Replay Value: 9.3
Hockey... ahh what a sport. Perhaps the most gruesome of any sport out there, hockey is without a doubt an incredibly fan based sport now adays. I have always enjoyed watching soccer, basketball, baseball and football, but I would never be able to watch the games for two and a half hours straight, I would usually start flipping through channels and seeing what else is on. In my opinion hockey is a different sport, hockey is extreme, the sport actually lets you punch your opponent's teeth out, give him a bloody nose and even shove him through glass, just so you can steal the puck. Then we have videogame counterparts of all the sports, and this is where games like NBA Live, NBA Shootout, Madden NFL, NFL Gameday, FIFA Soccer, NHL Faceoff and the NHL series come into play. I'm here to talk about the NHL series that EA Sports has been in charge of for the past ten years. Yes folks, EA has released 10 different NHL games on consoles throughout the Super NES all the way to Playstation's final year. EA's long running NHL franchise was always the pinnacle among hockey games, until that is when they entered the 32 Bit era, where Sony had a hockey game of their own up their sleeves, just as they did with Gameday. The NHL Faceoff series was a new ingress in the world of videogame hockey, it rivaled EA's titles in every field, EA knew that they would now have to work twice as hard because the competition has severely grown and more developers are surfacing in this new day and age of gaming. To-date the long running NHL titles have seen five iterations on the Playstation alone, NHL 99 being absolutely the worst one. I'm sure if you've played the game or at least read reviews of it, you would know that the game suffered from nearly unplayable frame rates, which completely ruined the whole game. NHL 2000 was a much refined game and brought back the series, but there was still something missing and NHL 2001 fills those holes. Read on, and find out why this is the best hockey game on the Playstation.
My recent review on NHL Faceoff 2001 was quite positive in all of its aspects. Although it scored the lowest rating because the athletes we're just not build out of as many polygons as I hoped for, they were nice but not as nice as they could have been with a bit more work. So when I tossed NHL 2001, I wanted to see how much the visuals between Faceoff and NHL differ, and the result is quite staggering. For the most part player models are made up of what seems like 300-350 polygons each, and for the PSX that is quite a big load. The bodies are finely created with nearly no show of polygonal clipping or any seems between the legs, torso, head and arms. Unlike Faceoff 2001, NHL 2001 has big models that look so detailed for a PS game, that it can be said that the game is pushing the PS' hardware boundaries, much like what the Final Fantasy and Resident Evil series have been doing for the past couple of years. You can notice the great attention to detail by using the Instant Replay feature and zooming in on the bodies, now tell me that isn't some of the best visuals you've seen on a 32/64-bit sports game? The stadiums are much more detailed than NHL Faceoff 2001's and that comes to a surprise, because even even though NHL 2001 has more stadium detail, the athletes look much more realistic than those in Faceoff 2001. With all of that out of the way, let's talk frame rate. Thankfully the frame rate is never jerky and remains smooth at all times, something that most anticipants of NHL 2001 were worried about. The CG intro is more or less a good way of sort of demonstrating on how the PS2 version of NHL 2001 will most likely look, similar to what Polyphony did with Gran Turismo 2's video. NHL 2001 runs at a super smooth frame rate and boasts incredibly life-like athletes, making it the best looking sports game to date.
Being the 10th NHL game made by EA Sports, this is also the best game NHL game out of any one out there right now. Though nothing new is introduced to change the way we play NHL games, there are still numerous amount of key features to heave the replay value, such as the inclusion of 18 international teams and the recently added expansion teams Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild. This time around for those who aren't too hockey literate, NHL 2001 offers something called Big Shots and Big Hitters, basically if you see a skater's name written in red, that means that he is more of an accurate/big hit shooter rather than a power starving maniac who loves to check his opponents into hell. In general not many of the new features included are breathtaking, they are nice little extras but nothing that completely make this game something new. NHL 2001 is an exciting game with groundbreaking gameplay that sets the standard for all of the hockey games out there, yes even NHL 2K for Dreamcast. All bias aside, but I found more fun coming from a 32-bit game rather than a 128-bit game, let's just hope that that won't be the case when NHL 2001 skates on the PS2 this October 26th. The modes in NHL 2001 are pretty much the same as they have been for the past few years, with the exception of a new Career mode that sets you as a General Manager, where you make the call on Editing your starting line, switching your goalie during gameplay, or making drafts and trades, all on your own. What stands out the most out of all the extra features included is the Momentum Meter that builds up depending on how your doing on the ice, it usually soars up when you get away with a cross check and steal the puck. Just like any other game out there, Playoffs, Tournaments and Shootouts are included for those dedicated hockey fans. For gamers who have NHL 2001 on pre-order for PS2, I don't think you should pick this game up, unless you are a die hard fan who wants to own the very last NHL game to be released on Playstation, then go ahead and do so, just there is basically no point to getting it for PS when the PS2 version is a mere week a way. I have absolutely no gripes about the gameplay at all, with the ability to customize the games speed level and turn penalties on and off, NHL 2001 is any hockey gamer's dream come true.
The sound in NHL 2001 is one huge milestone for not only the NHL series but for all of EA Sports' games in general. Triple Play 2001 and FIFA 2000 hold a certain place in my gaming heart, as having the two best play-by-play commentary and color commentary of any sports game ever. Madden NFL 2001 didn't do the job as well as I had hoped it would, but it was still above average, but NHL 2001 is a whole different story. The play-by-play and color commentary is done courtesy of Jim Hughson who is also accompanied by Bill Clement. The timing is just right, the play-by-plays are accurate, precise and the commentators would rarely skip a heart beat. The soundtrack is another thing to comment on, not only are the techno beats awesome, but I actually turn the volume up and dance to them myself (yes I know, I'm pathetic, sue me), they eerily remind me of Need For Speed 3's awesome beats, but what do you expect both games were under development by EA Canada. And finally let's not forget the ever so loud and realistic crowd noises. The fans in the stands would cheer when a nice pass is done, when a skater has a breakaway and when a goal is pulled off. It's too bad that the crowd doesn't toss their hats on the ice for hat tricks, like they do in Faceoff 2001.
Maneuvering your athletes is pretty much a piece of cake. The game makes good use of the left analog stick and I prefer using that rather than digital because it provides better feel for the game. Dual Shock is what I love, it's extremely powerful and you can feel every hit delivered to your body through the Dual Shock, that's a big plus in the controls, great job EA! The controls have remained the same, just tightened up for better performance and I've got nothing to complain about, that's that. If you've been behind the NHL series then you've got nothing to worry about, you'll be welcomed home gently. As the last NHL game to be released on the Playstation, NHL 2001 is without a doubt the best NHL game on the Playstation. Let's just see if history can repeat itself, when NHL 2006 is released on the PS2 during its last year when PS3 hype is going through the roof and Sony will be shipping 2 million PS3 units. Anyways, this is one great way for the NHL series to make an exit from the 32-bit scene, kudos to EA Sports/Canada for giving the NHL franchise as well as the fans the best going away game possible, fans who don't have a PS2 ticket in their hands, MUST go out and grab NHL 2001, especially if you have two multi-taps and seven friends.