Review by Rottenwood

"Angry Men Wielding Sticks"

I've been a fan of the 'NHL' series for... well... heck, I'm not exactly sure how long. I remember loving the first 'NHL' game, for crying out loud. During what year was that game released, anyhow? I can't even remember. The series has changed a lot since then, I suppose, but in many ways it hasn't, and that's the main problem with this latest edition of the long-running hockey franchise.
I haven't actually played an 'NHL' game in years, but as soon as I fired 'NHL 2002' up, it was second nature. Passing, shooting, face-offs, one-timers, and all of that good stuff were performed in nearly identical fashion. Heck, the game mechanics have always been nice and tight, so I can't really complain. It was rather like watching a favorite movie again... nothing terribly exciting, but pleasant and comfortable none the less. I can't deny the timeless pleasure of speed bursting towards a hapless opposing player and leveling him with a monster check. I mean, it's just beautiful.
To be fair, 'NHL 2002' does have some new features. Saucer passes can be executed to float over defending player's sticks, and there is a cinematic breakaway feature now, where the camera zooms in on the player and goalie during a breakaway opportunity, shutting out all of the background noise and replacing it with the sound of a beating heart. It's pretty nifty, although it can break up the flow of the game. (The same problem occurs for the special zoom-in replays of monster hits and great goalie saves.) Anything new on the ice is pretty much a novelty this time around.
However, there are plenty of new game mode enhancements to keep hockey fanatics nice and busy. The franchise mode provides ten consecutive seasons for a true hockey glutton to skate through. Hey, who am I to tell you how to spend a couple of months? There's also a new trading card feature. You can complete certain in-game feats once per difficulty setting, which gives you points. These points can be spent on packs of 'NHL Cards,' which you can either collect or use to give you certain advantages during the game. It's a fun little bonus feature, and achieving the point-worthy goals (scoring a hat trick, winning five face-offs, and so on) is a fun little task to pursue.
One of the more noteworthy aspects of the game is the ability to tweak just about anything that affects the on-ice action. You can adjust everything from fatigue levels to puck elasticity and everything in between, if you think the game didn't get it quite right, or you just want a little change of pace. This sort of customizability is what keeps the 'NHL' series on top of the hockey simulation world. There's also a fantasy draft option if you want to shake up the NHL's rosters and give your hometown team a fresh start.
Graphically, 'NHL 2002' is as good as hockey gets. The framerate is smooth and the players look better than ever. Sure, some of the game's more popular players may not look exactly like their real-life counterparts, but all in all, the players are represented well. There are also plenty of new player animations to add some zest to the visuals. The goalies in particular seem to be a lot more life-like than from the last time I played an 'NHL' game.
The sound aspects of the game are going to be hit-and-miss for a lot of folks, though. The announcers are more like a comedy team, providing non-stop jokes throughout the game. Some of their stuff is actually pretty funny, but it may serve to annoy hockey purists who just want the announce team to call the game. I myself began to get a bit tired of the smart-alecky humor after ten games or so. Must every game be burdened with 'attitude' these days? Isn't hockey fun enough, without having to be 'too cool' for the sport? Oh well; video game sport announcing is always a dicey prospect anyhow. The sound effects and music are both excellent, with tunes provided by bands such as Sum-41 and the Barenaked Ladies. This series has always had top-notch production values, so no worries here.
In fact, the only real drawback to this game is the fact that it's just the latest edition of a franchise that's approaching (if not past) ten years of age. The hockey action is fun, but it's still the same old game with some fancy new features tacked on. Some folks can buy this game each and every year and never get tired of it, but if you have 'NHL 2001,' you'd have to do some serious thinking before dropping another fifty bucks on this title. However, if you don't have a hockey game yet for your PlayStation 2, you'll definitely want to pick this up if you love the sport. And if you've never played an 'NHL' game before, well, you're in for a serious treat. You'll get to enjoy an amazing hockey game with years of refinement under its belt.
And if you think you might be burned out on the 'NHL' series? Maybe it's time to invest your cash into something new.
One last thing: is it just me, or do the fans in the crowd look like people from 'The Sims?' Since Electronic Arts owns both this series and 'The Sims,' it would make sense. Could 'SimHockeyHooligans' be far behind?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 10/04/01, Updated 10/04/01

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