reviews\ Dec 3, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Sega Sports(tm) NHL

You have to hand it to Sega Sports, they sure know how to make really enjoyable sports titles as it has been seen this year with the stellar NBA 2K3 as well as the excellent NFL 2K3.  And not to leave hockey fans behind, NHL 2K3 brings intense hockey action to the mix with plenty of teams and--go ahead and let out a loud cheer--you can play this one on the Xbox Live service . . . so trash talk is definitely encouraged.


For those gamers unfamiliar with the Sega Sports series from the days of the Sega Dreamcast, NHL 2K3 plays a bit more like an arcade-styled sports game than a true hockey simulator like the kind released by EA Sports.  This game also offers plenty of modes (Quick Game, Exhibition, Season, Playoffs and Tournament) plus the inclusion of a much-appreciated Franchise Mode.  And, of course, Network (for online play).


The game’s Franchise Mode allows gamers to take their favorite team through the trials that all teams in real life go through.  You are put in charge of everything from signing free agents and drafting new players to the team--you also have to manage your budget carefully.  There’s a calendar filled with games for every season and nothing is more satisfying than seeing your team play all the way through to the playoffs for the Stanley Cup.  Or gamers can simply skip the seasons and go straight to the playoffs with the Playoffs mode.


The controls are also quite solid and are a joy to handle.  Body checks can send opponents against the boards and pin them there or you can perform a number of passes and sidesteps.   There are plenty of offensive and defensive moves and your goalkeeper is now free to move beyond his usual place directly in front of the net.  You can also make line changes if your current playing strategy doesn’t seem to be working.  The game also moves on a steady frame rate for a fast and smooth game so the game really keeps you on your toes.


The Xbox has got a better-looking game in comparison to the PS2 version, but the difference isn’t completely all that different.  For starters, the player models are a bit smoother with details that stand out more when it comes to facial features and player uniforms (e.g. creases on player jerseys and helmets that reflect stadium floodlights).  The player movements are neatly natural during replays and close ups of them.  Arenas look authentic and true to the actual locations and are filled with fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams. 


Sound-wise, the game has amazingly rich background sounds that are composed of cheering fans that boo the rival team and shout out words of encouragement to their home team heroes.  The PA system comes to life with the announcer calling out the name of the players that scored a goal or to announce that the fan sitting in a certain row and seat has just one a prize.  You’ll also hear bits and pieces of music played to get the fans all pumped up.  Meanwhile, the two-man commentary team does a great job of keeping up with the game . . . although it does tend to falter at times.


The game has just enough multiplayer fun for up to four players on a single Xbox using most of the modes available.  The highlight of the multiplayer mode, though, is the fact that you can take the game online through the Xbox Live service.  With chat enabled, you can talk trash using your Voice Communicator while playing a Quick Match (quickly puts you into the game with an opponent) game or an OptiMatch game (complete with game types such as Scrimmage, Street Scrimmage or Ranked).  I had no trouble finding challengers who are eager to play and because you can add players to a Friend List, you can find them and offer rematches.


Sega Sports has done it again, NHL 2K3 is an exhilarating and challenging hockey game with enough action to keep sports fans on the ice for hours.  And Xbox Live subscribers will be in for a real treat when they see how many hockey gamers are waiting to challenge them.  This is the hockey game to buy if you’re shopping around for the ultimate hockey game.


Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 9.5
You couldn’t ask for a more solid control design and, thanks to the arcade quality of the gameplay, the game is more focused on the action itself rather than trying to keep the game on a strict by-the-book simulator.  From the very start the game’s arcade feel will have sports gamers hooked with the fluid and fast paced action that only calls you out for things like icing, hooking and offsides.  You can, through the options menu, change the rules so the referee would not call any infractions at all.


Dekes, body checks and flip passes are done with great ease and now you can pin other players to the boards the same way it is done in real life.  You can also change your teams playing style for a more aggressive offensive and defensive approach. 


Graphics: 8.8
Visually sharper than the PS2 version, NHL 2K3 is actually a great looking game.  The player models, especially their faces, have been enhanced to give them individual personalities (e.g. Philadelphia’s own Jeremy Roenick now looks something like the real Roenick).  Aside from their facial features, there is just so much more details on a player’s uniforms and natural movements.


And just like NBA 2K3, the game has been given a ESPN televised presentation facelift, anyone that watches Sports Center will surely be pleasantly surprised how accurately the game captures the whole thing from the replays to the match statistics in the end.  The arenas also look amazing with the ice that reflects everything from the players themselves and the scoreboard hanging overhead.  The cheering folks also look better now that they’re slightly blurred. 


Sound: 8.6
The backgrounds sounds are among the best heard in the series, there is just so much to draw a person’s attention such as the PA announcer and the crowd reactions.  The sound goes beyond the fans just calling out for defense, they cheer loudly and boo loudly and even shout a few remarks of their own.  When players clash, you can hear the sharp slap of the sticks or the puck as a wild shots makes it slam against barrier.


While the game visually resembles an ESPN presentation, the sound also plays a role in completing the effect by the manner in which the two-man team of Michael A. Carlucci (play-by-play) and Danny Mann (color) call the game.  Their commentary is usually on the money but they occasionally fall into a repetitive cycle when it comes to certain phrases.  Still, there is something magical about the way the play-by-play guy would cut in on a comment the color guy is making when something worth mentioning just occurs.


Difficulty: Medium
The game offers four difficulty settings (Amateur, Pro, All Star and Hall of Famer) and each presents its own set of challenges.  Still, it’s the opponent AI of the computer-controlled team that makes the game a worthy challenge.  The goalie is intelligent enough to rotate his position and makes desperate attempts to reach for the puck anyway he can.  Your opponents can move from passive to aggressive depending on your own style of playing.  They’re also smart enough to take advantage of you during Power Plays.


Concept: 9.5
The Xbox certainly has the better version since the PS2 did not get online accesses (which are odd since NBA 2K3 is online for both consoles). With so many game modes for single player action, this is definitely one of the better hockey titles to come out.  EA Sport’s NHL 2003 and Midway’s NHL Hitz 20-03 are great hockey games, but the Sega Sports delivers a game that’s the best of both worlds: arcade action with a light dash of a sports simulator.


The entire NHL lineup is also available so fans of every national team will be able to play using their favorites.  And, as an added bonus, you also have the ability to select through a few jerseys worn today and those used in the past.  The best part is that you can also choose from a lineup of international teams such as Sweden or Russia . . . just to name a few.  


Multiplayer: 9.8
NHL 2K3 is even more gratifying playing it with a group of friends since up to four players can join in on the fun in modes like Tournament (where you can set up a tournament and have friends choose their favorite teams to play for a tournament cup.


However, while the multiplayer mode is really good, its the online multiplayer feature that is king.  With Xbox Live support enabled, gamers can play against literally hundreds of hockey fans ready to meet the challenge.  You can use the Voice Communicator to talk to other players (the trash talk really flies in this one, trust me) and even place players on a Friend List to challenge them again.  And you can also post your stats too see how well you stack up with other players.  This is a great way to seek out top players and challenge them.


Overall: 9.0
Far from being a serious hockey sim, NHL 2K3 is arcade hockey to the most satisfying extreme.  With great looking graphics, solid controls and Xbox Live support, this is the game hockey fans should be buying. 


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