Review by NES4EVER

"The diet Coke of Hockey games. Just one calorie, not enough."

When someone thinks of sports games, what most likely comes to their mind before anything? The EA sports series. They’re simply the best in all fields. 989 Sports has tried to be a competitor in the sports simulator genre, but sadly fail with every attempt. With such a monopoly in the sports genre, why would Sega even try to compete? Sega being company with its own share of follies and flops, why attempt to dethrone the king of sports? Well I don’t know for sure, but they sure caught a lot of eyes with NHL, NFL, and NBA 2K; Sports games that actually caught the eye of the public and videogame industry. Since the fall of Dreamcast, Sega has started to bring its lineup to other consoles, and has been reasonably successful at it. While NBA and NFL 2K3 are both very close to their competitors, I feel that NHL 2K3 is somewhat lacking compared to NHL 2003. The graphics are stunning, the replay value is great, but it just doesn’t have the same feel as NHL 2003.

Gameplay

After reading the introduction, you might be skeptical with the variety of modes in NHL 2K3, but let me assure you, there is quite a lot to do. You can start off in the exhibition mode where you essentially pick two teams quickly and play one game. Although it isn’t the most exciting mode, it certainly provides some fun when playing against others or when you don’t have enough time to immerse yourself in a tournament or season. Speaking of tournaments, there is quite an interesting tournament mode in this game. It randomly chooses a set amount of teams (whether it be 4, 8 or even 16) and puts the teams against each other. The winner of each game advances until there are only 2 teams left. Along the same lines is the Stanley Cup playoff. Usually you would play through a full season before advancing to the playoffs, but you can skip the season and all if you want to go straight to the playoffs. Like a tournament, teams are terminated until only two teams are left, and the winner of the two receives the coveted Stanley Cup. It’s truly a magical thing winning a Stanley Cup in NHL 2K3. The crowd cheers, everyone celebrates and it gives off a great sense of accomplishment.

As with all other sports games, the season simulation is ultimately the meat of the game. You choose one team and stick with them all the way through the 82 game seasons and all the way to the Stanley Cup if you’re good. The only real problem I had with the season is that the controls are so annoying that it was hard and sometimes even frustrating to move the players along the ice the way you intended to. Compared to the EA series, this game handles about as well as a speeding sports car with bald tires trying to make a corner whilst going downhill. Players skate around like bricks, and oddly never skate standing straight up. They are always bent over like they have a hernia or something. Another thing that I noticed is the way players get back on the bench during shift change. In case you don’t know, players usually hop the gate when going on to the ice and open the gate and walk in when going back to the bench, but oddly in NHL 2K3, players straddle the gate and climb OVER it. These are both details that Sega should have taken care of before unleashing this game to the public.

Graphics

The graphics in NHL 2K3 aren’t too bad. The graphics are only as good as those in NHL 2001 though, which most hockey game fans would know were pretty mediocre compared to the things that would come in NHL 2002 and NHL 2003. To start off, almost the entire group of players hunch over all of the time, which really looks odd. I mean yeah they play hunched over a lot of the time, but they don’t hunch while just normally skating around. Faces and such are also not as detailed as those faces seen in NHL 2003. Sure the Hockey players in the game resemble their real life counter parts, but they just don’t have the same amount of realism as the EA franchise does. One thing I did find excellently detailed though, was the jerseys and sticks of the players. You need to go into the replay mode to realize this, but everything down to the stitching in the jersey is there. I was taken back by what I saw. I guess I’m just too used to PSX graphics or something, it was amazing to me, simply amazing. And the sticks look good too. You can tell which sticks are made of wood and which are aluminum/carbon fiber, as well as the brand of the stick. Overall, I thought the graphics were very well done, and maybe next year they might even be able to compete with the graphics in the EA series.

Sound

Sound in general was very generic in this game. All the music found in the areas was very… plain and boring. You would find yourself recognizing a tune, but not quite being able to identify it. During half time or breaks, one would get the typical organ music found in most sports arenas, but in menu’s or the beginning of the game, you pretty much get the same song every time, which gets quite tedious after a while.

Another gripe I have with sound is the announcers. God those guys are boring and annoying. I mean in EA they’re wacky and fun and add they actually have something of a personality in the game. It makes you feel like they are actual people. The announcers in 2K3 are just boring announcers who talk about what is going on and after each goal they go into player and coach stats that are not even correct sometimes. I thought it was pretty shoddy overall. Sega could have done a much better job by giving the announcers a little bit of humor, or maybe even correct statistics could have improved their image, but instead they rushed it and the end result was poor.

Difficulty --- Easy/Moderate

There is not that much difficulty in a hockey game. You either know how to play the game, and royally kick every ones butt, or you practice until you can royally kick every ones butt. I guess the only thing that keeps you from running circles around the opponents is the stubborn controls. The players move around like a bunch of bricks, and their movement feels kind of delayed. So you will go to check a player and end up slamming into the boards because of the sloppy controls. Opponents do get much tougher during playoff and Stanley cup games, because they are trying all the more harder to beat you, but they still should not be a problem.

Replay Value

The replay value in a sports game is most often very good, and that is mostly because of the season and franchise-development modes. Both of these can take a good 40 or 50 hours to get through one season, and from there you can play an infinite number of seasons, creating and customizing your dream team. Sure the tournament and exhibition modes can be fun for a little while, but the real value in sports games are in the season.

Conclusion

To sum it up, NHL 2K3 is your run-of-the-mill sports game. It isn’t fancy, like Electronic Arts’ NHL 2003, and it’s not a pile of crap like 989 Sports’ NHL Face-off 2003. I find it kind of hard to resist bashing this game, since I prefer 2003 to 2K3, but this game is good ENOUGH to warrant some recommendation. If you are a fan of Sega and/or other games in the 2K series, then by all means pick this game up. For the rest of you gamers out there, I’d recommend just renting this game, or skipping it entirely in favor of NHL 2003.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/28/03, Updated 07/28/03


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