Until they have full contact figure skating...
The bloodlust of the crowd, the smell of beer in the air, the long lines at the restrooms - I love hockey. There's just something magical about the way athletes can play a fighting sport cleverly disguised as a game.
In any case, hockey is fast paced and deserves a fast paced game. With Electronic Arts' NHL 2001, we've got the PS2 's first step out onto the ice. Let's see if these old guys still remember how to skate.
EA's NHL series has been a strong hockey staple for fans and not a whole lot has changed over the years. Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes, it's not. With the release of the PS2, we now have a much more powerful system to play with, so you'd better believe there would be some changes.
The most obvious upgrade for 2001 is the enhanced graphical quality. NHL 2001 looks awesome. The game's level of detail is definitely set on high. Everything from the expressions on player's faces to the reflections on the ice are there and really make the experience that much more exciting. The only really weird thing is the way a player's upper torso seems to move independently from the lower, giving them a sort of old-school action figure look.
The mo-cap isn't half bad, but I don't ever recall seeing grizzled hockey players hop up and down like giddy schoolgirls after a scoring a goal or winning a game in real life.
Surprisingly, the sound is pretty good. Effects are accurate and the game's music is actually tolerable. Featuring music by Collective Soul and Templar (who?), the tracks in NHL kinda grow on you. The announcer, however, gets annoying. Not every single thing that happens in a hockey game is worthy of high pitched, feverish excitement. That guy really needs to lay off the caffeine pills.
All thirty of the NHL teams are included and even some international teams are thrown into the mix. Ah, international hockey, where the iceborn brutes from all over the world come to knock each others' teeth out. Did I mention how much I love this game?
A new addition to EA's NHL series is the momentum meter. Now you can actually see how the game is progressing" or so they say. Sometimes this meter seems just plain wrong. At one point, I purposely got on the wrong side of the puck and was losing by a score of 5-2. At no time did I lose the momentum advantage. What's the deal here? If you're going to include something like this, try to get it right, I say. Momentum is a tricky thing to measure and the benefits of having the momentum advantage aren't apparent. Maybe they should have had a heckler shout insults when teams are playing badly. Or maybe they could have the 2D cardboard audience throw beer cans.
NHL 2001's gameplay takes a no-nonsense, simple approach to playing hockey. Controls are very easy to pick up and the game has an arcade feel to it. The four main buttons for a puck handler are shoot, pass, deke and speed. If you're on the defensive, just know that there are three different ways to check a guy.
Woohoo! Three ways to check! I was thrilled...until I realized that NHL 2001 doesn't quite capture it accurately.
Now, anyone with the slightest sense of physics would realize that smashing into someone at a faster speed means a bigger hit. In 2001, your "big hit" button only seems to work when you're standing still. To accurately put the big hit on opponents, players must skate out in front of their target, stop, and then apply the hit. So, dear gamers, there will be no flying down the ice to smash a puckhandler this season, no squashed faces pressed up against the glass, and certainly none of that icky roughness that makes hockey fun. At least there's still some good ol' fighting to be had"
...at the daycare center in the GR compound, that is. To put it mildly, fighting in NHL 2001 is the most pathetic and sorry display of fisticuffs I've ever seen in my life. Even a four-year old could knock the bejeezus out of these guys. Fights have two punches - high and uppercut. They imitate bouts of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots so accurately that it seems like only a matter of time until someone's head pops off. At least that much imitates real hockey.
Hockey is one of the fastest paced sports around and an NHL video game should reflect it accordingly. 2001 runs at a pretty slow pace overall and fails to capture the frenzied pace of professional hockey. In addition, you'll notice some bizarre slowdown when passing the benches. Maybe the players are checking to see if someone put a whoopee cushion on their part of the bench.
Even with all these problems, a hockey newbie will probably enjoy this game. Its simple controls and impressive visuals are just enough to make this game satisfactory. But for veterans of the series and die-hard hockey nuts, this game turns out to be a disappointing dish that reeks of cold leftovers out on center ice.