NHL FaceOff 2001 Review

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.

The controls in FaceOff 2001 get the job done with no trimmings. You may dump the puck, execute one-timers, perform drop passes, and use icon passing. There are no spin-o-ramas, no dekes, no give-and-gos, and, as previously mentioned, no manual goalie control. One nice feature is the ability to change lines, adjust strategy, and monitor player fatigue on the fly and still control the player with the puck. Players skate smoothly, and the passing and shooting are extremely accurate. Even so, it would be nice to have more control options available for advanced players. After you play FaceOff 2001 for an hour, your skill level peaks, and there's nothing left to master.

There's nothing about FaceOff 2001's graphics that scream next-generation hockey game. The player models look to be the same ones used in FaceOff's last PlayStation outing. Each player could use a few hundred more polygons, and their backs bend in the middle as though they were all suffering from a spinal disorder. The lack of variety in animation routines cuts into the levels of realism significantly. Players stand like robots before a face-off and methodically skate to their predetermined spots after a stoppage in play. There are no coaches barking orders to the team, no scrums while waiting for the puck to be dropped, and very little detail. There is a vast array of facial textures, but these facial textures tend to be blurry, and facial animation is nowhere to be found. If there is one positive on the visual end, it's that FaceOff 2001 plays like greased lightning. There are a few nice details like a water bottle that goes sliding across the ice after every goal and hats that litter the ice after a hat trick. But in the end, the trade-off isn't equal. The players move far too erratically and have too many square edges to be believable. FaceOff on the PlayStation 2 comes off as nothing more than the PlayStation version in high resolution.

FaceOff's sound is its most impressive trait. ESPN's Mike Emrick and Darren Pang handle the play-by-play and color commentary. They do an adequate job of keeping up with the action while slipping in some analysis here and there. But, like in most sports video games, the comments begin to repeat after a few hours. There are team-specific chants for each arena, and the home crowd will start chanting the opposing goalie's name after he gives up a bad goal.

NHL FaceOff 2001 follows in the dubious footsteps of NFL GameDay and stands as a poster child for uninspired next-generation game development. The graphics aren't representative of what the PlayStation 2 is capable of, the gameplay is ruined by pathetic goalie AI, and the control options fail to meet minimum requirements. If you're looking for a hockey game for your PlayStation 2, pick up EA's NHL 2001 and forget about this one until next year's edition.

The Good

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The Bad

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