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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

989 Sports/SCEA

 

Developer

989 Sports/SCEA

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2002

 

 

- Good deke control

- Really tries hard to be a sim

- Good passing control

 

 

- What happened to the fun

- Spotty graphics

- Announcers can't keep up

- Defensive and offensive AI just isn't up to snuff

 

 

Review: NHL 2003 (PC)

Review: NHL 2K3 (XBox)

Review: NHL Hitz 2003 (Gamecube)

 

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NHL FaceOff 2003

Score: 6.5 / 10

 

Hockey isn’t just a sport; it’s a religion that doesn’t get any tax breaks. Being Canadian-born and having played the sport for more time than I’ve been shaving, hockey means a great deal to me. Some will simplify the game as shooting a puck on the net with fighting, but that such a gross over-simplification… well maybe not if you’ve ever seen any of the pick-up games I've played.

 

nhl-faceoff-2003-1.jpg (47249 bytes)          nhl-faceoff-2003-2.jpg (59285 bytes)

 

Enough digression. NHL FaceOff 2003 for the PS2 is the latest hockey game from the group at 989 Sports as they try to impart the intensity of the sport to the console. All sporting games seem to take one of two possible paths: either a simulation-style game or an arcade-style game. NHL FaceOff 2003 goes the route of a simulation experience, but for some reason, with the stripped down feel of the gaming options, the fun just seems missing.

 

For variety, NHL FaceOff 2003 offers a few different game modes for your pleasure. Besides the usual quick game and versus modes, there are the season, practice, and shootout modes. The season mode comes only in one flavor – the entire 82 game season with the option to control as many teams as you’d like (I don’t think that my heart could take 164 games). The practice mode is pretty cool; you can set up any game situation that you’d like to work on – special teams, your goaltending control, or just general puck movement. The shoot out mode is the usual 5v5 penalty shot challenge – it’s been done before, but I certainly like the deking control so this mode comes off looking good.

 

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Much like all current sporting games these days, the game features 3-D modeled characters with a variety of camera angles for your gaming pleasure; however, this game features some of the oldest looking graphics of the current group of games. For some inexplicable reason, the character textures seem older than the ones used in the NHL 2001 series from EA Sports. This just isn’t relegated to the character designs, almost all of the textures have a 

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boxy feel to them because you can actually spot the square pixels on all of the surfaces – it’s like playing one of the 1st generation of 3D games on the PC six years ago and is not acceptable in a PS2 game.

 

The sound is serviceable, the bulk of the game’s sound effects are realistic (some sound like the microphone is in the crowd, and not on the ice surface… but then again, how many people have been on the ice during a game?) and the designers went out and hired the services of Darren Pang and Mike Emrick.

 

The announcing is one of my bigger beefs in this title. They repeat themselves often and usually speak as though they don’t have a clue what is going on in the game. I keep hearing about how my defense is going to have to step up if we want to stay in the game but most of the time, I’m leading by a handful when they start saying that.

 

nhl-faceoff-2003-3.jpg (53181 bytes)          nhl-faceoff-2003-4.jpg (45536 bytes)

 

NHL FaceOff 2003’s control is one of its real strengths – besides the basic control that anyone who’s ever played a video hockey game will figure out in short order, it also features a really good deking and pass control system.

 

The deking system allows you to control the stick of the puck-carrier (while maintaining a straight line where you were heading) and bring the puck hard over. The passing control system is similar to 989 Sports football games – you hold down the button and one of the 4 buttons (Circle, Triangle, Square, X) appear over your teammates’ heads and by pressing one of those buttons will send a pass their way. (I’ll even mention the really good drop pass function that actually acts correctly… from a physics point of view.)

 

The gameplay has some strengths and weaknesses of it own.

 

The game physics and opponent AI are good. For the most part, although you can set up the pretty play and a strong scoring chance, they aren’t going to be as frequent as in the NHL franchise (which is more like the authentic article). The opponent AI is all right; most players would have better position play, but the aggressive forechecking the AI employs will cause fits/headaches for some. The flip side of the coin is how bad your AI is. Your own players seem to garner satisfaction in clumping around each other or standing right behind an immobile defender – if my Pee Wee team did that, they’d be skating laps or sitting through another one of my not particularly entertaining “chalk talks”.

 

The in-game play is okay, but for some reason it takes more focus to complete a game than other titles – it is just too authentic at times (too many slowdowns and stretches of ineffectiveness on both sides of the ice), and I always seem to suffer the 2nd Period blahs where I end up pausing and looking for something else to do. The line change system is broken down into offensive lines and defensive pairings – every time that you change out the lines you have to choose one of each.

 

All in all, NHL FaceOff 2003 is a game that really needs a design overhaul – some might like title, but I certainly wouldn’t want to spend more time with it.

 

- Tazman

(December 13, 2002)

 

"I feel like I have the strength of a bear that has the strength of

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        - Marco (Sealab 2021)

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