Turnabout is fair play.
Being a video game reviewer is a tougher job than most people think. You spend long, sleepless nights with your eyes plastered to the idiot box with barely enough sanity left over from the last 3DO game you had to review. Then your eyes bug out, the blisters in your thumbs explode, and you still have to deal with all the mail that tells you 'you don't know what you're talking about' even though you've probably spent more time with the game than the testers have.
Last year, EA threw together a so-so NHL game that got a so-so review. Apparently, the EA Sports team read my review and fixed almost every single complaint I had about last season's game. You want gameplay? You want new features? You want a hockey game that r0xx0rs your b0xx0rs? NHL 2002 does the trick perfectly. It is one of the best hockey games I've played, and it's all thanks to me. In turn, I'd like to take this time to thank EA Sports for listening, the Foster Imposters for becoming an excellent lunch, and you, dear reader, for indulging me in this little fantasy.
So where do I start? The most outstanding improvement clocks in with the overall gameplay category. Remember the weird slowdown? It's been obliterated - 2002 runs as smooth as a baby's backside. The rink has officially been declared a no slow zone. Checking? It's great - no more stop and go checks! Blast opponents into next week all the time and every time. Other new touches include manual dekes and saucer passes for good measure.
All this, along with an easy to handle control scheme, makes playing the game a breeze. The game flows much more smoothly in all respects, from the start of the opening ceremonies to the final buzzer. It's fast, it's furious, and it's as close as you'll ever get to controlling an NHL game on TV.
The usual game modes are here, from the typical quick pre-season outing to the monstrous ten season Career mode. If you've ever played the EA's NHL series, you know exactly what kind of modes to expect. And if you ever want to get through them all, it will take a long time.
NHL 2002 also treats players to new NHL cards for added replay value. These cards are just like Madden cards and will add new abilities or unlock Easter eggs to enhance your game. One of the modes I unlocked was Shrink 'n Grow, where players would shrink when they got leveled and grow when they scored. By the third period, I had a Godzilla-sized Teemu Selanne and a bite-sized Owen Nolan. Very fun and very funny.
The Create-A-Player has also been enhanced with a new face builder feature. Now you can put your face in the game! Well, sort of. A bunch of the game's player faces don't really look like their real life counterparts, but it's still not too bad.
The graphics are as good as ever, but the whole jiggly midsection that was found in 2001 still pops up every now and then. How many severely overweight hockey players have you seen in the NHL? I only want to see those guys in the Sumo Hockey mode (yep, it's another unlockable!).
The sound is actually good. You get plenty of great, authentic sound effects as well as a few inoffensive tunes from the Barenaked Ladies and Sum 41. But the ace in the hole is the announcing. Yep, for once in well, ever, I actually enjoy the announcing. It doesn't repeat itself as much as most sports games do and you'll actually laugh now and then. I'm so stupefied, I'll just move on.
For an added dramatic flair, EA has introduced a few new camera effects. Make an amazing save and you'll see it up close. Drop a big hit and you'll revisit the brutality in a fancy replay. Occasionally, these two insta-zooms can be distracting, but they really do increase the dramatics of the game. However, one cam that has no problems is the breakaway cam. Speed down the ice faster than the rest and the camera will pull in close behind your man, setting up the one-on-one battle perfectly. It's also good for gloating in the face of the opposing goalie.
The worst and pretty much only snafu with NHL 2002 is the lame fighting. I didn't think that last year's rock 'em, sock 'em fighting could get any worse, but it feels like it has. Maybe that's because the rest of the game is so good, it makes you wonder how something this lame managed to find it's way into the final product. If hockey is life, then fighting is like breathing. Is it too much to ask for a block and grab button? Take a cue from NHL Hitz, guys. Oh well, at least this leaves room for improvement next year.
So there you have it. EA has put together a nice little gaming ice sculpture in the shape of a heart. Feel the love. Check out NHL 2002.