Even though its graphics fail to take advantage of the Xbox hardware, its depth of modes is staggering, and the gameplay is predominantly tight.
With the NHL season in full swing, it's a good time for EA Sports to bring its seminal hockey series to the Xbox. Midway has already released its arcade-influenced take on the sport with NHL Hitz 2002, and while it provides an exhilarating experience, it leaves a lot to be desired from the viewpoint of the hockey fundamentalist. EA's NHL series has always represented the pinnacle of hockey simulations, and after a somewhat disappointing next-generation debut on the PlayStation 2 last year, NHL 2002 now features many fixes that will make it appeal to the hard-core hockey set. But if you're looking for vast improvements over the PlayStation 2 iteration of the game, you're bound to be disappointed. Like EA Sports' other games for the Xbox, NHL 2002 is a slightly prettier version of the game that plays just as well as the other versions of the game.
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. Trading players with the computer can be a mundane experience because it will only accept trades that involve players of an equal rating. Even if the team you're attempting to trade with has an abundance of fighters and needs a scorer, it's not smart enough to make this deduction and allow an uneven trade. 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 you 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 the game's 189 cards, some of which can unlock new features within the game. NHL 2002 also includes the ability to create players and then sign them to a team or track in-game developments via the EA game story. While the computer AI used for the franchise mode could use some tweaking, 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 that ties directly into your player's ability to stay with the puck despite being checked. 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 any of the buttons on the Xbox controller for customized after-goal celebrations.