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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Sega

 

Developer

Visual Concepts

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Excellent visuals and ESPN presentation

- Great gameplay balance between offense and defense

- Deep Franchise mode will keep you playing for many seasons

 

 

- Commentary is inconsistent and can become repetitive

- Whereís the online play option, Sega?

- Occasional stat glitches

 

 

Review: NHL Faceoff 2003 (Playstation 2)

Review: NHL Hitz 2003 (Playstation 2)

 

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NHL 2K3

Score: 9.1 / 10

 

Hockey is a sport that has been generally dominated by EA Sports in the video gaming arena. EA has always seemed to combine a killer presentation style with fast, action-filled hockey to create a great gaming experience. Veteran video pucksters may remember NHL í94 for the Genesis, or NHL í98 for the PlayStation, as some great video hockey moments. The biggest competition that EA has seen on the PlayStation 2 console has been Midwayís upstart NHL Hitz series, which really doesnít look to compete with EAís NHL series on a realism level.

 

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So, whatís to stop EAís continued hockey reign on the PS2? You guessed itÖ NHL 2K3. Now, before all of you NHL fans start to snicker at this idea, let me get into a little bit of what makes NHL 2K3 so good. Sure, you can tell by the score that I really liked NHL 2K3, but thereís a lot to like. The game isnít perfect, but itís pretty close, and with a few changes here and there, NHL 2K4 could be the best console hockey game ever.

 

Letís back up, though, and break down NHL 2K3. Visually, NHL 2K3 is impressive, to say the least. The arenas easily resemble their real-life counterparts, including retired jerseys and hanging banners. Thereís real-time ice deterioration and skate marks which can be seen during gameplay. Players spin to the ice when hooked or tripped, and crash to the ice when checked hard. The player models are of decent size, and the frame rate is silky-smooth for the most part. There are a few visual weaknesses, such as some slowdown during cutscenes and a few replays that donít make a lot of sense. Player faces arenít as realistically modeled as EAís. Still, EAís frame rate isnít as smooth in NHL 2003 as Visual Concepts and Treyarch have achieved in NHL 2K3.

 

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Sound is, admittedly, a disappointment. It all starts in the press box with the play-by-play and color commentaries. The play-by-play manís voice should be recognizable to veterans of 989ís NHL Face Off series, and thatís not a good thing. Michael Carlucci brings an inconsistent approach to play-by-play, with levels of intensity and emotion that donít always make sense. Carlucci also fudges a few names from time to time and his lines get repetitive before long. The color commentary man is even drier, although a few of his insights are timely. With Segaís use of the ESPN 

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license, itís surprising that they didnít try to go after ESPN talent to read these lines, like Gary Thorne or John Davidson. The sound effects arenít a lot better, either. When the puck ricochets off of the boards, it just doesnít sound right. Slapshots are inexcusably quiet. The only good effect is the sound of the puck ringing off of the post, and youíll hear that more than you probably want to. Sound is one area that Sega definitely needs to address, as EA completely dominates them in this area, even with Don Taylorís overly humorous color commentary.

 

The ESPN-style presentation is really quite good. From authentic National Hockey Night music to stat overlays to intermission stat comparisons, NHL 2K3 plays out like youíre watching an ESPN telecast, and thatís certainly a good thing. Itís pretty cool to see certain stats about your players, such as Patrick Roy leading the league in shutouts or Mario Lemieux leading his team in points. These stats arenít always perfect, though. The dreaded ďLast in league GAAĒ stat appears for almost every goalie, or so it seems. This presentation bleeds over into the menus, which include a bunch of stats and options.

 

So, you must really be anxious to hear how NHL 2K3 actually plays, right? In a word, NHL 2K3 is stellar.

 

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The game control setup feels like an EA game, but thatís where the similarity ends. Unlike EAís NHL games, which have generally put an emphasis on offense, NHL 2K3 is a much more balanced game. Most players will not score an average of 10 goals a game in NHL 2K3. There are a good number of 2-0, 3-1, 4-2, and other close results in NHL 2K3, and thatís because the computer is no slouch. The AI will break up your passes. The computer goalie will stack pads, make lunging saves, and even cover the puck with his body to keep it out of the net. Players have to be smart in NHL 2K3, and set up one-timers, get odd-man rushes, deke and shift to get the goalie out of position, and sometimes just get good bounces to put one past the netminder. Some goalies can let in the occasional cheap goal, but players generally have to earn what they score. Hitting is a big component in NHL 2K3, as is playing good defense and breaking up crisp passing. All in all, the balance of offense and defense in NHL 2K3 is the best Iíve ever seen in a hockey video game, and Iíve played dozens of them over the past decade. Itís that good.

 

I havenít even touched on NHL 2K3ís deep Franchise mode, or its decent Season mode, or its Create-A-Player options. This game brings a lot to the table, and most of it is as solid as youíll ever see or experience. Itís unfortunate that the PS2 version of NHL 2K3 didnít include online play, as that would have further increased the gameís replay value. NHL 2K3 relies more on its realism to keep players coming back than it does on unlockable items or flashiness, like EA has done in recent years. If youíre a hockey fanóeven in the slightestóyou owe it to yourself to pick up this game and add it to your collection. Itís not perfect, but NHL 2K3 is as close as weíve come in quite some time. Highly recommended.

 

- Peter J. Skerritt, Jr.

(February 20, 2003)

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