November 1, 2001
NHL 2002 - Review
Release Date Publisher Developer Players Rating Price
12/10/2001Electronic ArtsIn-House1-8G$99.95
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Crowds are still very disappointing.
It seems like only yesterday that I was reviewing NHL 2001 on the Playstation 2. It was, and still is, a terrific game marred by some periods of severe slowdown when several players were surrounding the puck or coming off the interchange bench. Only 11 months later and EA Sports have released their yearly update, and the second NHL title on the PS2. If you thought, or feared, that this was only going to be a minor update to last years game with roster changes you can rest easy. The developers have added many new features, polished the graphics quite significantly, added some wonderful commentary and generally come to terms with the difficult PS2 hardware to provide a more polished experience.

There isn't really too much I can tell you about Ice Hockey that you won't already know. It's fast, it's brutal, and it makes a wonderful video game. Being a team sport the game caters for one single player or for eight (assuming you have seven friends). As with last years game the developers have included standard game modes such as Quick Game, Season, Playoffs, Shootout and Tournament. A 10-year Franchise mode has also been added to NHL 2002 so you can continue after the first year. During this mode the game keeps track of all the player stats and stores all the retired player stats. It may be only for the die hard fans, but it's great to see EA expanding their Franchise modes to more sports titles beside the Madden games.

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One of the pre-game player intros.
Perhaps the biggest, and most rewarding addition to this game is the NHL Cards. These cards work the same as in the Madden games, reward you for completing certain tasks while playing the game. These tasks include things like winning 5 faceoffs in a game, scoring in the opening 20 seconds, scoring on a 2 to 1 play etc. The big difference in this game is that once you have earned points for a task (which are spent to buy cards) that task will no longer earn points. These cards can be used to give the players extra abilities during games, such as increased scoring ability, making the opposition miss the next 15 shots, or hero status for one period. It's also possible to unlock the rare Cheat Cards, which enable various cheats, Easter Egg cards, which enable fun modes such as Sumo Hockey or Big Heads, and Celebration cards which unlock new player celebrations which can be performed after scoring a goal.

The most important part of any game however, is how well it plays, and in this department NHL 2002 comes up trumps. This is without a doubt the most exciting Ice Hockey game ever, even surpassing the previous games in this series. The biggest change from previous game is the implementation of the Variable Puck Control that shows you how well your player can control the puck. If the player is losing control it's about time to pass it off to another player. The other change is the ability to lift the puck off the ice when passing by holding down the pass button rather then just tapping it. The movement around the ice has also been sped up, and particularly in the harder difficulty levels. Speaking of difficulty levels, NHL 2002 puts last years effort to shame. You'll have a tough time beating the medium levels let alone the hardest which, even for seasoned gamers, should offer a decent challenge. This is one game that is a pure joy to play from start to finish.

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Yep, this is actually the game.
Perhaps the most immediate differences you will see with NHL 2002 is the improvement in the graphics. Gone is the slowdown that plagued last years game when more then a couple of players were on screen at once or players were coming off the interchange bench. This game runs at a silky smooth 50fps with absolutely no slowdown at all, and as with EA title has been optimised for full screen. Player animations have also been boosted with many more neat touches littering the game. The goalie seems to have a much wider range of saves and the replay cams have also been cleaned up a bit with smoother panning of the camera. Finally, while the crowd is still a very depressing 2D, which is more obvious then Madden due to the closeness of the action, the developers have also added in several smaller 3D crown animations during the action. Lighting and the ice also seems to have been cleaned up in places as well.

The most controversial aspect of this game is going to be the commentary. It's almost like a running comedy show with the commentators, Jim Hughson and Don Taylor, bantering off each other perfectly. While the commentary is still repetitive, it's so interesting and/or funny that it rarely matters. The commentary is very fluid as well with no breaks or disjointed speech. The only problem is that die-hard NHL fans may get a little offended by the lack of seriousness in the commentary. The PA announcer also comes up with some classic one-liners such as "could the spy in the audience please remain in his seat". The sound effects are also impressive although I would have love to hear a little more action and excitement from the crowd. One interesting thing to note is tha NHL 2002 is the first game to be released with DTS sound capabilities which provide an even higher sound quality then normal. This isn't just a gimmick either with noticable differences on my DTS capable home theatre.

There really isn't any argument that NHL 2002 is the best NHL game ever in EA's long running series. The gameplay is fast with variable difficulty levels, plenty of options, super smooth graphics and commentary which, while it may not please some hardcore fans, is light hearted and rather humorous and was loved by everyone that came over to play the game with me. NHL 2002 is such an improvement over the 2001 game that it's hard to see what EA can do next year to make it even better. If you have even a remote interest in Ice Hockey, or sports games in general, then this game is a must. Electronic Arts have done it again.

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