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NHL Hitz Pro
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 9
Sound: 9.2
Control: 9
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 8.9
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Midway
Number Of Players: 1-4 (2 Online)

Taking gamers back to the time where games werenít as realistic and quick reflexes were all you needed to be successful at a sports game, Midwayís over-the-top sports titles have always been hot sellers.. This is why it was very surprising when Midway announced they were moving their franchises in a more realistic direction. Now you can play full 5 on 5 hockey, with full penalties, full rosters, and even season and franchise modes. While this may seem like it would slow the game down and suck out all the fun, itís not the case, and this yearís NHL Hitz Pro is one sweet game.

Hitz offers up a wide range of play options, including: Exhibition, Franchise, Season, Playoffs, Pick-up, Online, and Hockey School. Each mode is robust, and offers a ton of value in its own right. Love or hate the game, you canít accuse Midway of skimping on gameplay modes Ė thereís really something for everyone here. Online play, which is exclusive to the PS2 is great fun to play, and is surprisingly fast for an online title. The menus are well organized and easy to navigate, which is a plus for an online game, a genre where menus always seem to be an afterthought.

Franchise mode is lots of fun, but not exactly what you would expect it to be. You start with a computer created team and by winning qualifying games, you can work your way up the NHL. Along the way you can earn powerups by winning or accomplishing certain tasks like getting an assist or a goal with a certain player. Some people wonít dig the fact that they canít start off with a traditional NHL team, but most people will find the unique twist on the franchise mode refreshing.

The Pick-Up mode is similar to what last yearís Hitz was like. You can pick from a team of kids or various other groups of misfit players, decide how many goals you want to play up to, and drop the puck. The normal hockey rink is replaced with an outdoor one, and each different area really adds a unique feel to the match. Since there are no announcers at the game, and there arenít any mammoth crowds, it really does a great job of recreating the feel of a neighborhood game of hockey.

NHL Hitz Proís gameplay experience is a good one, and one that can be tailored exactly to your personal preferences. The ways in which you can alter the game are truly staggering, and ensure that if thereís even one thing you donít like about the way the game is playing, you can change it. From changing the frequency and difficulty of fights, the auto-aim on shots, or even pass accuracy, you can do it all.

This isnít to say that youíre going to immediately go and tweak a bunch of options because the gameplayís broken, cause itís not. While the game is far, far too easy on the first two play modes, it is plenty tough on the harder levels. Check out these results from my first three games:

Rookie: I won 19-2

Pro: I won 15-0

Legend: I lost 10-1. This is the hardest difficulty.

My roommate blew up his opponent 38-0 in his first game against the computer on Rookie, so obviously if you have any skill at all, youíre going to want to start out on All-Star.

While the game has big shots, and even bigger checks, there is some emphasis on ďrealĒ hockey, at least some of the basics. There is a stamina meter, so you have to make line changes, though you can turn this off or have the computer make the changes for you. Passing is key to working the puck up the ice, especially against the strong checking of the harder levels. Instead of going for the big hit every time, you can perform poke checks, or show a little finesse and steal the puck. You can certainly play the game by just barreling down the ice and blasting a slapshot, but the game rewards skillful play.

Big props to Midway for giving the option of turning off the infuriating ďcatch-upĒ which does nothing but frustrate anyone whoís beating the hell out of a team, only to have them hang in because your players are suddenly inept. Thank you

The one area where Hitz isnít outstanding is its graphics. Outside of a few nice touches, theyíre pretty disappointing. The biggest problem is the erratic framerate, which rears its ugly head even before the game starts. If it canít even keep up while the camera pans from the scoreboard to the ice, you know itís not going to be able to keep up with the action once the game starts. Unfortunately, it gets so bad near the crease that youíll often miss seeing shots go in the net altogether.

The playersí faces look awesome and very realistic, but their bodies are blocky and there doesnít seem to be much variety in body type. There are some great animations, like players flying through the glass, climbing back over the boards and finishing their shifts sans helmet, and some good looking saves, but overall, the game doesnít look very polished.

Hitz has some terrific audio that will really keep you pumped up while you play. A rocking soundtrack can be turned on and will actually play during the game, and the crowd is truly wild. Itís very gratifying to hear the roar of the crowd when you score a big goal, and itís equally painful to hear them boo you when things arenít going your way. If you think youíve heard a raucous videogame before, you havenít heard Hitz.

The announcers are poignant and do a nice job of keeping up with the action. Unlike the horrendous color commentary of MLB Slugfest, the commentary here is funny and does a nice job of blending in. If youíve got a nice stereo, youíll get a kick out of cranking this game up and rattling the windows.

Overall, the game is just a blast to play. People that have never played a hockey game before, or ones that are generally intimidated by a big learning curve should be able to pick up the game and have a good time. Itís not the prettiest game, thatís for sure, but itís lights out when it comes to game play. If you were hesitant because of the gameís touted ďrealismĒ fear not, cause itís as wild and crazy as ever.


10/13/2003   Aaron Thomas