NHL FaceOff 2001 follows in the dubious footsteps of NFL GameDay and stands as a poster child for uninspired next-generation game development.
It's hard to believe that a second-party developer like 989 Sports hasn't been able to equal the PlayStation 2 developmental prowess of a third-party developer like EA. Comparing EA's Madden to 989's GameDay is like watching a race between a Porsche 911 and a 1978 AMC Gremlin. After the negative press GameDay received, it was hoped that 989 would dig deep and pull a rabbit out of its proverbial hat and deliver stunning, great-playing games for the remainder of its sports franchises. 989's first hockey effort on the PlayStation 2 is here and, unfortunately, things aren't looking up.
All 30 NHL teams are available for play in FaceOff 2001 including this year's expansion teams, the Columbus Bluejackets and the Minnesota Wild. The rosters are current through the first month or two of this year's NHL seasons, and 989 managed to squeeze The Magnificent One, Mario Lemieux, into the game as well. 989 has also included an NHL legends team made up of all-time greats like Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, and Bobby Hull. Seven international teams have also made the cut, if you've got an itch for some Olympic competition.
FaceOff 2001 has the majority of prerequisite gameplay modes you'd expect. There is an exhibition mode for up to eight players via the PS2 Multitap, a season mode for multiple players, an immediately accessible playoff mode, a tournament mode, a practice option, and, as you might expect, a shoot-out mode. The season mode is limited due to a lack of customization and the absence of franchise play. There's no ability to control the number of games per season, so you're basically stuck with a regulation 85-game season or nothing at all. The playoff mode lets you cut to the chase and jump to the brackets immediately. You may set the number of games for each playoff series to one, three, five, or seven games and choose the teams and seedings. After the cup is hoisted, players are given awards in categories like defensive and offensive MVP. The practice mode does not feature a tutorial, and it's puzzling why 989 decided to include it considering it's identical to exhibition play. The tournament mode is nice for social settings, and the shoot-out mode helps to hone your breakaway skills.
While the gameplay options are adequate, where FaceOff falls apart is in its execution. There are three difficulty settings, but when playing on the rookie setting, we were able to score 37 goals in three five-minute periods. On the veteran setting it's still easy to light the lamp 20 times, and while set to all-star it's not difficult to stretch the twine nine or ten times. The problem is that the goalie AI is absolutely terrible. Despite the fact that a mere brush-by will send your player skidding across the ice when the difficulty is set to all-star, it's still easy to get 15 shots on goal. Of those 15 shots, 10 will go in. This could have been alleviated with manual goalie control, but alas there is none. The lack of intelligent goalie AI undermines the enjoyment of every gameplay mode. It's no fun playing against friends when you can't count on your goalie to make a save, and it's even less fun rolling up the score against the offensively inept computer. Making things worse, the computer-controlled goalies cover the puck after every save, slowing down the tempo of the game.