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NHL 2K3 Package Art
 GENRE
  Sports
 DEVELOPER
  Treyarch
 PUBLISHER
  Sega Sports
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  no
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NHL 2K3

I had an interesting experience the other night that brought some light onto the review of this game. For the first time in a long time I went out and attended a live professional hockey match and man, was it ever boring. You see, I am a Montreal Canadiens fan living in the arsehole of the hockey universe, Toronto. The Leafs are so bad and their level of play is so poor that I couldn’t really call what I saw a hockey game or contest; it was more akin to a chess match -- just moving players around to block out strategies.

However, one thing that struck me was how slow the game looks when you have really good seats (which I did). What I mean by slow is that the game seems a lot more fluid and flowing when it’s all in front of you. This experience showed me that Sega has hit the nail on the head with their latest hockey game, NHL 2K3. From the “side” camera angle, the puck movement, player cycling, etc. are all excellent. With EA’s NHL 2003 being such a flat out disappointment, it’s a good thing the Treyarch team at Sega has done such a sharp job with this one.

What really hurts is that the NHL 2K series can become beyond excellent and enter the realm of greatness with some tweaks; tweaks that NGC owners probably won’t see next year because Sega has already said that Nintendo’s system doesn’t sell sports games too well. That’s a shame, because this is the title for real hockey fans. In the words of Canada’s favorite bad outfit wearing bigot -- it’s a beauty!

visuals

Solid. You will notice that there are some chops here and there and maybe the players and environment could use some “touches”. By that I mean the player models seem pretty rounded out and the ice does show wear and tear, but it all could be fleshed out with a little more polish via lens flares, reflections etc.

On the other hand, EA’s game had all kinds of eye candy and it played like crap. What’s the most important thing here is that the graphics allow you to play through the game with ease. NHL 2K3 does that well. You will, on the odd time, notice some clipping or lose the puck in a mass of player indicators, but those are minor issues. The visuals are solid and allow you to see the play before it happens. Sega did something brilliant here: even if the play is heading up ice you can still see the last man you were controlling finish his check on the player that just dumped the puck! EXCELLENT!! Whomever it is at Treyarch that handled this, great job. Only fairies don’t finish. In this case, only poor hockey video games don’t allow you to enjoy a well-finished play. This is but one example of the functionality of the visuals.

While the dispy-do moves aren’t as flashy as EA’s, you can tell when they are happening. You want real flash? Watch your goalie make a backbreaker save with his glove hand. Nicely done.

audio

Audio is by far the weakest element of Sega’s hockey effort. First and foremost, the announcer is no longer Joe Bowen nor Harry Neile (because of the ESPN license). He sounds a bit like Mike Toth, that pencil-necked geek from SportsNet (Toronto Cable). You can get used to him. What’s a bit annoying is that the audio all has that "arm bone is connected to the... hand bone" type of feel. For instance... He... really is on... his game... Yes... I... agree. In some cases all of the background noise dies right out as if the soundscape was on a pre-rolled loop. Sega could’ve tightened the audio portion up a lot more. Even some of the sound effects are pretty weak. When you consider all of the on-court chatter and audio ambience of the NBA 2K series it’s a shame that Sega didn’t bolster up their audio here.

Why is sound so important in a sports game? Well, think about watching the scene in Terminator where Arnold is chasing down the perky-breasted Sara Connors. Imagine how much less of an impact that scene would have without that rumbling soundtrack to heighten the tension, or the sounds of all the effects. Audio is God, Dojo Disciples; at the least it is 50% of the experience. Sega and Treyarch: you know better! Five minutes for slacking!

gameplay

Gameplay is to NHL 2k3 as Gretzky is to Kurri. OK, let me flesh out that little analogy a bit more. Jarri Kurri wouldn’t have scored a quarter of his goals without the Great Wayne Hepburn bouncing pucks off his jock into an open net. In this way, no game can score without great gameplay. (Am I awesome or what!?!)

Sega blows the doors off of EA’s effort because it’s gameplay isn’t some half-baked quasi-arcade crap. Sega’s NHL 2K series smells like the inside of a hockey glove, sounds like a dislocating shoulder on stiff Calgary glass, it five stitches on the bench and the best part is…it plays like Canada in the Olympics: Golden.

Why? Well the total gameplay feel is outstanding. The flow of the play, the AI of your teammates, the way they follow the strategies you cycle accurately, the passing speed… everything feels authentic. What is more, if you don’t like what Sega has given you, you can change everything -- and I mean everything -- in this game to match what you like. It’s an unprecedented level of play control (although the default settings feel just about right for me).

The control scheme works really well, with Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. I would suggest intermediate as it offers a high level of control without having to “combo” in basic things with the “alternate” button. That in itself is kind of neat. Depending on what you want to accomplish you can use the “alternate” button to change the control from one thing to another. Also, you can pin players on the board (my specialty) and you’ll find this especially useful to contain those ballerina superstars when they’re in your zone. You can also handle anything with your controller, from aggression and line changes, to pulling the goalie. Considering how ineffective the Cube controller is for sports games, Sega’s done a good job of mapping it out properly.

Overall the game play of this title is superb and you need to play this game and give it a good ten games to get a feel for it. Once you do, watch out. Like a crackhead after a free sample… you’ll be back!

multiplayer

The greatest multiplayer hockey game ever is Hitz -bar none- but if you and three other buddies (who love the game of hockey) want to have a real game of puck, you don’t have to go further than this game.

overall

Treyarch and Sega have created the “Madden” of hockey with this title. It just needs some aural and visual polish to become something amazing. With gameplay this good, though, I’m prepared to look past some minor faults. The addition of the ESPN license really legitimizes the “serious” gameplay effort that Sega is trying to put forth as well. Smart choice on this because most Americans are unfortunately unaware of the excellence that is Hockey Night in Canada on CBC.

Now, here’s a plea to all of the Dojo Disciples out there. If you own all the other systems, please buy hockey or any damned sports game for your GameCube. I hear rumblings that sports are selling very poorly on the GameCube and losing the 2K sports line-up would be the nail in the coffin for the GameCube in my opinion. Hey, it’s not like I’m asking you to buy Zapper: One Wicked Cricket!! This is an amazing game that any simulation/sports/lover-of-well-crafted-games fan would love to have in his GameCube collection. I recommend a purchase not as a Canadian hockey fanatic but as a fan site editor. This is one of the keepers. Enjoy it.

Now, if they could get that arrogant goof off the cover and put a good Canadian boy like Jose Theodore on there, they’d be in business!

final score 9.2/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Eric Mattei
Staff Profile | Email
"Lost like tears in rain"


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