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November 9, 2002
NHL 2003 - Review
Release Date Distributor Developer Players Rating Difficulty
17/10/2002EA SportsEA Sports1-8GMedium
Save Size Sound Format Vibration 60Hz Mode 50Hz Border Widescreen

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It looks a little bit nicer.
A couple of weeks ago I reviewed EA Sports' superb Madden NFL 2003 which dispite the removal of online gameplay included enough new features and enhancements to make it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the sport. But let's face it. The audience for NFL games in Australia is rather limited. Ice Hockey, on the other hand, has an immediate pick up and play style to it. The rules are pretty simple, get the puck into the goal - and do pretty much anything to get it there. Last years NHL 2002 was a fantastic game. It played terrific, fixed many of the flaws of the first Playstation 2 NHL game, NHL 2001, and was tremendous fun. The question remains, however, if NHL 2003 can improve once again.

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Spot the differences from below.
There is one massive problem when reviewing this title, it's almost identical to last years game, NHL 2002. As with last years game, and the year before, the developers have included game modes such as Quick Game, Season, Playoffs, Shootout and Tournament. The 10-year Franchise mode returns so you can continue after the first year. This mode sees the game keep track of all the player stats and stores all the retired player stats. The NHL cards also return and reward players for completing certaing tasks throughout the game. While they aren't as extensive as those in Madden NFL 2003 they are welcome nontheless.

Some of the additions and enhancements to this title include user-activated dekes give you full control of the puck. NHL 2003 includes an all new Game Breaker which, if you build enough momentum in key moments the action slows to help you score. The developers have included new puck physics, although it's pretty hard to pick the difference from year to year, while the goalie AI has been improved to the point where scoring the goal isn't just about finding a "sweet spot" on the ice, but requires a lot more skill in front of goal. Overall, NHL 2003 is a tighter and more demanding game then in past years and while it still retains an arcade styled balance.

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Players are still a little blocky.
There are few niggles with this title. The biggest is that there simply isn't enough on offer to make you want to upgrade from last years title. No new game modes, no new major features, no major engine overhauls, nothing. Another problem is that the fights, although improving, are still a far cry from what you'd want to see. Why can't there be brawls with several players involved at once or even fights that you can just sit back and watch.

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Spot the differences from above.
When it comes to the graphics the development team look to have used the same player models as last year. That's not to say they needed changing as they looked pretty damn cool last year anyway. The actual arenas look to have been changed slightly and look spectacular. The game still has some small moments of slowdown but it is improved from last years game, and is a vast improvement over the sluggish NHL 2001. Animations have been improved again with a little more vatiety while the menu system is clear and easy to understand.

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Taking a shot at goal.
Once again NHL 2003 includes DTS sound. I don't know how many of you have decoders with DTS sound but I do here and it's stunning. The clarity of effects, speech, and crowds are unmatched and while the commentary isn't as exciting as that in Madden NFL 2003 the overall experience is ultimately more exciting. One new feature to the game is the EA Trax where everytime a new music track starts the musicians and title are listed in a little box in the top left of the screen. This has been included in many other titles from Electronic Arts this year but it manages to hide the corner of the screen during the game and can't be switched off. Most annoying.

This is such a hard game to review. It has several improvements over last years game, but not enough to make it worthwhile for owners of that title to upgrade unless you are a mad NHL fan. If you haven't bought a Playstation 2 NHL title to date then you won't go wrong with NHL 2003. Hopefully, next years version will include online gameplay, which will hopefully be up and running in a years time.

GRAPHICSAlmost identical to last year with a few more kinks ironed out.
SOUNDOh yes, DTS sound is what we get. It's stunning when cranked up.
GAMEPLAYIt's faster, better and more refined the last years game - just.
VALUEIf you own last years title there is little to warrant purchasing this game.
OVERALLSummarising NHL 2003 is not an easy job. On the one hand this is simply the best NHL game ever seen on a console. It has everything that you would expect and would be a great purchase for those who don't own last years game. If you do own last years title there has to be a question over the necessity to spend $100 on this title.

Talk about NHL 2003 in this forum topic now.