ESPN NHL Hockey Review

Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: Sega
Release Date: September 9, 2003 Also On: PS2 and Xbox

While this game may not be perfect, it is the closest thing you’ll get to real hockey, without putting on some skates. If you’re a fan of hockey or video games I wouldn’t think twice about going out and buying this game; it’s the complete package.

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This year’s version of the game (formerly known as NHL 2K3) exudes presentation value like I’ve never seen. You really feel like you’re playing a game broadcast on ESPN. From the camera angles to the front-end it all flows together seamlessly.

The graphics have been given an overhaul from last year’s game. Many new player faces have been added this year. Lecavalier and Kariya actually look like themselves. Even most clubs’ goalies get their mugs in the game. One of the most impressive graphical feats is the sheen of the ice. At the start of the game it looks like a mirror reflecting the players and the arena screens, but towards the end of the period a layer of snow coats the ice. The best thing about this is that it goes almost unnoticed until the start of the next period.

New player animations make the game look more like hockey and facial animations actually let you see the excitement on the player’s faces. The animations even differ from the regular season to the playoffs. If a goal is scored in a meaningless game you’ll see players tap each other with the twigs or give high fives. If a goal is scored in the playoffs you’ll see the bench erupt in excitement and players jumping in excitement while being mauled by their teammates. This kind of touch adds a lot to the game.

The sound is almost impeccable. The commentary (Bill Clement and Gary Thorne) rarely repeats itself and will actually surprise you with some of the things they say. The on-ice sounds are very realistic and sound like a real game, but the best part about the sound just might be the crowd. The crowd will boo the home-team if it’s playing poorly or will even chant the goalie’s name if he makes enough phenomenal saves. The first time you hear “Jiggy, Jiggy, Jiggy� it’ll give you shivers. The music played over the PA also rings with that familiar arena echo and sounds perfect.

The graphics and sound mean nothing if the game doesn’t play well and this one plays like a beauty. The three control modes ensure that even a newbie to the game can play with the guy that’s been playing all season. You can board pin, deke the goalie (very cool) and start fights. There are also sliders to change every aspect of the game: puck-elasticity and puck-retention? You can make it so it’s a 100 percent hitting game with high scores or you can set them for a more realistic outcome. Sega thought of everything for this one.

The game has almost endless replay value. From playing a regular season game to competing in the skills competition you can easily play for hours. The franchise mode is the meat of the game though. Take your team and try to build them into a dynasty. You have control of every aspect of your team in franchise mode. You sign your stars to big dollar contracts, pick up free agents, make your trades to prepare for your run for the cup and draft your future hall-of-famers in the off season. The game also has been voted best Xbox Live sports game from numerous publications. With no lag online and online leagues, I can easily see why.

The game adds some creativity by giving you the option of unlocking everything from 3rd Jerseys to classic teams to pond hockey. The unlockables work just like they do in ESPN NHL Football. Do certain things during a game or during the course of the season and you’re given points to spend on whatever you want. This is a nice addition to add some more replay value.

This game is the best hockey game on the market this year. It’s the perfect example of hockey done right on a video game. Sega Sports did an excellent job with this game. The gameplay is superb, the graphics and sound are stunning and you can play it for months. This year’s winner for best hockey game is ESPN NHL Hockey, hands down.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 9
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.1
Written by Chris Review Guide

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