Review by Kephoon Phoon

Reviewed: 10/26/01 | Updated: 10/26/01

Battle For The Ultimate Glory: Stanley Cup

Hockey. Two teams engaging in a battle of attrition, smarts, strategy, heart, discipline, and luck. It?s the most intense sport in the world. It?s all captured in NHL 2002.

Every shift is important, because one bad shift cause you to lose the game.
You play hard or you don?t play.
You take hits and bleed for your team.
You play for the old guy (Ray Bourque) on your team who is retiring hoping to win it all for him.
You punish your opponent in the corner until he cry mercy and give the puck away to you.
You watch from the penalty box as each second seems like an hour as you hope your team doesn?t get scored against as they kill off your penalty.
You bombard the goalie with shots until he lets one in.
You play 6 on 5 in the dying minutes of a game and score in front of a deafening crowd at home to send the game past regulation into sudden death.
You block a 100 mph slap shot in the 3rd period of sudden death overtime of the deciding playoff game to make sure your team is still alive to score the winning goal.
You score the winning goal and you become an instant hero in your city, where little kids talk about you at school tomorrow.
You give your heart and soul for your team to win the ultimate glory: the Stanley Cup.
That?s what real hockey is like, two teams going against each other, and in the end, the better team usually wins (sometimes the bad teams win too).
With NHL 2002, you can do all that.

I had the game on reserve and eagerly awaited September 27. As the release date drew closer, I got more and more excited by this great game. I have played every NHL game from EA Sports since 93, however this one promises to top all previous incarnations. I walked into Electronique Boutique and bought the game, went home and played it. I started up the first exhibition game and I was mesmerized! The sights, the sounds, and the atmosphere is just so captivating.

Let me talk about the graphics. I am disappointed to say that the Playstation 2 is capable of better graphics, but this game is stunningly beautiful nonetheless. It?s what we expect from EA Sports. The graphics are on par with EA Sports? other titles: Madden, F1, Triple Play, FIFA, NBA, Tiger Woods, and NASCAR Thunder. The pre game sequence is just absolutely spectacular, resembling pre game sequences of real NHL games. Lights are turned out, and players walk down the hallway from the dressing room onto ice with fireworks flying, music rockin?, and the fans cheering in deafening fashion. Very amazing! The menus are stylish are fonts are easy to read. The music is fitting for a hockey game. Good presentation!

The animations are done pretty well. Players reaching for passes. Taking passes off the skates and kicking it up to the stick. Turing and firing shots at the net when facing the wrong way. The player models are nice, but it seems the letters and numbers on the players jerseys are a little blurry in some circumstances compared to Madden, which have sharper details in these areas. The reflections on the helmets are a bit over done. EA Sports probably did this to show off their graphical abilities. The visors are nice, it reflects the lights on top of the arena nicely. The faces are more realistic this year. Different players have different faces, some faces are better done then others, I must add. You?ll recognize guys like Sakic, Fleury? but for example, Mario Lemieux doesn?t look right. The crowds in this game is the best I?ve seen in any game. They are generally 2D but more realistically looking then in the past. Close ups of the crowd will display them in 3D models, cheering, dancing, being funny, and so on. Some members of the crowd wear the sweater of their home town hockey team, but only in home version of the sweater, not visitor. If you were to visit a real NHL game, you will see people in the crowd wearing both home and visitor style sweater of their team depending on individual preference. A minor shortcoming, no big deal.

The arenas are still generic with different scoreboards and seat colors. Which is a shame, because Triple Play, FIFA, Madden, all have different stadium models, and F1, NASCAR Thunder, Tiger Woods, all have different course models. There is no excuse why EA Sports cannot create different arena models for the NHL series. The ice is beautifully done. The center ice logos are different for every team. The ice reflect in a realistic fashion. Ice shavings sprays aren?t as realistic as before, such as NHL 99. The glass could have been done better. The glass is totally transparent in the game, which is not true if you were to watch an NHL game on TV, because you can see a little bit of reflection on the glass. Some arenas have concussion style seamless glass (Colorado, Vancouver, Toronto), while others have the traditional partition glass (Edmonton, Dallas, LA, Boston, New York Rangers), some have a combination of both (Philadelphia, New Jersey). Only the seamless glass is present in the game for every city. A minor detail that has been omitted by EA Sports.

NHL 2002 has gameplay that will suit anyone, because it is adjustable in the options. I will review this game from a realistic hockey point of view. Those who like it authentic can tune the shot accuracy, pass accuracy, skating speed, hitting power, and any other tuning you see fit. For the arcade people, turn up the skating speed, aggression, emotion effect, turn on the breakaway cam, big save cam, big hit cam, and whatever else you want? If you like this game, there is got to be a correct setting for you, it?s up to you to find it. The physics in the game is adjustable to how real or unreal you want it to be. If you hate friction, turn it down. If you hate bouncing puck, turn it down. If you don?t like guys getting bumped and falling on their backside, turn down hitting power. The controls are responsive. The added manual deke and saucer pass can come in handy at times. The shots on goal aren?t ridiculously high. The goalies react and adapt to your game. The defensemen check you tight. At higher difficulty level, the CPU is nasty and smart. No cake walk to win. The strategies are the same as last year. You can trap, customize your forecheck, customize your powerplay, crash the net, box penalty kill. It?s all there. Some claim it?s too hard, but I try to play smart defensively, deploy the trap, cut off passing lanes, neutralize opposition star players, take care of the front of your net, dump the puck in if you can?t get past the blue line, don?t give it away, be patient and look for an open man, I don?t think it?s that hard when you play that way. When you skate across the blue line, expect to be harassed by the enemy defence. They?ll plant your face into the glass, they hook you and knock you on your butt, so smarten up! The fighting is atrocious, but that is not EA?s fault. NHL does not want to promote fighting, that?s why. If you want better fighting, play Tekken Tag or Street Fighter EX2. The emotion effect has been improved from NHL 2001?s team momentum effect. It is now more subtle and realistic. If you lay a big hit, make a bit save, score a big goal, sustain an attack, the crowd will go nuts and give your team (and you as playing with a dual shock controller) an adrenaline rush for you to take advantage and try to score. One thing missing from previous versions is the net doesn?t come off its support anymore, why not?? As well, remember in previous games, if you shoot the puck too hard, it?ll shatter the glass behind the net, you won?t see that happening in this game. Another thing missing is, you can?t line up you man and dump him into the bench or shatter the glass with him. Goalies don?t cover up the puck, they just stand there with the puck until the ref blows a whistle.

Off the ice, the career mode is implemented for you to play a 10 year career. The create a player is nicely done. Giving you lots of ways to customize how your player looks and different levels of skills he possess. The NHL Cards are a great addition. You try to do different tasks and getting points to buy cards with.

The sounds in the game are pretty good. The DTS surround sound is beautiful to the ears if you have the equipment. The sounds of pucks hitting sticks and boards, sticks hitting ice surface, body colliding, goal horns sounding are all excellently done. The crowd reacts to hits and save, not just goals, and this contributes to the emotion meter. The play by play and color commentary are good. The color man is very funny. In fact, he is too funny and inappropriate for a serious hockey game such as this. The PA announcer is suppose to carry out his job in a professional and serious manner. Just visit any stadium in football, hockey, basketball, or baseball and you know. The guy is a joke in this game, except for saying who scored and who assisted. Every arena has a different PA announcer in real life, they all sound the same to me in NHL 2002. I know it?s unrealistic to record 30 different voices for every team in the league to have different announcers, but you can have 30 different voices by recording one voice and using a sound software to alter it into 30 different versions for the game. I hope EA Sports will consider that in the future.

This game is the best hockey game ever. If you like hockey, you have to get it. It?s not perfect, but it?s the best there is right now.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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