NHL 2003Tighten up your skates, can you keep up with the race? The pace is too fast, do you think you can last? Your body is a machine. A machine that runs on thirst quenching drinks to keep you going. Your body is in constant motion, only taking quick breaks. You only have one goal going through your head for months. That goal is the hunt for the Stanley Cup. Yes, itâ€™s here. Itâ€™s something youâ€™ve been waiting for during the summer. NHL 2003, hockeyâ€™s holy grail in videogames is out, but will it last? Throughout the years, EA Sports has dominated the competition when it comes to sports. Single-handedly, they have designed and developed the most intuitive game modes and features. I guess you could say that they have no worries for the years to come. If you think that, then you should get back to reality and start to feel gravity. That was then, this is now. Today, EA Sports still brings a fierce game to the show and NHL 2003 is a fine example of what they can do. NHL 2003 plays a lot like last years version, but with some good enough upgrades to make it a worthwhile purchase. Much has been done to make sure when you sit down to play this game, youâ€™re not playing NHL 2002. Thatâ€™s why EA Sports has improved the AI, slightly improved the graphics, and developed more responsive controls. Other than that, itâ€™s basically the same game as last year. Iâ€™ve always enjoyed the NHL series EA Sports has brought back year after year. I usually went out and pick up every game the series offered. But it seems EAâ€™s hockey machine is leaving me. Why is that? Because Iâ€™m simply more interested in the competition which I think in the future, will send this great series into some trouble. What is it that lies ahead? Simply, 3 other quality titles on the merge. The first is Midwayâ€™s NHL Hitz 20-03 which has been my favorite title since last year. The other title that Iâ€™ll be spending more attention to is Sega Sports NHL 2K3. With the added bonus of Xbox Live, Iâ€™ll be sure to favor it over NHL 2003. Finally, there is another title on the way for the 2004 season. Microsoft is bringing hockey to the Xbox and Iâ€™m sure many hockey fans will be on the edge of their seat for that title. It all comes down to this. EA Sports, as superior as they may be, has some serious competition to deal with in the future. How they are going to deal with it is up to them. But it is a concern their going to have to deeply look at if their going to want to take this NHL series deeper into the future. But Iâ€™m look too much forward into the future. Right here, right now, I guess you could say this is how hockey should be on the Xbox. Features: â€¢ All Official NHL teams and international teams â€¢ Dynamic control system gives you responsive controls â€¢ New enhanced AI â€¢ Over 700 face mapped models of NHL players â€¢ A rockinâ€™ soundtrack to keep you going Gameplay: The game doesnâ€™t really offer much more from last yearâ€™s version, except for a few technical issues fixed very well. You can really expect the same from last year but with a totally new look. The best part of NHL 2003 is that it plays and feels better than last yearâ€™s version. The control system is the best of any hockey game up to date. Itâ€™s very responsive and with enough practice, you can easily pull off anything that comes to mind. Everything from last year is back again for the action in NHL 2003. The same modes are still offered; Exhibition, Season, Playoff, Franchise, and shootout. The NHL Cards are back again for those who enjoyed this clever feature last year as well as the special in-game camera which are for big time hits, saves, and breakaways. Looking for some new features to the game? Youâ€™re in good luck because there were some added so the game was not just a total downslide. The new deke system is probably the best addition to the series. Although there has always been a deke button in mostly every NHL game in the series, this yearâ€™s version of â€˜dekeâ€™ has taken a step further. With the use of the analog sticks on the Xbox controller, you can take you dekes to a whole new dimension by leaving the defender motionless and stunned with your sudden burst of skills. As the game continues, a meter starts to fill up (Located in the lower right corner of the screen). In order to fill up the meter, youâ€™ll need to keep making moves on your opponent. Once the meter is completely filled up, you have the opportunity to activate the â€˜Gamebreakerâ€™. The Gamebreaker is a special boost where everything is in slow motion but you are going full speed while a camera such as the breakaway cam, zooms right in on you. The intensity level during this time is very high as everything around you suddenly stops. The regretful part is the camera angle which is placed so bad you have trouble seeing where youâ€™re going or how close to the goal you are.
Game modes are too big of an issue in NHL 2003. If you played NHL 2002, the same modes are back again in 2003. Thereâ€™s no real difference. Season and Playoff mode have been tweaked around with more customizations to help you make the perfect season. Franchise mode this year is very weak. Itâ€™s nothing compared to Franchise modes in other games. What it really gives you is a simple, basic look at a Franchise mode. It doesnâ€™t bring you into the deep end enough, but itâ€™s still fun to play. You can play up to 10 seasons and draft players. Thatâ€™s really all there is. Itâ€™s an area EA Sports should add more detail to for future versions. Overall, I was greatly disappointed with the gameplay featured in NHL 2003. I was hoping EA Sports would have come through with more features to add to the gameplay. Itâ€™s bad enough thereâ€™s no online play or else everything would be a different story. The greatest improvement in this series was from the 2001 to the 2002 version. That where EA Sports clearly showed why their number one. I just donâ€™t have the words to explain why they didnâ€™t do so well this year. Graphics: EA Sports comes through every single year. With every new NHL title they release, the new version is always better looking and sharper than the previous. Now usually all sequels and yearly sports titles have improved visuals, but this year, NHL 2003 really shines in this department. Last yearâ€™s Xbox version of NHL 2002 had a lighting issue which is now cleared up. Player models havenâ€™t changed a great deal, but everything else has a great deal. Player animations have never been better, and with the new deke system featured in the game, more animations have been added to add more robust and flavor to the game. Well animated captured moves are very realistic and dazzle the game. Player models have been improved slightly but you can definitely see the polish in the players from last year. Players seem to have more of a body to them rather than shapes configured together. Playerâ€™s faces are an area of the game where EA Sports shines. You can recognize all the more successful players in the NHL today because their faces are so well done. Kudos to EA Sports. There are, however, so nagging issues that just have to be mentioned. The fighting in this veteran hockey series gets worse and worse every year. The players are really fighting. All I really see is arms flying everywhere. Itâ€™s also way to fast paced, thereâ€™s not enough time to get a fancy blow to knock the player down. The other issue, the game gets choppy every now and then. Itâ€™s not a serious matter, but one worth looking at. Sound: Without question, itâ€™s a mixed bag. Sound effects are great, commentary is just as bad as last year. This is a trend that has been going on for awhile, and hopefully it will end soon. Sound effects, while stellar, change from realistic to non-realistic throughout games while the commentary provides nonsense (Actually, just Don Taylor). The bright side of it all is that itâ€™s the least bit repetitive. The commentary in NHL 2003 is provided by Don Taylor and Jim Hughson who were also together with the commentary in NHL 2002. I myself, totally despised the commentary in NHL 2002 and my opinion hasnâ€™t changed in NHL 2003. While I cannot stand the play by play and the constant joke making, I must say I never really did find any repetitiveness during the few games I actually had the commentary â€˜onâ€™. The commentary follows you and where the game is going. Itâ€™s fits into the situation itâ€™s in, so you feel itâ€™s a real broadcast. One area where the sound lacks is the crowds, they just donâ€™t get into the action enough during a game. They do get loud for the Gamebreaker and special cameras, but thatâ€™s all. During the game their motionless, dull, and have absolutely no life whatsoever. It comes as a complete surprise to me because 2002 Fifa World Cup had the best crowd Iâ€™ve ever seen in a game before. Replay Value: NHL 2003 is a game that could worth your time. It provides some great hockey action with few flaws. It has some decent modes to take it far but the lack of no online play really makes the game suffer when the Franchise mode offers so little when it could offer so much more. It is worth going through a few times though, because it does offer a good time. The multiplayer is always fun like it always has been. NHL Cards are still a great feature and addictive when trying to collect the special cards. Overall: NHL 2003 is a game that gets better and better this year. Unfortunately, what I had come to expect from the game didnâ€™t â€˜wowâ€™ me like I was hoping it would. The game modes are only fun for a limited time, and the Franchise mode is nothing compared to Madden. The new features are a great addition, but there few and donâ€™t add to the gameplay enough. This is a series heading for serious competition especially when Sega Sports NHL 2K3 is released in a few weeks with Xbox Live compatibility. NHL 2003 is certainly a solid title, but it doesnâ€™t have enough to take it to the finals. Sorry ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Stanley isnâ€™t coming home again. --Chris Banovic