Review by msindona

"Answer: Yes! Question: Is this the BEST hockey game ever?"

NHL 2001, By EA Sports, was one of the PS2 launch titles, and is currently one of the system's best overall games. The gameplay, graphics, sounds, and presentation are all outstanding, and only a few minor graphic and gameplay imperfections keep this game from receive a rating of 10.

Graphics - 9

Pure beauty. If you have a powerful gaming PC and have played the PC versions of NHL 2000 or 2001 already, then this game won't make your jaw completely drop. But if the last NHL game you've played was on your Playstation or even the Sega Dreamcast's NHL2K, then this game's graphics will definitely shock you into submission.

Case in point: I brought over a couple of guys I play inline hockey with to show them my new PS2 and NHL2001. We started up a game, Devils vs. Caps, and my friends were simply amazed at the opening sequence with the Devils walking out of the locker rooms. They didn't believe those were the actual gameplay graphics, I told them to ''just wait and see''. Once the players got onto the ice and the game was on, I had to get them both some napkins to help them wipe the drool from their chins.

I don't know how else to explain it to you except that the graphics in this game are beautiful. Animations are great, the rinks are well done, the lighting effects are terrific, the players actual look like their real-life counterparts, etc etc etc. Shine off of all the players’ helmets is a bit excessive though. Only the goalie masks should be that shiny!

As for a few of the problems:

The game can get a bit ch-ch-choppy when going through the neutral zone by the player benches. I guess too much is happening on the screen at one time for the PS2 to keep up with. It's a bit inexcusable, considering the time EA had to make the game plus the power of the PS2, but being a first gen title, I'll let it slide for now. It doesn't effect the gameplay too much either.

A few clipping problems here and there, during gameplay and cut sequences. The worst I've seen so far was while my friends and I were playing a 4 player game, we all met in one of the corners racing for the puck, and one of us actually went ''through'' the boards and was skating around in the crowd with the puck. After about a second or two, he popped back onto the ice. Weirdo. During cutscenes, you might see a ref go through a player or if the goalie is stretching, his stick will go through his leg pads a bit. Nothing major.

Finally, a few of the animations aren't as clean as they could be, but these are more noticeable during slow-mo instant replays than actual gameplay. Speaking of...

Gameplay - 10

Ah yes, seems the odd year jinx has finally been broken! How should I define the gameplay in one word...hmm...how about ''orgasmic''? Gonna hafta break out the tissues again folks, cause this game is gonna make you pop yer cork. Why? Well, how does total, unadulterated customization sound to you?

Yes folks, no longer are we stuck with the rapid, unrealistic, ''breakaway ping-pong'' gameplay which has plagued the EA NHL series for the last few years. You have the option to setup the gameplay anyway you'd like.

Wanna stay with the recent trend of this series and go Wolvie-beserk style, then set the game to ''Arcade'' mode, guzzle yer 2 liter of the Dew, and away you go! Did you like the old days of NHL, when players moved at a realistic speed and you could setup plays, passing back and forth from yer wingers to the pointman? Then setup the game to ''Simulation'' mode and experience hockey gaming utopia. Then it goes even deeper. There are very many single gameplay options you can configure, from player speed to puck friction to rebound frequency. It's all here in NHL 2001, no need to look any further, 'cept maybe in a year when NHL 2002 is released.

On a side note, some are saying the AI isn't too bright and it's easy to win games even on the hardest difficulty level. Well, I consider myself an EA NHL veteran, and on the hardest level, PLUS the opponent player and goalie boosters set to the maximum, I promise you this game is no walk in the park. But, in my opinion, the real fun lies in multiplayer, as most sports games do. Where's the fun talking trash to a computer? Gotta have some friends over to play this game.

Only gameplay blurbs so far I've encountered is while playing more than a 2 player game (using a multitap and 2 extra PS1 dual shock controllers), the game can freeze. Sometimes it only freezes for a second or two, sometimes ya gotta hit the reset button. Either way, I think it's attributed to the lack of compatibility with the old controllers than with the game itself, since Time Splitters, another great PS2 game, also experiences problems with the 4 player gameplay using the old controllers.

Sound - 9

Sounds, like the rest of the game, are top notch. On ice sounds, player grunts and speech, stadium music, menu music, and announcing is a good as it's ever been. Only thing that bothers me is the post-goal-scoring cheers (executed by pressing the TRIANGLE button after you scored a goal). They are usually cornier then a Thanksgiving bowel movement and are more annoying than teething triplets at 2AM. Ugh, I don't like 'em one bit, and I hate 'em even more when a friend of mine presses the button over and over again after he scores a goal on me!

Presentation - 9

Everything in the game, from the opening menus to the post game information is handled perfectly. EA has been making games, and sports games, for quite a while, and this game's presentation proves that EA knows what's going on.

A few options missing are missing though, which I hope they will include for next year's edition.

First off: Enough with the ''EA Blades'' and the ''EA Storm'' as the only two custom teams I can create! Take a hint or two from the designers behind NCAA 2001 and gimme some full team customization! I wanna choose my own team colors and jersey styles! I wanna call them the Charlestown Chiefs! I wanna use the First Union Center arena and then rename it to the ''Rink O'Death''! I want some free tickets for life to the Cup finals! Ok, ok, you can keep the Cup tix, just gimme everything else!

Secondly: I created my inline hockey team and put them in the game. I made every player on our team and even set their accurate attributes too. There are a few things missing, though. From the words of Billy, one of my teammates, when he saw himself skating around the rink in NHL 2001: ''Whoa, since when did I turn into a dopey-lookin' WHITE guy?'' See, my friend Billy, plus 3 other guys on my hockey team, are black. There are no options to change skin color or faces in the create-a-player mode. So, all the players you create in this game are automatically set to ''Dopey-lookin' white guy'' mode. And when you've created ALL the players for a custom team, it looks like ''The Attack of the Hockey Goon Clones''! Oh well, it's only a small problem...unless you're a bleeding heart liberal! Then it's a big problem and you best be getting Johnny Cochran on the phone! Chewbacca!

Controls - 9

This game controls like a Cup Champ. Movement is executed beautifully, best it ever has. Shooting is good, but what's with the 2 second wind up for a slapper? Hello, I can take a huge slapper (in real life) in less than a second, but in this game, slappers take longer to execute than the blood on the ice takes to freeze. Need to improve this for next year. For now, use slappers only from yer pointmen and onetimers. If you are on a breakaway, forget the slap shot and stick with a deke and a wrister.

Also...Icon-Based Passing, please report to the Front Desk! Icon-Based Passing? Hello? Passing is still handled very well, but if you're looking to make a cross ice pass to a wide-open winger streaking down the far side of the rink, and one of yer teammates is in-between you and your preferred target, be prepared for a thing called ''frustration''. Next year, EA, give us the mighty Icons!

Replay Value - 10

Season mode, a buttload of world teams, tournament mode, playoff mode, multiplayer mode, a la mode, you name it, it's got a mode. Well, okay, I don't think there's a capture the flag mode, but this is hockey folks, not Unreal Tournament. Actually, it is missing a ''practice'' mode, which I used to like to play a few years back. Nuttin like a 2 on 2, One-Timer extravaganza!

If you really have too much time on yer hands, and are feeling REALLY lazy, you can setup this game to play computer vs computer, and it's still a blast to sit back and watch.

Final Pros and Cons:

Pros:

- Hmm, best hockey game ever, perhaps?

- Jaw dropping graphics and customizable gameplay. Things that make you go Mmmm...

- Can finally unplug my Genesis and NHL 94 from my TV.

Cons:

- Weird graphic glitches like slowdown in the neutral zone and minor clipping problems.

- Icon Passing absent and Slap shots take too long to perform.

- Create a team and player needs a few more details/options.

Last word:

Hockey fanatic or not, this game is a must buy for all PS2 owners. Hockey Fans, here's your reason to shell out the $$$ for a PS2 and at least one extra controller. This is the pinnacle of hockey gaming. Nothing even comes close, other than the real thing. Now, will somebody PUH-LEASE use this fantastic game engine and bring back Mutant League Hockey?


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/09/00, Updated 11/09/00


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