NHL Faceoff 2003 Review
Without a doubt, hockey titles are one of the most exciting and enjoyable sports titles when it comes to videogames. EA Sports has long been the standard for excellence with their NHL series, and Sega Sports always seems to excel with the 2K label. 989 Sports have been attempting to compete with the big boys for awhile now, and in some instances have come very close in their sports titles. However, it seems NHL Faceoff 2003 will not be in that category, as it is a rather poor interpretation of the game of hockey. With three other very quality hockey games released this year, it's obvious that 989 Sports' attempt will once again fall into the area of lost potential.
Graphically, NHL Faceoff 2003 is far below the average of most PS2 titles and does no justice to those looking for an eye-catching hockey experience. The player models are quite lackluster and display poor detail throughout the game. The arenas and various environments are done with accuracy, but are no more than backgrounds for uninspired play. Texturing effects are extremely deprived and exhibit dreary models to play with; all in all, Faceoff 2003 isn't very pretty to look at.
As for player animation, let me say I have never experienced worse handling in a hockey game. Although average when skating in the open ice, maneuvering becomes very difficult around other opponents. The motion is very sketchy and seems to jump around quite often. While on defense, attempting to check players in the open ice is horrific and portrayed in such a fashion that you no longer want to play the game. As you move towards a player it seems that either you or he just skips out of the way and are left with a big slap in the face. Checking is one of the most fun aspects of hockey titles, and when it is depicted as such, I have no other option than to gripe about it.
The gameplay of Faceoff 2003 dwells on many of the facets just explained. With deficient animation and major control issues, it's very difficult to stand out in the overall gameplay region. The skating style doesn't feel right to me and the other mechanisms such as shooting and passing are extremely flawed. Each motion is extremely jerky and really starts to get annoying after awhile, as the players aren't smooth and tend to look quite artificial. Staying on that topic, let's focus on the problems with the AI. The computer defense is usually so aggressive they often concentrate at least players on one player. This would be fine if you were actually able to see where your other offensive players are. Most of the time, it's you in a corner with three defensive players hacking away at you. Then when you hope to pass the puck it goes nowhere near your teammate and usually ends up across the ice for a blatant icing call. For me, playing NHL Faceoff became quite frustrating and little fun, not to mention I was forced to drastically increase the game speed to make the game flow even a little bit. The problem with this is that it took even more away from the realism of hockey and therefore diminished the value of the game. Sadly, this is probably the worst hockey title released this year.
As for the game modes, it's about what you'd expect. The game contains Quick Start, Exhibition, Practice, Season, Playoffs, Tournament, Shootout, and Career. Overall, I was very pleased with this aspect of the game, and it did entail a worthy amount of depth in the game. The Career mode is pretty detailed with draft and retirement options. If only the genuine gameplay aspects were more solid these area wouldn't be in vain.
The sound category for the game was average but suffered from numerous announcer problems. It was very generic and became quite repetitive over time. The voices of Darren Pang and Steve Logan even resembled a computer voice over time, that's how monotone and tiresome it became. As for the in-game sounds, like I said it was very average. The skating sounds were nothing spectacular and the shot and checking noises weren't as explosive as I'd hoped. It seemed usually that the sounds were simply recycled and had no unique characteristics about them. When it comes to hockey games, the piercing crashes against the boards and the sharp sound of skates moving across the ice is what transcends them from the monotony of other titles; NHL Faceoff, though, falls right into the category of regularity.
The control in NHL Faceoff is poor, as I've stated. The unbalanced control scheme truly brings this game down and promotes an unrealistic environment in hockey. The jerky motion combined with terrible game physics provide a feeble portrayal of sports titles in general, especially hockey. The main complaints with gameplay derive from control issues, and it's sad for 989 Sports that this is the issue. If they would have spent the time working on control issues, the gameplay would have been directly related in a positive manner and significantly increased its overall value.
The replay value is another case of lost potential, as there are the necessary modes in this game to provide excellent replayability. However, the gameplay is such that it makes you not want to play the game, therefore nullifying any possibilities of a long lasting enjoyable game. In the end, NHL Faceoff 2003 is not an entertaining game and provides little in the way of realistic hockey. There are other hockey titles out right now that shatter the quality of 989 Sports' product. It's a simple decision if you're pondering buying this game, so take it from me that this is an obvious pass in the game store.
12/11/2002 Matthew Stensrud