Game Over Online ~ NHL 2001

GameOver Game Reviews - NHL 2001 (c) EA Sports, Reviewed by - Jimmy Clydesdale

Game & Publisher NHL 2001 (c) EA Sports
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 70MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 87%
Date Published Thursday, September 28th, 2000 at 08:50 PM

Divider Left By: Jimmy Clydesdale Divider Right

With the start of the 2000-2001 NHL season just around the corner, EA Sports is right on schedule with the release of NHL 2001. Year in and year out, the NHL series continues to be EA Sports' most consistent franchise. This year's edition is no different with expected, yet incredible, improvements in the visual and presentation department, improved customization features, and the addition of online play. However, before I go jumping on the 'NHL 2001 is the best hockey game to date' bandwagon, it should be noted that this year's edition continues to sport flaws that diehard hockey fanatics are going to go nuts over. So without further wait, let's drop the puck and get this game underway.

Before I begin nit-picking about NHL 2001 (what can I say, I'm Canadian), allow me to run down and explain the list of features in NHL 2001, as well as some of the high points in this year's game. As has become custom in recent years, NHL 2001 offers a wide variety of gaming modes. If you're looking to tie up your skates for a quick period or two, the Quick Game mode allows just that. If you're in the mood for a Shootout, that's also available. If you're looking to start your career off, the Season Play allows for both single season and career modes. And of course the usual Tournament and Playoff modes allow you to jump straight into the post-season or set-up an International tournament with some of the world's best. Last but not least, NHL 2001 features online play via the EA Sports lounge, where you can begin leagues with players from around the world. This is a much improved feature that is sure to have more gamers playing online than ever before.

To no one's surprise, NHL 2001 takes full advantage of both the NHL and NHLPA official licenses, as rosters are fully loaded with updated players for the coming season. As I'm sure you're well aware, the NHL is up to 30 teams in the league now and both the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets are ready for play in NHL 2001. Multiple jerseys are included for each team again this year, so you can dress in any number of home and away uniforms. NHL 2001 also comes complete with 20 International teams stocked with each country's respective players.

In terms of the General Manager position, the options remain the same from last year's edition. You'll have full control of your team's roster in terms of whom you want to dress and the line combinations you want to throw out on the ice. As always, you can make trades with other teams in the league as well as use the waiver wire to fill empty roster spots. Once the Stanley Cup has been won and the NHL Awards handed out, the same sequence of events in the off-season remain in tact in NHL 2001. You'll begin by inserting young blood into your line-up via the entry draft and follow that up by possibly adding veterans in the free agent war. Unfortunately, few things have been done to change the off-season and general manager options, so there are still a number of gripes I have with this particular area, but I'll save those tasty bits for later.

Visually, NHL 2001 is by far the best-looking hockey game to date. In a single word, awesome. Running at the higher resolutions, the atmosphere is incredible. Player textures have been improved greatly, particularly facial features. You'll instantly recognize your favourite players and there are fewer generic faces than ever before. NHL 2001 is full of character and animation. Players will jostle with one another after the whistle's been blown, others will tap the goalie on the pads before faceoffs in their zone. When there's too much rough stuff going on, captains will get lectures from the referee in front of the penalty box and coaches are as adamant as ever when things don't go the team's way. Every possible event that might occur on the ice has been accounted for and the animations in general are seamless with no jerkiness whatsoever. Bone crushing body checks looks as painful as ever and new goalie animations have been added that will see the masked man sprawl and block pucks in all sorts of new ways.

When the visuals are combined with the fantastic audio components, NHL 2001 really comes across much like a television broadcast. Whether it's the menu music or the tunes blared over the loud speaker as the fans cheer for the home team, it's all done with precision. The play-by-play is provided by Jim Hughson and Bill Clement and while the comments during play can get rather repetitive, the between-action comments provided by the duo are both entertaining and informative as they reach back to previous games, previous seasons and player milestones to provide a constant flow of solid commentary. The NHL series has always been the best of the EA Sports bunch when it comes to audio and this year's edition is no different.

Last but not least, before I start to nit pick, are a few tiny additions in terms of gameplay. The first is a new momentum bar that appears throughout the game. Whenever a particular team seems to be dominating the play, getting excellent scoring chances, delivering solid checks and just playing smart, exciting hockey, the momentum bar will sway in their favour. The momentum bar shows which of the teams is on a roll and often reminds the opposing team that it might be time to dump the puck for an icing call just to relieve the pressure and momentum against them. It's an excellent way of showing just how important pressure can be during a game. NHL 2001 also features 17 sliders this year, allowing you to tweak just about every aspect of the game, from overall speed to fatigue in relation to both players and goalies. Finally, NHL 2001 is as customizable as ever now that EA Sports has improved the Face in the Game feature and added the ability to create an entirely new team, complete with custom jerseys. Nothing beats creating a team consisting solely of your friends and their faces.

Alright, this is the part of the review that diehard hockey fanatics will want to pay attention too. If you're looking for an exciting arcade hockey game, I'm sure you've already been sold on the experience just from what I've mentioned so far. If it's an accurate hockey simulation you're after, you'd better take some of the following points into consideration. The most glaring flaw, and one that'll have goalie coaches tearing their hair out, is the fact that there are far too many 'soft' goals allowed by the netminders. Weak shots from the blue line and beyond can really ruin a hard fought hockey game and although it's certainly bound to happen in real life once in awhile, it occurs with frequency in NHL 2001. It's quite interesting, really, because the goalies seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to the more difficult shots, yet the floaters elude them constantly.

There are a handful of other gameplay issues as well. Unchanged from last year, opposing teams don't know how to run a powerplay. You can literally pick up the puck in your own end, rush to centre ice and turn around and head back behind your net. Rinse, repeat, and two minutes later the powerplay is over none the worse for wear. Opposing teams don't seem to forecheck well on the powerplay at all. Line changes can cause a bit of a problem too, as fellow linemates that aren't controlled by human players often don't come off the ice when told too unless the puck has been completely iced. Odd man rushes are the order of the day because opposing defencemen, much like last season, don't know how to take a player out of the rush. They go after the puck, which is a no-no in hockey. Always take the body! I don't know how many 3-2 and 2-1's I was able to get because the opposing team was afraid to knock me down. Once you get around the net though, don't expect to stand around for very long, that's one of the few instances when opposing defenceman won't think twice about knocking you down on your ass. EA Sports has done nothing to improve fighting either, as once a brawl begins, it's simply a matter of who can mash the buttons the fastest. There's little to no skill involved in a fight and you may even witness a heavyweight get taken out by a lightweight due to the lack of thought put into this aspect.

The speed boost remains in NHL 2001 and once again, you can use it endlessly to skate past opposing players who don't seem to know how to skate fast themselves. Of course, all of these issues I've discussed can be adjusted via the 17 various sliders provided in NHL 2001, but remember this law of physics: for every action, there's a reaction. If you adjust one slider, it will affect the action in a number of ways. Just when you think you've got the gameplay issues knocked off, you'll realize that the general manager options can be taken advantage of when bigger men become just as valuable as superstars. It's a give and take situation and although it's certainly much improved over last year, there are still lots of holes.

Speaking of general manager options, there is very little changed in this department. Free agent signings, entry draft, dispersal draft, roster changes, line changes, player trades, its all here. Of course that means I have the same gripes as I did with last year's version. For one, too many players retire prematurely. I don't care if you're point production decreased by 50% over the previous year, you're still 25 and your best years are ahead of you! The free agent department seems as random as ever and I wish somebody would let me know ahead of time which of my players are about to become free agents by season's end, so at least I can trade them off at the deadline and make a youth movement. The entry draft remains the same, but I wish there was some way of developing junior players without having to throw them on the roster right away. Lord knows if they don't play though, their stats are going to decrease, so why not include an option to send them to a 'farm team' where they can develop their skills in a positive OR negative manner? The general manager options still lack consistency and overall control but at least we have options, unlike a couple of years ago.

What can I say, I'm Canadian, I expect my hockey games to excel both in the arcade and simulation department, and while NHL 2001 is certainly the best in the series to date, it's also far from perfect. But if you're a fan of the coolest sport on earth, don't miss out on NHL 2001, it's unquestionably the best hockey game out there.


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