NHL 2002 Review
NHL 2002 is the deepest, most realistic 3D NHL game on the market.
If there's one sport Electronic Arts has had little to no competition emulating, it's NHL hockey. EA's NHL series has served as the benchmark for hockey video games for almost a decade. Many developers have tried to top it, and many have failed. The series' rookie effort on the PlayStation 2 established a solid foundation to build upon last year, but a lack of adequate AI and bothersome frame rates limited the game's long-term appeal. But with NHL 2002, EA Sports has listened to the critics and produced a 3D version of the series that finally rivals NHL's two-dimensional glory days on the Genesis and SNES.
If you like a lot of meat to your hockey games, the NHL series has always been the filet mignon of digitized pucks. However, the NHL series' first iteration for the PlayStation 2 was the exception. With no franchise mode and few frills in general, it succeeded in becoming a solid multiplayer experience, but those looking for depth from single-player modes were forced to retreat back to the PlayStation version of the game. NHL 2002 has an incredibly deep franchise mode that can be played for 10 consecutive seasons. Player statistics are tracked in 18 and 21 different player and team categories, respectively. Career statistics accumulate over 10 years, but many are lost once a player retires. In the season mode, you may draft, surf the free agent wire, manage a budget, and attempt to compensate for veteran players who retire. The only problem with the franchise mode is that some things are performed for you by the CPU, like which players are interested in joining your team. It can be frustrating to offer more than a player is truly worth in a trade, only to be turned down. In addition to the deep season mode, there's exhibition play for up to four players, a tournament mode for up to 16 teams, and a shootout mode to help hone your breakaway skills. Another new addition to the series this year is an extensive card system similar to the one used in the recent Madden football games. You are awarded points for performing specific tasks while playing, like scoring a hat trick or winning all your team's road playoff games. The points can then be used to purchase some of the game's 189 cards, which unlock new features within the game. NHL 2002 also includes the ability to create players and then sign them to a team or track the developments in a game via the EA game story. While the franchise mode could use some more interactivity, on the whole, NHL 2002 provides more than enough gameplay modes to keep the most die-hard hockey fan content.
Like the gameplay modes in NHL 2002, the amount of control you have over your players has also been greatly improved. You may now perform saucer passes to lift the biscuit over a defender's stick, and the deke controls have been improved so that a player may now compose himself before taking a shot and shift the puck from the forehand to the backhand in an attempt at fooling the goalie. A new variable puck control feature has also been added--one that makes it difficult to knock skilled players off the puck. Players also are designated as snipers, heroes, big hitters, and big shooters. When you use a player at the end of the game and he's rated as a hero, this can often make the difference between mounting a comeback and getting spanked. You may even map different animations to three of the Dual Shock 2's face buttons for customized after-goal celebrations. EA Sports has included adaptive goalie AI that is supposed to adjust the goalie's strategy depending upon the in-game situation, but it's almost impossible to notice. Last year's game has some serious AI issues that made games against the computer a cakewalk. For this year's game, EA has gone in the complete opposite direction where AI is concerned. There are four different difficulty settings, and winning games on anything but the beginner and easy settings is nearly impossible. You can build a three-goal lead going into the third period, only to have it wiped away by three seemingly harmless slapshots by the computer. This is made more confounding by the emotion meter. Once a team has achieved full emotion, almost every shot it takes ends up stretching the twine. It's especially frustrating to be dominating play and not gain any team emotion. Goalies will often misjudge soft, fluttering shots--allowing them to slip over a shoulder into the net. Yet all but the best breakaway shots are stopped without a rebound. This results in games turning into a barrage of slapshots and depletes NHL 2002 of a great deal of the one-on-one elements that have made past installments in the franchise so much fun to play. Fighting has again returned, but the button-mashing skirmishes end so quickly that it's almost laughable. NHL 2002's saving grace is that most of the problems associated with the game in its default state may be remedied by adjusting 10 different gameplay sliders.