NHL 2K2 for the Dreamcast looks as though it may actually be the last game released for the system. That said, if you're one of the holdouts who's been waiting for this one, then chances are you won't be disappointed--but you'll still probably be mystified as to why there are still no franchise or online modes included in the game.
NHL 2K2 comes two years after the first Dreamcast NHL game and includes many of the same features and modes as the first. While it does offer more options than before, overall the game hasn't changed all that much. However, this is mostly a very good thing, since the original played great. The only changes made to the series in NHL 2K2 are improvements to the game's presentation, control, and artificial intelligence.
The control of NHL 2K2 is far and away the game's best feature. Many of the game's controls are so intuitive, they're downright automatic. Your defenders automatically face the puck, so you don't have to worry about making sure your defender is facing the right direction when you switch to him. You can either control your own goalie or have the computer do it for you. The game even lets you aim your shot with the analog stick right before you take the shot. So if the goalie is a little more to the left than he should be, you can send the puck more to the right side of the net just by nudging the analog stick in that direction before you let the shot off. The action on the ice is completely responsive and the control scheme is very straightforward, which makes it so anyone can quickly jump into a game and play without ever looking at the manual.
You'll be rewarded if you do read over the manual, though, since NHL 2K2 includes a whole slew of moves like dekes and dives, and the manual will tell you how to perform those moves and reveal a ton of very practical tips on how to win in general. One of the best things about NHL 2K2's control scheme is that it not only accommodates both casual and die-hard hockey fans, but it also helps bridge the gap between the two. This is accomplished with the game's basic and advanced control schemes, which you can choose between. They actually aren't all that different from one another--starting out with the basic control scheme will allow you to perform the basics like passing, shooting, and checking. You'll get a feel for the game and learn the subtle art of aiming your shot with the analog stick, and when you're ready you can simply start to take advantage of the game's advanced moves. The advanced control scheme simply adds in the left trigger as a modifier to the basic moves, which in essence doubles your capabilities. Having the basic and advanced controls set up so similarly diminishes the learning curve and lets you simply build upon what you've already learned instead of having to learn something completely new.
The AI of the teams and individual players is quite good. You'll notice that particular players definitely have different strengths and tendencies. While these strengths and weaknesses are not perfectly balanced, and they don't mirror those of the real-life players in all cases, they're in there. Learning what a team and its players' individual strengths are is half of the fun of playing a season in NHL 2K2, since every team is pretty much different. You have players who are more about finesse, power, offense, or defense, as well as those special few who have a good balance of all of the above. Playing an exhibition game against a friend will quickly give you a good idea what both teams are all about since you'll both get a sense of your respective teams. However, the computer will use every team very differently, and it will put up quite a challenge on the hardest difficulty. On the other hand, the rookie difficulty, which is the easiest, is simply way too easy for anyone who's played a hockey game before. The normal difficulty setting is just about right for casual players depending on the matchup, so veteran puck heads will have to start off with the hardest difficulty setting, which is just fine since the challenge waiting there is more than enough.
Visually, NHL 2K2 looks incredibly good for a Dreamcast game. The player models look very authentic and now feature a wider variety of model types to represent each player's size much more realistically. But the animation and subtle visual effects, not to mention the game's constant frame rate of 60 frames per second, really steal the show. The players' movement is very authentic and includes a variety of different animations for every situation. These animations smoothly flow from one action to the next with nearly seamless transitions. While a great deal of the detail can really only be seen during replays, you can still see ice spray, cuts in the ice, and reflections on the surface of the rink.
NHL 2K2 looks fantastic, but its sound is a little flat when comparison with that of its NFL and NBA counterparts. The two-man announcing team, while fairly good, simply isn't particularly entertaining or insightful. The play-by-play calls run just a tad behind the actual on-ice action--not enough that it's really a problem, but enough that it can sometimes be irritating. The rest of the sound effects aren't very pronounced or exciting. When a man gets crushed into the glass, it should sound like it. The crowd is pretty much kept to a dull roar and only really reacts when someone scores. You're at least given volume controls for each component of the audio, so you can raise and lower the default volume of each of these items as you see fit.
In the end, NHL 2K2 is a great game of hockey that any hockey fan who owns a Dreamcast should really consider picking up. It may not have all the features that we would have liked, but it's certainly a lot of fun to play.