NHL Hockey. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
Electronic Arts Sports body-checks the competition for a breakaway score with NHL Hockey, the sensational PC conversion of EA's best-selling cartridge game. Packed with in-depth statistics, managerial options, and more hard-hitting action than you can slam a puck at, this one's a hardcore hockey fan's dream come true.
Licensed by both the NHL and NHL Players Association, the game has 24 actual team names, colors, and logos. Real-life 28-man rosters feature such modern legends of the game as Patrick Roy, Adam Oates, Paul Coffey, Mario Lemieux, and Pavel Bure. Each player is rated in 15 skill attributes--from mobility and speed to shot power and aggressiveness--based on your choice of 1992-93 season or playoff stats. Play options include one- or two-player head-to-head or cooperative exhibition games, as well as a full 84-game season, complete with playoffs and Stanley Cup final. Scheduled hockey games can match the 1992-93 season or be randomly assigned by the computer.
Line editing couldn't be easier using the game's drag-and-drop graphic interface. Pull-down menus let you check player stats to devise the ultimate forward, defensive, penalty kill, and power play lines. Multiplayer leagues add exciting new dimensions, such as scouting reports and player trades. A sophisticated league database system allows individual team managers to import, export, merge, and update league stats as the season progresses.
Hit the ice with the most realistic hockey action seen on the PC. The rink is viewed vertically, from a three-quarter angle, with smooth eight-way scrolling across more than six full screens. This perspective allows larger-than-average characters and expressive animation--everything from high-sticking and slashing to poke checks and slap shots. Control methods include joystick (preferred), mouse, and keyboard. Joystick response is fast and tight, with a short-throw stick--such as the Gravis PC GamePad--highly recommended. Periods can be set to 5, 10, or 20 minutes, and you can save and resume games in progress. Pause the game at any time to enter the press box to review stats, change lines, or study instant replays. VCR-style controls offer excellent forward and reverse single-frame replays. In league play, you can also save replays as highlight films. Single-game stat categories include five team, eight player, and three goalie performance ratings.
Hockey purists will notice a few shortcomings in the game's arcade action. Foremost is the limited puck handling of your onscreen characters, who are confined to simple passing and aimed shots. Executing a one-timer (a tricky pass-shot combination) is as close as the game lets you come to making a skilled offensive move. There's no way to control the strength or loft of your hit, nor the ability to enact such moves as a drop pass, give-and-go, and snap pass. Also missing are penalty shots, direct goalie control, and closeup views of puck drops. Low-resolution 320 x 200 VGA graphics produce somewhat blocky character features, although overall graphic quality is high. Sound is also well incorporated, including digitized speech, crowd response, referee calls, and more than 70 samples of organ music.
NHL Hockey pulls off an impressive hat trick, delivering frenetic action, stats galore, and challenging league play. Hopefully, this game provides only a taste of sports titles yet to come from EA Sports.