reviews\ Nov 23, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Sega Sports(tm) NHL

With the release of some pretty stellar sports titles recently, this has been an especially great year for hockey gamers.  Both EA Sports (NHL 2003) and Midway (NHL Hitz 20-03) have presented their own brand of awesome NHL action and thankfully Sega Sports has stepped up with its own offering.  If you think a hockey game just can’t get any better, think again sports fans.  NHL 2K3 has come to the PS2 and it comes on stronger than ever.


Sports gamers everywhere are thanking their lucky stars that Sega’s much loved sports franchise decided to branch off to other consoles such as the PS2.  Its NHL series is arguably on of the best hockey licenses produced and with each year the game just keeps on getting better.  For starters, this one includes a much-desired Franchise mode as well as introduces a new one--the Sega Sports Challenge (where you play an exhibition-type game and receive a code to see how you rank online).


There are also the modes we’ve already come to love such as Quick Game (play a quick exhibition game between two NHL teams) and Exhibition (allows you to start a quick game with your favorite NHL teams plus some International teams).  Back again is the Season mode (guide your team through an entire NHL season to take them to the Lord Stanley’s Cup).  Plus there’s the Franchise (play a few seasons and build your team up by signing players and manage the budget), Playoffs (where you forgo the entire season and just head straight to the playoffs) and Tournament (set up a tournament to go up against friends if you wish).


The Franchise mode--a mode that was overlooked in NHL 2K2--is in-depth and allows players to take their team and customize them until they’re something of a dynasty.  You can sign, trade or release players and look for the rookie that could take your team to the very top.  It really doesn’t go any further than this but thinking about it, this is perfect for those gamers new to the sport of hockey and franchise modes in general.


Control-wise, NHL 2K3 is sheer perfection.  It not only does it have the appeal of a hockey simulator but it has the heart of an action-packed arcade-styled sports game.  Playing both the defensive and offensive line are simplified, leaving the gamer to concentrate on playing some great hockey without worrying about the technical side.  On the offensive side you can Deke, Speed Burst and Sidestep to elude defenders and put the shot in the net.  On the defensive you can use body checks, speed-burst poke-check, board-pins and blocking. 


The player AI when you’re playing a single player mode is a lot sharper this time around and has developed something of a strategy (which you can easily change at any point in the game to fit your playing style). Your opponents just react more quickly, especially the goalies that are more ready to move side-to-side and make quick dives for the puck.  You can pin players to the boards now and get pinned yourself by aggressive players.


Not as visually stunning as NBA 2K3 or a few of the other Sega Sports titles, the game is still decent enough.  The stadiums are wonderfully rendered and nicely detailed to the point that the Staples Center in the game looks exactly like the real Staples Center.  And the player models are excellent and look even better during close ups or instant replays.  The only noticeable problem about the players is that their faces can be rather plain looking.  Still there are plenty of wonderful effects found in the game that draws away from the little visual imperfections such as the manner in which the skates shave the ice with their blades.


Sound-wise the game has a lot of things going for it, especially when it comes down to the detailed stadium sounds that bring the game to life.  The crowds cheer their teams on and chant along with the inspirational snippets of music that comes pouring out of the PA system.  Down below on the ice, you can hear the blades cut through the ice and the slamming of sticks--all of this sounds pretty good.  The cheery on top is the play-by-play and color commentary that calls the game perfectly although it does suffer from repetitive phrases and awkward pauses.


If you’re looking for a spectacular hockey title that deliciously blends realism with intense arcade-styled action, NHL 2K3 is the game to buy.  While it’s not as visually pleasing as some of the other games available, this game hardly disappoints with its fast and furious ice hockey action and excellent game modes.  


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.3
You couldn’t ask for better controls than this.   As mentioned above, the game feels like a true hockey simulator but plays like an arcade-styled sports game.  The game moves along without any hiccups, making for a fluid game where you can deke as easily as you can perform a solid body check.  You can also rotate your lines your way or choose various defensive and offensive strategies, but it’s all about the hockey action. 


Graphics: 8.0
While the graphics are not gorgeous, the game is not awful looking either.  There are plenty of eye-catching details here such as the reflection of the scoreboard on the ice.  During close ups of the players, you can see every detail placed on the fabric and crease of the uniforms as well as the reflection of the lights on the shiny helmets.  The only problem with the players is the faces that can look pretty plain--you won’t be able to pick out your favorite players just by looking.


Presentation-wise, the game puts on a great ESPN telecast-style appearance complete with player introductions, some great replays and game wrap-ups with game highlights.  The camera also does a stellar job of following the action--not bad at all.


Sound: 8.1
The sound is also done right in this game with the commentary done by Michael A. Carlucci who does the play-by-play and Danny Mann who does the color commentary.  They are great at calling the plays or offering some insightful tidbits about certain players.  Still, commentary is far from perfect.  Commentary can become overly repetitive.  There are also times when the play-by-play commentator might ask the color commentator a question and it never gets answered--all you hear is an awkward silence.


There’s also plenty of stadium and crowd noises that will make gamers feel immersed in the sporting event atmosphere.  You can hear the crowd boo the visiting team and go wild when their team scores or comes close to scoring.  There’s even a shout or two from an overly enthusiastic fan that calls out things like “Go get him!”  Suddenly the PA announcer in the background reads off a seat number and congratulates the fan in that particular seat and that his or her prize is waiting for them.  Talk about detailed!


Difficulty: Medium
The opponent AI is a lot smarter this time and they put up quite an offensive and defensive challenge.  There are five difficulty settings (Amateur, Rookie, Pro, All Star and Hall of Famer) and all of them provide their own challenge.  Part of the reason is that the computer-controlled opponents have a working strategy and are able to implement it.  The goalie is also able to position himself more realistically and isn’t always limited to returning to the center position.  This gives players a chance to try and catch the goalie off his guard like they do in the real thing.


The game also picks up the pace in the appropriate moments.  For example, if one of your players is penalized for hooking then that player is taken out of the game for two minutes--thus the game going into Power Play.  Suddenly the other team really comes to life and attempts to take advantage of this shortage of players and tries harder to score.


Concept: 9.0
There’s a lot to love about a game that piles on the works and this one is no exception.  With the inclusion of a really great Franchise mode--as well as the usual lineup of game modes gamers are use to seeing--and the fact that the series can now be found on different consoles, there’s nothing a sports fans can really complain about.  Okay, the might not be entirely true.  With NBA 2K3 offering online play, this is a great game that would have really benefited from the same treatment.  Still, the addition of the Sega Sports Challenge is a good way to compare your offline stats with other players that post their stats on the Sega Sports website. 


Multiplayer: 9.0
This is just one of those games worthy of being considered a party game and, with the Multitap, up to eight players can be hitting the ice in modes like Tournament.  Playing for the Stanley Cup is just much more intense when you’re up against a group of friends and with all your favorite NHL teams available--as well as some international teams--you can’t go wrong. 


Overall: 8.8
NHL 2K3 is hockey goodness at its most satisfying and it definitely gives the other hockey games available a run for their money.  If you can buy just one hockey game then this one deserves a place in your library, sports fans, it really is that good.


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