NHL 2000 is simply an awesome game. If you're a hockey fan and don't mistake this game for a hockey broadcast on ESPN while you're playing it, then you must be holding out for photo-realism. Since that won't be available for a long time, I'll take this version for now.
Electronic Arts has always produced great hockey games. In fact, I'd say they're better than the John Madden series in terms of recreating the sport with an eye for fine details. From the Jaws theme which plays when the San Jose Sharks are on a power play in their home rink to slapshots which can shatter the plexiglass above the boards, this series of games has always been peppered with great little moments, and the 2000 edition is no exception.
Before you even play a game there is a wealth of detail to explore. If you're in the middle of a season or tournament you can check out tons of stats. If you think you're a Scotty Bowman in the making, you can head to the coaching section and tweak your team's strategies. Want to play a little more dump-and-chase on offense? Prefer the neutral zone trap? Set it up for your team. You can also practice your plays, which is fun. You get to skate around your empty home arena with your team divided in half and practice shooting and passing to your heart's content. It's weird hearing only the swoosh of the skates on the ice.
Once you get into a game, though, it will knock your socks off. Bill Clement and Jim Hughson provide the play-by-play and color commentary, and they are simply great. You start with a long shot of the arena and the closing seconds of the national anthem. You see a split screen with each goalie and his pertinent stats on each side while the announcers talk about them and then you see the players skating around before the face-off. You can skip through this and other animations by hitting A if you want. I find it fun to watch because it makes me feel like I'm watching a hockey game on TV and have suddenly been given the power to control one of the teams.
The players are really well rendered. You get to see plenty of close-ups of their faces; Electronic Arts did a great job of capturing their likenesses. While they're not perfect and they kind of remind me of marionettes for some reason, they're still astounding to look at. Every time there's a stop in the action during the game you get to see close-ups of the players as they skate around. When there's a penalty you even see the offending player argue with the referee, who doesn't want to hear it and tells the guy to get in the box.
The gameplay overall is just great. The players look very realistic as they skate around the ice, and the game takes real life physics into account so that you can't just turn on a dime and start skating in the opposite direction if you want. The big hit button is fun; opposing players go down hard when they're hit. If you want to have some more fun, you can hit other players after the whistle has blown, but be careful or you'll get called for a penalty.
The crowd is really into the game. They cheer and scream when the action gets intense and even chant every so often. Given the lackluster crowds in the John Madden football series, this is a nice touch. The Madden games have also lacked in the commentary department, but NHL 2000 in contrast has two guys who won't shut up, which I like. They give you facts about the players' early careers and talk about how they're doing in the game and season so far. Pop-up graphics also give you plenty of information every so often, which just adds to the real-life feel.
My only gripe with this game has to do with the clock. You can set the periods to last for anywhere from five to 20 minutes, but the clock always counts to 20 minutes and goes quicker depending on how short you set the period, which means the minutes fly by four times as fast if you're playing with five-minute periods. I prefer to have the clock show five minutes if that's what I selected. It's hard to gauge how much playing time you really have left in the game if it's getting close to the end and you're thinking about calling a time-out or pulling your goalie. Penalties are also over very quickly after they begin, which is frustrating when you're on the power play.
Overall, though, this is a fabulous game with tons of features and as realistic a look and feel as I've seen in a sports game yet. Don't pass it by if you're a hockey fan.
Graphics: Electronic Arts says that "If it's in the game, it's in the game," and they're right with this title.
Sound: Marvelous. The play-by-play is great, the crowd is great, the sounds of the game are great.
Enjoyment: I simply love this game.
Replay Value: Play a season, go through the draft and sign free agents, and then play another one. Or have some fun with a tournament.
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