The hockey wars have carried on for two years, but none of the games has been the clear-cut winner until now. NHL Breakaway 98 is clearly the best 32-bit hockey game.
All the real NHL teams, players, and stats are present as well as eight international teams. Players can be traded back and forth, letting you create a dream team of hockey's greatest players. In its management mode, Breakaway also pulls off what so many sports games have attempted over the years. It awards points for every victory, which can be used to pay for physical therapists (that speeds the recovery of an injured player), train minor league players, or improve your stadium, which in turn will help raise your attendance and net you more points to spend per victory. It's a vicious cycle, just like real life. It takes points to make points, and this feature makes playing an entire season fun.
The graphics in NHL Breakaway 98 are awesome. The animations of the players falling, skating, and shooting look incredibly lifelike. With such detail, not only can you read the names of the players off the backs of their jerseys, you can even see the players' numbers on their sleeves. Players also are sized according to their height in real life. So Gretzky is small and fast, but unable to check as effectively as a big, lumbering oaf.
The sound effects give you a sense of how bad someone gets checked. The other effects such as a puck hitting the post and a player crashing into the boards sound as though you are at a real hockey game. Breakaway also has all the organ music featured at the rink and an announcer to go along with it. He says some cool stuff once in a while, like announcing that a lost child has been found at the concession stand.
On top of all the extraneous stuff, Breakaway delivers in the gameplay department. Players can skate backward, hook, dump passes, and just about anything else. But unlike most 32-bit hockey games, Breakaway has intuitive controls for beginners that let you play with the use of three buttons: pass, shoot, and check. Even my puck-head of a roommate who is still addicted to NHL 96 for the Sega Genesis could immediately play Breakaway without being intimidated by the control. Once I mastered the art of defending while skating backward, he quit playing against me and would only play against the computer. When playing against the computer in Breakaway 98, I noticed something I hadn't in other hockey games. The computer would run different plays for different teams depending on their style, just like in real life. It was pretty amazing.
Breakaway combines a boatload of features, great graphics, and stellar gameplay all in one package. Finally, it looks like you can put your Genesis away - a true 32-bit hockey game has finally arrived.