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Score: 9.0 / 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.
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
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.
The addition of manual dekes was implemented quite well with the right
thumbstick 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 right thumbstick 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.
And in addition, the superstar players have even more technical and
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 for
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.
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.