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Visual Concepts



E (Everyone)



Q4 2002



- Exceptional online play
- ESPN broadcast presentation
- This is the ultimate NHL hockey fan’s NHL hockey game



- Fighting from NES’ Blades of Steel is better than it is here
- Hard to set up power play offense
- Too many breakaway opportunities for defending team on power plays
- Announcers are boring



Review: NHL 2003 (XB)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (XB)

Review: ESPN NHL Hockey (PS2)



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Score: 9.0 / 10


nhl 2k3 xbox review  nhl 2k3 xbox review  nhl 2k3 xbox review


Late last year (2002), I reviewed NHL Hitz 2003, an arcade-style, hard-hitting and high-scoring hockey video game, and absolutely loved it. That was in large part because it did away with all the rules that tend to make real-life NHL hockey a low scoring and sometimes boring affair like offside, icing, and two-line passes. Sega’s NHL 2K3, on the other hand, adheres to the old rulebook religiously. This game is a true simulation of actual NHL hockey. As much as I ripped that rulebook in my NHL Hitz 2003, you would think I wouldn’t like Sega’s hockey title at all. But you would be totally wrong. Despite its by-the-rulebook simulation gameplay, NHL 2K3 is a solid and more importantly enjoyable hockey video game. As good as NHL 2K3 is, it’s even Gretzky-greater when played online via Xbox Live. Offline or online, NHL 2K3 is one outstanding hockey game.

Before I delve into the review any further, I have to start with how amazing NHL 2K3 plays online via Xbox Live. I can’t believe how amazingly smooth and seamless the game plays online. There’s nary a bit of lag to be seen, and the games are




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rarely ever outside the realm of what you would expect from an actual NHL game. Nope, you won’t see any 10-0 drubbings online, no matter how good you’re opposition is. I usually lose by no more than a goal, (and I say lose, because I’m an awful 5-60 online; trust me, scoring is definitely a skill that needs to be developed before heading online) which keeps you locked into the game until the final whistle. NHL 2K3 is a


great example of why online console gaming is here to stay.

It’s the sheer overwhelming amount of realism shooting through NHL 2K3 that makes this game a Cup-worthy winner. The game’s controls include functions for every possible hockey-style move, including poke checks, blocking the shot (either by kneeling or diving), flip passes, slap shots, wrist shots, hooking, pinning the puck against the boards, and grabbing the puck out of the air. You name the hockey move, there’s a control function for it. It’s unbelievable how many different moves are in NHL 2K3. With offensive controls, it does take a while to figure out how to score more than one goal a game on a consistent basis. I definitely recommend playing either season or franchise mode for a while to develop a scoring touch.

Following up on the realistic controls is the Einstein-smart artificial intelligence. Particularly on the defensive end, the A.I. reacts to the ice action efficiently enough tha, when you properly balance the game’s settings, you will get a Peter Worrell-tough challenge and will definitely lose your share of games to the CPU-controlled teams. Against other human players, the A.I. helps out too. A.I.-assisted defensemen don’t play with reckless abandon; they play defense, not always trying to fly into the offensive zone for some goal-scoring glory. On offense, the A.I.-assisted players will react to how your controlled players are performing on the ice. If you are flying down the wing, the A.I.-assisted players will break towards the middle for a pass or a rebound opportunity.

Hitting is a big part of the NHL 2K3 playing strategy too. A good hit will disrupt opposing teams trying to enter your defensive zone. But the art of hitting requires learning some restraint. If you are controlling a defensemen and go for a quick hit and happen to miss, get set to sweat out your goalie attempting to make a save on a breakaway. Instead of going to the play on defense, make the opposition’s play come to you, then clobber ‘em with a vicious jaw-jarring hit. (Curiously, as hard as some of these guys get smashed, throughout the season I’ve played I haven’t seen one injury, even though players can technically be injured and taken out of commission).


nhl 2k3 xbox review          nhl 2k3 xbox review

One area that can be unrealistic is on either your own or your opposition’s power play opportunities. It can be hard to set up a power play from the point position, because of the pit-bull reactionary defense. Also, too many short-handed breakaways can occur. Over the course of a long season though, the law of averages comes into effect, and teams will score on the power play within normal NHL power play percentage parameters.

And like most sports games nowadays with season or franchise modes, the A.I. get a little on the moronic side when it comes to trades. It’s too easy to manipulate the free agents to pull off lopsided trades. How else can I explain being able to load up my Flyer’s team with stars Steve Yzerman, Peter Bondra, Alexei Kovalev, Scot Niedermayer, Keith Tkachuck, and Miroslav Satan?

The game isn’t completely perfect in the graphical and sound areas. Visually, the game has some great player animations, especially the goalies on saves. Also, check out the players climbing in and out of the bench area on line changes. Arenas are also given an accurate portrayal. But overall, especially in regards to the crowds and the players who seem a little too small, this game doesn’t measure up to Midway’s great-looking Hitz 2003. The most laughable part of NHL 2K3 is the outright pathetic fighting. Totally opposite Hitz 2003’s adrenaline-pumping fighting sequences, in NHL 2K3 you get fighting that doesn’t even measure up to the old NES title, Blades of Steel.

There are a few different modes to get you skating, including exhibition, franchise, season, and tournament. There’s even a playoff mode, for those of you too impatient to play through an 82-game regular-season schedule before heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the most exciting championship qualifier in sports today.

This year, as with all the Sega Sports titles, brings the ESPN license to the game’s presentation. And there are times that the ESPN presence is really enjoyable. During the game, the familiar ESPN music will chime in addition to the famous ESPN sports ticker appearing along the bottom of the screen, updating scores from NHL games being “played” at other arenas, giving the game an authentic feel. The only ESPN touch inexplicably lacking is real ESPN announcers. Instead, you get possibly the most boring play-by-play announcer and color commentator that you could possibly imagine, too boring and too repetitive in their remarks and comments. Maybe we’ll hear Barry Melrose or John Davidson in NHL 2K4.

A final dripping-of-realism touch is the ESPN-inspired statistical tracking. The game actually has a record of all players’ lifetime stats as they entered the 2002-2003 season. After Steve Yzerman had scored a goal for my team, the public address announcer bellowed how it was a goal that moved Yzerman up in the career goal-scoring ranks. After a score, if a player hits a particular milestone like 50 goals or is now leading the league in a specific category, the game will let you know.

Offline, NHL2K3 represents one of the truest-to-life video game presentations of actual NHL hockey. Single-player or multiplayer, NHL 2K3’s game action unfolds so close to the real game of NHL hockey you will be amazed. Online, the game is unbelievable. It’s clear that Sega used the learning experience of the Dreamcast’s SegaNet online gaming to its utmost advantage, because the seamless and lag-free gameplay provided by NHL 2K3 is simply fire-on-ice marvelous.

- Lee Cieniawa

(February 24, 2003)


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