Sega Sports and Visual Concepts are back on the ice once again, and we have the lowdown on what to expect in this year's NHL title.
Last year, Visual Concepts' NHL 2K3 was hailed by both critics and hockey fans alike as, quite simply, the most realistic hockey game on the market. 2K3 marked the first inclusion of the ESPN license in the NHL franchise, as well as the addition of a number of new gameplay elements that truly captured the excitement and precision of a real-life hockey game. What the game lacked, unfortunately, was the solid and attractive presentation elements found in Visual Concepts' other sports titles, as well as the level of polish featured in EA's NHL 2003. For this year's installment in the franchise, titled ESPN NHL Hockey, VC has switched developers--opting to go with NCAA College Football 2K3 developer Kush Games--and done its best to capitalize on the ESPN license. Additionally, many tweaks have been made to further improve the overall gameplay experience, and much work has gone into polishing the graphics, sound, and online play. We recently spent some time with near-complete builds of the PS2 and Xbox versions of ESPN NHL Hockey, and what we've seen of the game shows an extremely high level of promise.
ESPN NHL Hockey features all the same modes contained in last year's game, along with a slew of new ones. The biggest of these new modes is easily the skybox mode. Effectively the spiritual counterpart to ESPN NFL Football's crib mode, the skybox mode allows you to unlock and collect items, track stats and achievements in the game, and generally mess around inside a room modeled after a real NHL arena skybox. ESPN NHL doesn't contain the sheer number of unlockable items that ESPN NFL does, but it still has quite a few cool things to obtain, such as a myriad of classic jerseys--including the '91 Winnipeg Jets jersey, as well as LA Lakers-inspired '68 LA Kings uniform--as well as hidden classic teams, unlockable minigames, and vintage goalie masks. Items are unlocked by achieving specific goals in the game, such as winning a certain number of face-offs or scoring a goal within the first minute of a game. The difference between the two games' methodologies is that rather than just gaining a specific item for each goal achieved, every goal awards you a certain number of tokens that you can, in turn, use to purchase the unlockable items.
There are a number of other new gameplay modes in ESPN NHL Hockey as well. One of these is the skills mode, which is actually a number of different challenges, each based on exhibition games featured during the NHL All-Star weekend. The roster of challenges includes such events as a hardest-shot competition, a shoot-out relay, a puck-control challenge, a fastest-skater competition, and a shooting-accuracy challenge. These challenges can be played in a progressive fashion, with one event coming after another has been completed; as a one-player challenge, where you select one player from the entire roster of players in the game and play in one of the events, with progressively harder difficulty each time; or as a single event, where you choose two teams and each team's starting five players take on the event, with a combined average score at the end determining the winner. We found each of these challenge events to be quite well done, and an excellent aside to the normal game.
Beyond the skills mode, ESPN NHL Hockey also contains a number of minigames. Some of these games are pretty basic, like a stand-alone version of a hockey shoot-out and a super speed mode, which is a normal game with the speed turned up to a psychotic pace. The rest of the minigames have a little more to them. Pond hockey is exactly what it sounds like--you pick your teams and play on an iced-over pond in a slightly more leniently ruled game. The most bizarre of these games, however, is clearly the mini-rink game. Mini-rink entails a much more compact hockey rink and the two top forwards from each team you select going at it. Hitting is turned way up in this mode, and the boards along the sides of the rink are practically made of rubber, so, as you can imagine, it's a pretty crazy experience.
- Release Date: Sep 9, 2003 (US)
- ESRB: ETitles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older.