NHL Face Off 97 is Sony's second attempt at their Playstation-only hockey offering. While this is an excellent hockey game, and will please fans everywhere, it falls short of being the perfect 32-bit icematch.
While all of the options are in place to make hockey fanatics drop their gloves, it's not possible to switch the button assignments on the control pad. Although the controls are quick and very responsive, the experienced sports gamer probably won't find them comfortable (passing is at the nine o'clock position, rather than six); and inexperienced players will probably find NHL Face Off 97 difficult to pick up and play.
But once players have the controls in hand, they're in for a smooth match. The graphics are beautifully rendered, and the four different camera angles offer, essentially, four different types of gaming. (By contrast, EA's NHL '97 promises nine angles.) These four, locked positions are much easier to pick up than the roving camera in NHL Powerplay '96. The new "icon" passing interface in NHL Face Off 97, where a player holds down R+2 to bring up controller icons under every hockey player, is fantastic and should be incorporated into every hockey video game. (It's worth noting that this passing interface is a similar to the one found in GameDay.)
Unfortunately, the gameplay sound effects in NHL Face Off '97 leave something to be desired. The announcer is incredibly crisp and clear, and his voice reverberates with just the right amount of echo to give that in-the-arena feel. Combined with the organ music and cheering fans, the non-gameplay sounds mirror the real thing. However, the annoying, repetitive "swash, swash" of the players' skates will get on most anyone's nerves before the first face off. It's too loud and very distracting, and if it's turned off there's only silence between the other sound effects. If only the crowd's cheering could manage to reach the lofty decibels of those darned skates....
Despite a few quirks, this is an excellent hockey game with abundant options, pinpoint control, and sharp graphics. Casual hockey fans may want to take EA's NHL 97 for a test run before committing to that year-long relationship, but no one who chooses NHL Face Off '97 will be disappointed.