A Great Show On Ice.
Back in the day, ice skating rinks stood for two things: those cheesy Disney
on Ice specials and those lame ice skating competitions that mom always
loved to watch. But that was before the boys took over, and no, I am not talking
Boitano and Scott
Hamilton. I’m talking about in-yer-face, board slammin’, head knockin’, fast
as lighting ice hockey – the best sport to ever grace a gigantic ice cube.
Up until now, EA had sole ownership of the PS2 rink with its popular NHL
series. But now things have changed. Sega Sports has strapped on a pair of skates
and is blazing its way on to the PS2 for the first time with a style of play
that offers the simulation style that hardcore fans yearned for as well as the
ease that casual fans could enjoy.
NHL 2K3, the next saga in Sega Sports’ tale of stick-wielding ice gladiators.
Like many of the other Sega Sports titles, this version of hockey adds a little
ESPN flavor to the mix for a professional presentation. Also included is a solid
show of graphics and excellent control. Tack on a huge franchise mode and good
gameplay and you’ve got one hell of a hockey game.
Perhaps the best thing to be said about NHL 2K3 is its versatile control
scheme. If you’ve ever played a hockey game, you’ll have no trouble picking
up the basics. Even brand new players shouldn’t have too much trouble getting
started. Pass, shoot, check; it’s all pretty easy to understand.
But what about dekes, shot modifiers and all that? Well, it’s jammed in there
with the help of a handy little modifier button. Not only will you be able to
perform all the necessary jukes, but you’ll also be able to change lines and
make your team more or less aggressive on the fly. It takes a little getting
used to, but once you get it down, you’ll feel like you can do it all. So pick
your poison – simple and easy or total control all in one package.
Since NHL 2K3 plays with a more of a simulation feel, some people might
feel a little intimidated. Have no fear, though, since the pace of the game
is still as fast and fun as hockey should be. Players move more realistically
than an arcade style game, but still handle quite well. These guys aren’t the
sluggish movers we’re used to seeing in sim games.
There’s also the ability to pin players against the boards. Just jam an opponent up on the side and you’ll set up a face-off. The pinned guys can still fight back with elbows or just by kicking the puck away.
The puck physics are pretty good. Even at the net, you won’t see the gravity-defying
twists and turns that the puck will take in other games. Once, I banked the
puck off the post. The puck slid back toward the goalie and then bounced off
of his skate and slowly slid toward the goal, but the falling goalie was still
able to cover it up while flat on his back. No mystery moves by the puck on
The look and the sounds of the game are solid. The graphics are pretty clean
and the commentary is informative, but only mildly interesting. Not a whole
lot of extremes going on here, but at least it gets the job done.
again, the all-important fighting is a button smashing fest with three handy
moves (punch, duck and grab) to choose from. The only problem is that you’ll
rarely see it, even with the fighting option cranked all the way up. We all
know that fighting is a time-honored part of the game. Hell, it’s the only non-combative
sport where the officials just sit back and watch! We definitely need to see
While the computer AI seemed to do a decent job of running the show, even
at the “Pro” difficulty the opposing team’s goalie is not pulled toward the
end of the game when needed. The omission of this simple and basic strategy
seems kind of strange considering what a decent job the AI usually does.
If you’re in it for the long run, NHL 2K3‘s Franchise mode is more than
enough to keep you busy. Scout players, make trades, balance the team’s budget
– it’s all here. If you’ve got the drive and the patience to carry your team
through a seemingly endless number of seasons, this is the mode for you.
About the only thing that really keeps NHL 2K3 from greatness is its
lack of anything out of the ordinary. Its options remain unimaginative, with
no special modes or things to do. There is a Sega Sports Challenge mode that
you can use to post your stats on segasports.com, but that’s about it. Even
the EA series had little distractions like NHL cards to keep things fresh. It
would have been nice to see a little something here as well.
What we do get, however is still very good. NHL 2K3 does an excellent
job on the ice, providing the best all around control that I’ve ever seen. Good
physics and a solid presentation add to the show, making this game the best
thing to happen to ice since cherry flavored syrup.