Review by Psycho Penguin
"What does it take to be number one? Two is not a winner, and this game nobody remembers."
It's always hard for me to justify giving high scores to old sports games -- not talking about classics like Tecmo Super Bowl, of course, but games in a series, like Madden 95, or NBA Live 96. Not because they're not fun, but because the later games in the series are SO much better, and there's no reason to actually play the game in question when there's so many other games in the series to choose from.
So, I am going to take a completely different route from my normal style and to say, simply, don't get this game. I am giving it a 8 because it's the only hockey game on the current generation consoles (PSX/N64 on) that I currently have, and therefore it's the only one that I actually play. I am going to give the game the logical score it deserves, but I'm sure NHL 2003 is a much better fit for hockey fans everywhere. This was still a great game for its time, though, so join me as we take a trip down memory lane.
As we begin our journey, back in 1996, graphics were not totally high-standard as they are today, but the game still does look fairly impressive. The player models won't exactly make you wet your pants, but fortunately they still look fairly good. Each player animates quite nicely and the flow of the game is superb - slowdown is not quite as prevailant as you'd expect for such an early generation sports title. The rink looks fairly decent and unique and doesn't take away too much from the gameplay, as sometimes the rink will be a poor color or too colorful and make the puck hard to see. The cool thing of the graphics was the ability to change the camera view to the angle you'd like.
The game doesn't really have any music, so I'm not going to waste any time describing it. Because then I'd be describing nothing, and I don't wish to do that. Even though I'm sort of doing that now, huh? The sound effects are pretty alright, nothing spectacular, the typical sounds of hockey are replicated quite nicely, and they won't get on your nerves, which certainly helps.
The controls won't get on your nerves, either, which is important for a hockey game in particular due to the fact the game requires high-precision controls to succeed. The only major flaw I found was the inability to control more than one player at a time, but this can be easily answered by saying it's very hard to make a hockey game where more than one player is controlled at a certain time. Fortunately, controlling the player you have control of is fairly easy and harmless, one button is to pass, one is to shoot, you can hold down the shoot button longer to get off harder shots, and you can aim your passes with the directional buttons. The controls were overall pretty solid, and they really helped in terms of gameplay.
And the gameplay is really good, despite some flaws, which are not entirely the game's fault. The only major flaw to be found is the concern that there are not enough game modes. Most later hockey games have a franchise mode, training camp, etc. NHL Faceoff 97 has none of these things, but it's not its fault, as all games had to start somewhere, and you'd expect a series to add modes after 6 (soon to be 7) years.
The modes you do get are quite suitable, though. Those looking for a suitable create-a-player mode will be quite impressed with the game, as it has a mode where you can create a player from scratch. You get to name him, give him a number, and then select his statistics: you get a certain amount of points to choose from, and you can divide them amongst several categories, ranging from speed to charisma. Developing a player with all the characteristics you look for in a hockey player is always a wise idea and adds fun to this particular mode.
Of course, once you create a player, you have to assign him to a team, and NHL Faceoff 97 shines here, too. You get the ability to really take control of a team. You can trade players, release players, and sign free agents. This is, of course, during the terrific season mode, which takes place as as you may expect: you select a team, then go through a number-of-your-choosing number of games in the season in a quest to get the Stanley Cup.
And actually trying to get to the Stanley Cup is lots of fun due to the quick-paced action of the game. The clock moves at a normal speed, but there are few penalties and faceoffs called during the game. The game maintains a high speed throughout the game, and this makes it more fun. I also liked the variety of options you can do during the game, as you get several different types of passes and shots. Aiming your shots and determining the power of the shot is the key to getting a well placed shot off, and the goalies are sometimes smart enough to block shots that you keep shooting, so you need to mix it up a little.
The goalies are the reason the game isn't that hard, though. Only if you boost it up to the most challenging mode will you find any sort of challenge in the game. The goalies will react stupid at times, as you may expect from an early generation title. I still find myself being able to stand on the right side of the goalie, then swining around to the left and shooting, and scoring most of the time. Plus, the goalies sometimes let the stupidest shots go in, and other times block incredible shots. The AI is a little off, but the defense plays fair and it's hard to play defense in the highest level of difficulty because of their high-skilled offense.
The game had a lot of replay value for me, for some reason. However, it's a 1997 hockey game, so there's no reason to play it now, and that's sadly the problem with this game. It was a mighty fine game for its time, but better games have passed it by, and despite the fact it gets a 8/10 from me, I can probably find a more recent hockey game that could get a higher score from me. So, just play this game for a little while if you want to see where the next generation of hockey games evolved from, or if you need further proof that hockey games never really sucked at all.
Now, excuse me while I go get NHL 2003!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 06/28/03, Updated 06/28/03
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