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Black Box



E (Everyone)



September 2002



- Best crowd around

- Pick-up and play control

- Multiplayer mini-games

- Lots of unlockables

- Good graphics and sound

- Lots of options to adjust and tweak

- Enough stats to satisfy Realists



- Goalie AI can be exploited on the rebound

- Replay has a very small buffer



Review: NHL Hitz 2003 (XBox)

Review: NHL Hitz 2003 (Playstation 2)

Review: NHL 2003 (Gamecube)



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NHL Hitz 2003

Score: 9.0 / 10


When it comes to over-the-top sports, Midway’s “-itz” series is really hitting its stride.  At least in hockey games – being unapologetically Canadian, baseball and football take a backseat (or the trunk) to hockey.  Last year’s Hitz proved incredibly fun and easy to pick-up and play.  Hitz 2003 arrives with a list of improvements as long as your arm and the same accessibility capped by a robust feature set for players that really want to get their hands dirty.


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The best improvement over last year is the better animated crowd.  Instead of flat, pixilated and muddy crowds of other sports games, Hitz 2003 features over 2,000 3D fans in seats (in comparison to last years sparsely populated stands).  Granted, the 3D models aren’t going to challenge Dead or Alive 3 (XB) and their animations are simple but they do justice to an often-ignored aspect.  Everything else in the graphical package gets somewhat of an upgrade too, with more checking animations and crazy new arenas.  There are also *gasp* referees, which you’ll only notice during the face-offs. (They aren’t around to call penalties mostly because there aren’t any penalties aside from checking the goalie.)


The action is 3-on-3 (with the goalies, 4-on-4) and it’s non-stop.  It reminds me most of playing street hockey – no rules, just simple childhood anarchy and a lot of fun.  There are nuances to pick up, both on offense and defense, such as choosing what kind of defense you want to play (man-on-man, zone, cherry pick) and knowing the best times to fake a shot then pass to a wingmate.





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Although Hitz has a complete roster of moves – poke check, deke, cross check, one-timer, dump the puck down the boards, etc. – it definitely leans toward arcade action.


That being said, there is a veritable ton of “reality” options like trading and Franchise Mode, and tweakable options.  Some of these options include Post Whistle Time, which allows more time after the whistle to settle-up scores (in the tradition of EA’s early NHL games); increasing the Pass Interception of 


the CPU-controlled team forces more calculated moves; Bulldozer puck is just like it sounds – turn it on and blocked shots become a thing of the past; there are attributes that can be changed for the goalies and players, which can really ramp-up the challenge; and then there are the (by now) standards of setting head size, puck effects and size.  Truly, the list goes on. (Plus, there is a great create-a-player feature that really lets your imagination run rampant.)


One feature that definitely benefits from multiple human players are the six mini-games.  After hammering each other in a “real” game, it’s great way to even things up.  They don’t amount to much more than simple side games but they are fun.


There are 120 unlockables in 5 different categories.  Each unlockable is clearly labeled with what you must do in order to unlock it.  This means you can go for the goodies that you want, like the original Canucks uniform.  There are also many different teams and arenas to unlock, although from what I can tell the only difference between the arenas is their look. (i.e. Playing on the moon does not mean a different set of puck physics.)


The “On Fire” meter returns.  The meter encourages lots of defensive play (i.e. putting the opposition through the glass).  The meter is broken into two bars, which increase the more hits you dish out.  Fill one and a single player can be burst into flames (by hitting the Z-button); fill both bars and the entire team can be lit up – imbued with the 20% attribute bonus that being on fire grants.  The burst of fire only lasts 30 seconds so making the most of it is also encouraged.


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But with all this good, there is some room for improvement.  Although the goalie AI is much improved over last year, the AI has an incredible percentage of scoring on the rebound if a player has a breakaway.  While some might contend this is accurate to real life, I just found it frustrating.  Of minor annoyance is the too-short replay memory.  This may be a hardware limitation but I don’t know.  Whipping camera angles around and zooming in is a snap, but with only 10 seconds to play around with it seems too short.  On an unrelated note, commentary will often give a small burst of static if you skip through the transition animations when entering a fight.


And speaking of commentary, although it can get repetitive it works, both Tim Kitzrow and Alan Smithee do a good job of pointing out the big hits and describing replays.  Most importantly, there’s no “dialogue pause” problems.  Even though descriptions are cookie-cutter, they string together smoothly so as not to draw attention to themselves.  And Hall of Famer, Scott Bouwman, voices the training mode so his appearance is quite brief, but it's still a nice touch.   All the other sounds are good too.


NHL Hitz 2003, is a very good hockey game.  It’s accessible, it’s fun, the graphics and sound are well done, has the crowd is the best out there, and has enough options and stats to mollify even the most rabid fan of “real” hockey.  If you’re Canadian it’s your duty to play all hockey games, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun while you do it.  Recommended rental at the very least!


- Omni

(October 12, 2002)

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