While Face Off 99 is clearly an improvement over the last Face Off, it still falls short of EA's NHL 99. The game has great graphics, sound, and fairly decent control, but the game's one-dimensional AI becomes so boring to play against that you'll quickly move on.
Face Off 99 has all the features you would expect from a hockey game. It has the NHL official license, so it has all of the real NHL teams and players, including the expansion teams. You can trade players, release players, create a player, and sign free agents.
The player models and animations have been totally redone this year to give them more of a realistic look. The animations are quite good, especially the new goalie animations that feature tons of different save animations. Visual effects such as multiple player shadows and lights that reflect off the ice give the game a polished look. In line with the improved visuals, the arenas have all been revamped to show details such as championship banners, flags, and lights hanging from the ceiling. The ice can be viewed from five camera angles: ice level, vertical, high vertical, diagonal, and side. While most of the camera angles appear to be too close or too far, you'll eventually get used to the default. Next year, 989 Studios should just include a user-adjustable camera.
In the audio department, Face Off 99 does a pretty good job. Mike Emrick provides the play-by-play and ESPN2's Darren Pang adds the color commentary. They call the action just as it happens on the ice, which is amazing since the action on the ice happens at an unbelievably fast pace. The game also includes the usual crowd noise, arena announcer, and sound effects.
Face Off 99 supports the Dual Shock analog controller, which makes for a smoother feel when you're skating around on the ice. It also vibrates when you take a hit or check someone else, giving you more of a connection to the action on the ice. Overall, the control is a little loose whether you're using the digital pad or analog stick. Passing, regardless of which method you use, is very effective. Two new gameplay features that are welcome additions are on-the-fly defensive play-calling and icon player-switching. During the action you can change your defensive formation by simply hitting two buttons. In addition, on defense you can now hit a button to become a specific player on the ice. The AI of the computer-controlled players is weak. Your teammates have a problem with properly setting up for a one-timer. When on offense, the computer follows nearly the same game plan regardless of which team it's playing as or what difficulty setting the game is on. The computer-controlled team sets up for a shot and then simply tries to crash the net over and over again. The computer also sometimes passes the puck to a man in the corner of the rink who is apparently waiting for one of his teammates to get open but just kind of stands there. He doesn't try to move out of the way but instead simply lets you mug him. He eventually passes the puck if you let him stand there long enough.
Overall, NHL Face Off 99 is a much better game than last year's, which is great for fans of the series. However, for true fans of video game hockey who are simply out to get the most realistic and enjoyable hockey game currently available, NHL 99 is easily the better choice.