey game. The league competition should keep you going for absolutely ages, not least because it'll take you weeks to learn how to beat the superhuman goalies. There's enough in this game to hold your interest, from trading players to, erm, viewing player cards! Okay, this probably won't excite the average British player that much, but the Americans go for player cards in a big way, you know! Of course, you can't actually physically swap these, and the chances are that your saved 'Edmanton Oilers #94: Ryan Smyth' card probably won't be worth loads of money to an eccentric card collector in years to come (unless they're very eccentric).
Arcade mode, with its much simpler rules - actually, there are no rules -should occupy you for many happy hours, and the multi-player option, assuming you can actually find some friends to play with you, will give you endless hours of hectic gaming action.
It has to be said though, that if you have a copy of the original Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey, then do not buy this game! The only people who should buy this game are those who don't already own it, those who already own it but have far more money than sense, extreme hockey fans who absolutely must own everything to do with the sport and maybe those people who have rather cunningly sold the old game to their friend at a price equivalent to the cost of the new one.
To reiterate: it's the same game! It's just had a bit of a face-lift. However, Wayne Gretzky's 3-D Hockey '98 is one of the best sports games - and certainly the best hockey game - available on the N64 at the moment.
Download Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98
Sequel, fairly obviously, to I the first Gretzky game. Apart I from minor improvements I and team updates, it's much I the same game.
A good ice hockey game but, when all's don and dusted, is it really different enough to Gretzky mark one to warrant buying? No.