NHL 2001 (PC) review
"Season, of course, is where the meat of the game lies. Pick your team (including the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets expansion teams) and play through their 2000-2001 schedule, attempting to grab the elusive Stanley Cup."
Hockey. Arguably the fastest sport on earth, the Canadian-born game has evolved to one of the most popular events in modern sports. Ever since the Genesis and SNES days, Electronic Arts has seemed to be able to take the game of hockey and mold it into an enjoyable, fun gameplay experience on home video game systems. With the introduction of full-fledged 3D videogames, they turned to making a formula for their sports games (which included Madden, among others) for the PlayStation and other 3D systems, as well as the PC. Now, the series has moved to a 2001 installment, and, with only a few faults, some minor, some unforgivable, NHL 2001 is a wonderful title for any hockey fan, and can run reasonably well on machines without too much zing in their specs.
First off, the presentation is done very well. After a less-than-spectacular, but far from hideous, rendered opening scene, you're treated to the attractive menu screen, navigated with the mouse. Season, Exhibition, Shootout - it's all there, even online play. I haven't felt the desire to try online multiplayer though, as the single player keeps me coming back so much, I feel I've more than gotten my money's worth. Anyway, Exhibition brings you to, what else, a quick game setup, where you (or several other players) can choose your team, choose the controller setup, edit lines, change jerseys, give player and goalie boosts (which are basically handicaps) - the level of options is incredible. A Shootout is basically the same thing, except instead of an actual game, it brings you to the classic series of breakaways, player versus goalie, five men a side. Personally, I don't think the loading time is worth the shootout, as it is extremely short and considerably challenging.
Season, of course, is where the meat of the game lies. Pick your team (including the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets expansion teams) and play through their 2000-2001 schedule, attempting to grab the elusive Stanley Cup. Throughout the season, you can trade with other teams (considering the deal is reasonable - unfair trades are automatically rejected by the computer, a welcome additon), customize your team to your liking, create your superstar players (which can actually boast your face, provided you have a quality JPEG or bitmap, and can handle hotspots), sign or trade said players, and even simulate the season up to a certain date, if you're feeling lazy. Of course, you don't have to play all 82 regular season games - it can be shortened, but what's the point in that, eh?
In the actual bouts, gameplay is spectacular. I personally use my trusty SideWinder, and the controls on it can be customized; a gamepad comes highly recommended. A keyboard can also be used, however, and it can also be mapped to your preferred keys. The game's clock is, of course, 20 minutes per period, but the clock's rate can be changed to a shorter span, such as five minutes. As for the actual game: it is fast, furious, and a hell of a lot of fun. Players can check, boost, shoot, pass, poke-check - if the real players can do it, chances are their polygon counterparts can too. Goalie animations are teriffic, though there appears to be some problems in the colision detection, and saves seem to happen haf a second in advance. Nonetheless, with the fast pace of the game, most of it is undetectable, apparent only in the replays. Lines can be set to be changed manually, and the computer generally does a good job, though sometimes they choose the wrong times to switch, such as when you want to set up a play in the opponent's zone, which often results in a turnover and, as a result, a breakaway. During the occasional fights, players duke it out in a barrage of high and low punches. Winning a fight will raise your momentum, while losing it will, of course, lower it. Game misconducts for fight instigating seem to be a little too common, and appear to be completely random as to when they happen, as well as who gets them. If it were a boxing game, NHL 2001 would be horrible, to put it frankly. As a hockey game, however, NHL 2001 delivers very well, with gameplay as strong as Arnold Schwartzenegger's long-lost twin brother.
The graphics are very smooth, even on my crappy 8 megabyte video card. The framerate is rather choppy, however, especially when the game switches major animations, like shooting or checking. Otherwise, everything is as it should be. Player animations in general are fine, though the off-play sequences can be a little annoying, especially when replays are shown after practically every play, no matter how unspectacular they may be.
Sound is decent, with no real strengths, but no weaknesses either. The commentators, one of whom is ESPN's Bill Clement, can get rather repetitive after a while, but their comments contain enough variety not too seem too redundant, though they are far from spectacular. Play-by-play is also fairly weak. Sound effects, however, are rather good. Checks, shots, pings, sirens, even trash-talking - all the basic sounds are included. Sometimes the crowd's noise can drown out the commentators, though it's up to you to decide whether or not that's a bad thing.
With the ability to create players or teams, play online (which I haven't, as I mentioned before, had the desire to play, as the single- and single-machine multi-player modes in themselves are enough to keep me busy enough), and travel through a season, with my beloved Sabres, no less, NHL 2001 is a wonderful title for my PC, and, with its rather cheap price, as well as its rather low minimum system specs, is a worthy purchase for any hockey fan, even if they aren't hardcore fanatics. With a rather addictive gameplay engine, decent graphics and sounds, and wonderful controls (again, a gamepad is highly recommended), EA's hockey title delivers a howitzer to the top shelf, and scores a game-winning goal.
Staff review by Zack M (Date unavailable)
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