Review: NHL 2003
Posted 20 Mar 2003 at 02:51 by Conor
Although sports games aren't really my cup of tea (once I've seen one FIFA I've seen them all) there's a certain thing about ice hockey games which makes them that bit more fun than golf, football or tennis. Maybe it's the violent nature of the sport, maybe the fact that the smaller rinks and teams make things a bit simpler, I don't know. So it was with a certain excitement that I approached EAs NHL 2003. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that NHL 2003 isn't actually a good game. It seems the EA charm applies to the NHL as much as the other licenses. Graphics
Being a sports game you wouldn't expect NHL to display any remarkable visuals. And well, you'd be right. The graphical palette is very limited; after all it's only a rink, some players and a crowd for the developers to play with. Having said that though, the players are decently modeled (from afar anyway), movement is looks realistic and fluid, and the whole thing runs at a decent rate (well it's not like a great strain is being put on GameCube, is it?). But some faults are noticeable in the looks department, especially the crowd. How in this day and age developers think they can get away with flat 2D crowds in sports games is beyond me. This is GameCube for Pete's sate. Really, you think some time could've been spent upping the crowd to even half the standard of the players. It's just plain laziness, and embarrassing to see.
Although from a distance the players may look fine close-ups in the different cut scenes during the game make them look, well, weird. Exaggerated smiles, crudely drawn faces, I swear some even look like women. And many of the little goal celebrations in the game look terribly coded. To be honest, there's little else I can write here. This isn't going to have the startling detail of Metroid or the dazzling style of Zelda; it's a run-of-the-mill 'realistic' sports game. EA won't win any awards for visuals, but they get the job done. Just about though.
It is clear that EA are trying to dress up the game here. Every time you go through a menu you have to listen to a variety of aggravating tracks. The fact is we just want to get through the menus as quick and simply as possible; we don't want to have to listen to tracks we don't like. The other aspect of the sound in any sports game is the commentary.
Developers have to choose whether to leave the commentary out and face the criticism of 'boring matches', or to leave it in and face the criticism of a crap commentary (which more often that not it is). EA have gone with the latter and we gamers are forced to listen to a bunch of terribly American 'dude' announcers. I'm sorry EA, but listening to a moronic duo screaming unfunny lines in my ears isn't what I call 'entertaining'. Highlights include "If at first you don't succeed, don't bother trying again when this guy is in the net", "There's a goal that will turn more heads than an alligator on a leash", and my particular not-favourite "Gives a high-five...come on man, don't leave me hangin'". They're irritating, unintelligent and will have you leaping for the volume controls faster than Oprah at a bucket of chicken.
Generally, sports games will go one of two routes. Over-the-top fun or serious realism. When playing NHL 03, it becomes clear EA didn't have a clue which way to go, and so just sat on the fence and hoped no-one would notice anything criminal. Rather than select a certain direction in which to take the game, they've just thrown all different ideas into a pot, mixed it up and poured the broth into a games disc. Elements of realism includes applying different attributes for each player (the license helps here) and keeping the games as normal as possible. But then you've got special boosts and points which can be earned to boost up your players. And woefully, when two players get in a fight, the game switches to a one-on-one beat-em-up style, and you hammer A as fast as possible to knock the other guy out. Really, this is just embarrassing.
The major problem with the game is the fact that really, it just isn't any fun, no matter how much EA try and dress it up. If a game doesn't play well, that's the end of the story. For one thing, the camera is awful, often you aren't sure where exactly you are on the rink. And the alternative angles aren't much better. The players themselves move pretty slow, making the whole thing that bit more tedious. And scoring, the most important part of any hockey match, is horribly random. Sometimes you score, sometimes you don't. You can shoot and shoot the whole match and not get a thing, and then your opponent gets a cheap goal at the very end. It makes scoring unnecessarily frustrating and so the score line is seldom a reflection of players' skill.
And even if, somehow, you manage to start to tolerate the game, you quickly go back to hating it with the constant interruptions. Any chance the game has of being even a little fluid is completely spoiled; leaving you hammering the B button to skip whatever pointless cut scene has come up. This start-and-stop feel may be because of the sport the game represents, but it that's no excuse for making the gameplay feels incredibly disjointed. The one would-be redeeming feature of NHL 2003 is the multiplayer. But that's only fun for a few games, and then the realisation that you're not enjoying the game sets in. I know what you're thinking, EA producing crap gameplay!? Shocking stuff.
The basic premise of NHL 2003s controls is the two-mode system. You can be in offense mode, or defensive mode. And the controls reflect the mode you're in. It's all pretty basic stuff.Control stick
- Move player
A button - Pass/ Change player
B button- Shoot/Poke check
Y button- Deke/Big hit
X button- Speed burst/Body check
EA brag in the cringing "Behind The Scenes' featurette about how much the player will feel in control of the players, but they're claims are falling on deaf ears as far as this reviewer is concerned. The controls are unresponsive at times, at solid at little. The whole offensive/defensive system may be good in theory, but you end up mixing them up a lot, and the inability to use a speed burst when on the defense is inexcusable. With a game as fast and brutal as ice hockey, a quick, easy, sensitive control system is needed, but EA have lacked either the talent, the time, or the effort to implement such a thing.
To be fair to EA, they have stuffed NHL 2003 full of modes to boost the game length. You've got the option to play through franchises, playoffs and internationals, bonus cards to be collected, and a basic Player Creator feature, offering hours more of game-playing. Problem is, no matter how much you shine up the apple, if you core is rotten it'll still taste awful. If you're a diehard hockey fan, and are willing to put up with the terribly flawed gameplay then you might enjoy taking your favourite team right through to victory. But for the other 99% of us, the game will be zooming back for a refund after 10 minutes.
I wanted to throw the game away minutes into it, but kept on playing to try and give as fair an opinion as possible. But the game never got any better. Hitz, even, might not be brilliant but actually offers some fun for your money. Normally review protocol says I'd end this review with "Only hardcore hockey fans should think about buying this..." but I'm not going to even go that far. An uninspiring, tedious, dull game unworthy of your money, unless deeply into Ice Hockey.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Another license gets disregarded and misused, could have been so much better.
It's all official