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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

Visual Concepts

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

September 2003

 

 

- Near flawless gameplay
- Great player expression and accurate representation
- Less Canadian then you’ll assume…;)
- Official everything
- Xbox Live

 

 

- A few “new” (alternative) jerseys were left out
- Teammates react slower then the computer
- Goalie AI still needs work
- Scoring is more of a chore than fun

 

 

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (Playstation 2)

Review: NHL 11 (360)

Review: NHL Slapshot (Wii)

 

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ESPN NHL Hockey

Score: 8.8 / 10

 

espn-nhl-hockey-1.jpg (66997 bytes)    espn-nhl-hockey-2.jpg (69571 bytes)    espn-nhl-hockey-3.jpg (69092 bytes)

 

Apart from the low scoring and numerous amounts of play stoppages, hockey can be a very entertaining sport. But let’s be honest: sometimes the only reason we watch is to see the sticks drop and two huge Russians start throwing punches until one of them drops as well. If not for that, we find little joy in this slowly diminishing sport. ESPN has found a way to keep the sport appealing, to hockey enthusiasts and occasional viewers; having carried it out in a fashionable way. Oh, and don’t worry, you don’t have to be from Austria to have a good time.

It’s that time of year again and this season picking the right hockey is just about as hard as picking your nose. The obvious choice stands out. ESPN’s rival, and longtime counterpart, is EA’s pride and joy: NHL 2004. For the past few years the

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series has seen minor changes, the most relevant being the “breakaway” view, which is supposed to add a cinematic and dramatic perspective to the game, though falling short. Now that we have half of the titles out of the way, let’s pry our teeth into ESPN NHL Hockey.

ESPN NHL Hockey (formally the 2K series) doesn’t glaze over any of its aspects with inflated additions, such as having

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major recording artists include their songs in the game (i.e. EA Sports). ESPN sways its appeal towards the more general fans of hockey who love the crunch against the boards, late scoring goals, and the glory of winning Lord Stanley’s Cup. To give these features there desired attention, ESPN has licensed everything within the game from sleek information tabs, TV-like camera shifts, and even their official announcers. If that’s not enough, every team comes equipped with their official jerseys, an additional alternative jersey (some teams are still without one), and unlockable retro jerseys. To sum things up, the game is pretty damn official.

The picture on the cover is really Jeremy Roenick, not a graphic image. I know that’s obvious, but that’s only to lead into my next point. The graphics are quite impressive. Player faces can actually be recognized, this time not for the obvious reasons. If you see a player talking or smiling, you can actually see teeth missing. The create-a-player screen also gives you this ability, to have teeth missing. I know this isn’t revolutionary, but in my book, this is as real as you can get with hockey. As for the arenas and crowd animations, it looks just as impressive. The crowd reacts to goals scored by standing up right when the goal goes past the line. Though another minor detail, when adding them all up, it makes one big major improvement. The fans will also throw their hats onto the ice if one of their home players scores a hat trick. The arenas are generic in flavor, but recognizing the Staples Center from the other arenas is easily done.

With the arcade theme seen with most hockey games, ESPN knew that in order to have a successful franchise, both strategic and arcade players needed to be able to enjoy this game. The gameplay is a great combination of the two, leaving no gamers behind. Open ice hits, board hits, hooks, and all other painful animations are smooth and rich in detail. When a player falls onto the ice, bits of broken ice flies upward, creating a more realistic effect. If there is one complaint with the gameplay, it would lie within the goaltending. Without a doubt, ESPN has some of the best goaltending animations I’ve ever seen, along with the best goalie AI. Goalies improvise in vulnerable situations to come up with that big play, and keep you from having a heart attack…then again, giving you a heart attack. The goalie reactions are somewhat arbitrary when I’m skating on the ice. This brings me to my complaint: Whenever I’m shooting down the ice and make a huge shot, it rarely goes in. However, when the computer is coming down the ice, they make an almost effortless shot and it always goes in. this can be a nail biter when you give up a lead, but don’t count on this happening too many times.


The sound is carried out in a standard fashion; with ice-skate scratches, crowd chants, and player yells integrated in the game. During the play stoppages you’ll sometimes hear a memorable song. For those of you who own ESPN NFL Football, some of the tracks might sound familiar, that’s because they were also used in NFL. The one song that can get you off your seat and cracking skulls is Queen’s most famous hit “We will rock you”. I was surprised to hear the song in the game, but once I heard it, I couldn’t play without it. That’s the one song that’ll get your adrenaline pumping to score some goals.

The best hockey game out today is ESPN NHL Hockey. Don’t think of it as the best hockey game ever, though some reviewers will agree, because there is still a lot of room for improvement. Nothing can be considered perfect, so ESPN NHL Hockey will just have to be considered: the best there is…for now. With unlockable jerseys and modes (mini-rink, air hockey, pond hockey, etc.) and an in-depth franchise mode, be sure to pick this game up for your holiday ass kicking, eh?

- Eric Lahiji
(October 28, 2003)

 

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