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Platform

GameCube

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

EA Canada

 

Developer

Electronic Arts

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Manual puck control is a great addition

- Can be as realistic or arcadey as you want

- Announcing returns

- Solid control

 

 

- Getting the settings just right can take some time

- Needs a practice mode

 

 

Review: NHL 2003 (PC)

Review: NHL Faceoff 2003 (Playstation 2)

Review: NHL 2003 (XBox)

 

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NHL 2003

Score: 8.9 / 10

 

The greatest danger that sports games face is avoiding the perception that theyíre only statistical upgrades of versions that came before it.  And even though NHL 2003 could be described as such itís executed too well to write off it off as such.

 

nhl-2003-gamecube-1.jpg (32745 bytes)          nhl-2003-gamecube-2.jpg (38034 bytes)

 

Many features from NHL 2002 return and the one aspect Iím most happy to see again is the play-by-play from Jim Hughson and color commentary from Don Taylor.  In no other game is the announcing so solid and fun to listen to.  They trade barbs with each other and generally behave like a couple of armchair commentators (the same way you and your buddies comment on the game on TV).  You will pick up on repetition, especially over the course of a season, and sometimes the commentary can lag behind the action but those points arenít enough for me to subtract much from the overall score.

 

What accounts for the less-than-perfect score is the extreme amount of tweaking it takes to get everything just the way you like it.  At first, I felt the games moved at a plodding pace Ė there just wasnít enough action.  Fiddling with options available I got the games to move faster by making the players skate faster but as a result the scores went through the roof.  The reason for the exponential increase in goals is simple: although the players on the ice move faster, the goalies donít get the same speed increase.  They canít adjust fast enough to the changing puck position Ė every one-timer will blow pass the goalie like heís a statue.  Other than the futzing required to get everything to feel right, itís all good.

 

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The addition of manual dekes was implemented quite well with the C-stick Even though their use will most likely be limited to advanced players, itís good to see EA still finding ways to add new wrinkles to the basic gameplay.  Basically, using the C-stick allows manual control of the puck, which can mean the difference between turning on the red light or being shut down on a breakaway during a slow-mo attack.  The C-stick is kind of twitchy at first but practice, practice, practiceÖ And in addition, the superstar players have even more technical and spectacular dekes.

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The spectacle department is as good as ever although the graphics havenít been dramatically upgraded.  The changes over 2002 (and even 2001) are subtle Ė different motion captures, crowd reactions, player celebrations, goalie movements; all small things that might not be paid attention to.  Regardless, NHL 2003 is a good-looking game (I donít care what platform youíre playing it on).

 

Player cards also return.  Iíve never been a big user of the player cards (which offer specific powers or bonuses earned by trading in points acquired by fulfilling certain objectives during a game) with any regularity.

 

All the other usual features are present including Franchise mode, Playoff mode, Create-A-Player, a load of teams, etc.  The only thing really missing is a practice mode Ė something like NBA Live 2003, where it could be just you and the rink or even the option to run drills, like skating through pylons.

 

nhl-2003-gamecube-3.jpg (50411 bytes)          nhl-2003-gamecube-4.jpg (19162 bytes)

 

Multiplayer mode is, as always, still magic.  Fun factor remains high.  Is it better than NHL 2K3 or NHL Hitz 2003?  Iím not sure if ďbetterĒ is the best choice of words.  I havenít had a chance to play NHL 2K3 (yet) so I canít comment on that particular comparison.  The comparison between NHL Hitz 2003 and NHL 2003 can be made, but theyíre good in different ways.  Hitz goes for flat-out fantasy fun with some players thrown in, while NHL 2003 goes for accuracy and a huge set of features and options.

 

Which one should you buy?

 

What, do I look like an advice columnist?  Do your own damn thinking!

 

In short, NHL 2003 is great purchase for the hockey fan.  Although itís not drastically different than the last few incarnations, itís got enough polish to make it a worthwhile addition to your game library.  If youíre like some people I know, buying copies of a franchise label every couple of years is the norm instead of getting it every year, and if this is your year, you wonít be disappointed by NHL 2003.

 

- Omni

(December 24, 2002)

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