reviews\ Oct 17, 2002 at 8:00 pm

NHL 2003 - PC - Review

Steve Yzerman collects the pass at the redline, puts on a speed burst and blows across the enemy’s blue line. He jukes one would-be defender, then another. Wrist shot. Five hole. Scores!

Many years ago, when the first PC was set up and working in my home, the very first game purchased and installed was EASports NHL title. In the intervening years, the title has grown and improved.

NHL 2003 is the latest iteration in the series, and with improved graphics, player interface and control options, it clearly is the best yet.

Looking for a storyline? Forget it, this is crash the boards, pass-and-check, slapshot, wrist shot, hard-pounding hockey. The teams skate up and down the rinks with precision, cutting blade edges into the surface for quick turns, then putting on speed bursts to blow past opponents. If you are looking for action in a sports title, this game is packed with it.

The game has numerous ways to play. There are the obligatory quick game (you are into the action quicker), and franchise and playoff modes, as well as an international game mode where your country’s team squares off against the best from the rest of the world.

New game features include a fully customizable AI. If you are a novice, and don’t want that other team passing, shooting or even checking all that well to begin with, you can downgrade those abilities in the options menu.

And speaking of the options menu, the whole look of the options package has been streamlined to the point of providing a highly accessible, and good-looking menu interface.

EASports has secured the musical serves of groups like Default, Papa Roach, Jimmy Eat World, Gob and Queens of the Stone Age for this version of the game, and finds it necessary to showcase the sounds of those bands in places they really shouldn’t be – like after a goal is scored.

That aside, the soundtrack of this game is really excellent, from the sounds of the game to the announcing, this is a title that has been done up right.

Visually, this game is stunning. From the opening cutscenes with players imagining game action, to the actual games themselves, this is a fluid, seamless experience with superb arenas, uniforms that jump off the screen with the vividness of their color, and smooth animation. The visual aspects of this game are exactly why no one has been able to compete with EASports when it comes to PC hockey games.

Game controls are also quick easy to use, once you understand them. The manual and accompanying hot key list don’t quite work for every controller. For example, in the diamond configuration, the quick reference guide lists the middle row, left button on a gamepad as the shoot button. That may be the case with the game’s preferred controllers (Gravis Gamepad Pro and Microsoft Sidewinder), but that wasn’t the default on the Thrustmaster controller. The shoot and pass buttons were reversed.

That aside, this is a game that will delight hockey fans and gamers. It not only looks and sounds great, but the options package is so well designed that this game can be enjoyed by anyone of any age or experience level. The latter changes in the online arena, but that is to be expected. If you don’t own a PC hockey game, but were thinking of it, NHL 2003 is your ticket to a terrific gaming experience.

This game is rated for Everyone.

Gameplay: 8.7
The action is fast, and though you have control over the game speed, you had best be on your toes and ready to play before launching a game. While in a game, the action plays out almost as well as a televised game, with camera angles, replays and the general mayhem associated with the sport. The game slows down though when it comes to fights, which don’t seem as fluid as those offered in other hockey titles on other platforms.

Graphics: 9.2
The animation and overall look of this game is superb. Yes, you know it is a computer-animated game, but the lushness of the uniforms and environments make for a truly outstanding looking game.

Sound: 9.2
The musical score is terrific. The announcers continue the fine tradition of EASports title, and the little things – like the sound of a slapshot, or the whisper of skate blades cutting ice, are all included for a wonderful audio experience.

Difficulty: Medium
Though the controls have been kept relatively simple, there is a lot to learn and you will likely need time in the quick game mode to get the total feel for the game. You can adjust the opposing team’s AI to thoroughly customize your experience.

Concept: 9
Accessible player interface, fully customizable game experience, and a terrific options package make this an amazing product.

Multiplayer: 9
EASports has really bolstered the online capabilities of the game, with franchise mode, EA Elite (a customized team that is directly impacted by real-time league events), clubs and tournaments.

Overall: 9.1
This is clearly the best hockey title EASports has released to date. The graphics and audio track are superb, and the player interface, with its customizable game play options, all add up for one amazing and enjoyable experience.


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