NHL 2001 establishes itself as the premiere hockey game for the PC. Fans of the EA SPORTS series usually anticipate each new version to see what unique features have been added to those already existing. NHL 2001 doesn't disappoint with its improved online multiplayer capabilities and enhanced offensive and defensive AI skills.
The first notable improvement is in the form of amazing new graphics that extend realism with enhancements to arenas and new details for the hockey players, including facial expressions that are very convincing from a game players perspective. In fact, when players are whistled for a penalty and yell at the referee, you'll be amazed at how easy it is to recognize the NHL superstars.
The improved animations of the players feature several new moves available for offensive skaters and goaltenders. Unfortunately, unless you have a very fast machine, you'll probably need to turn off many of the advanced graphic features, such as the ice reflections, since they can bring gameplay to a halt. Conversely, if you're equipped with enough CPU power, leaving all the settings at maximum allows you full benefit of the eye candy.
Unless you're extremely proficient at using a keyboard to control gaming action, a gamepad should be considered a requirement for NHL 2001. Even the most basic moves, like shooting the puck, are nearly impossible with the keyboard. Controls are available for dumping the puck into the offensive zone along with the offensive fake and speed burst. The slap shot, wrist shot and one-timers display a meter to measure the power of each shot. Defensive moves include the ability to body check, hook, hold and, the favorite of most hockey players, execute a bone crushing hit. Practicing the wide assortment of offensive and defensive moves is a must for full enjoyment since they're such an integral part of gameplay.
Perhaps the only disappointing element of NHL 2001 is the lack of an upgrade to the play-by-play announcing. This isn't the fault of Bill Clement and Jim Hughson, who have long been associated with this series, but shows a lack of attention given to this area by the designers instead. The phrases are often repeated and, if you're a fan of the series, you've probably heard most of them hundreds of times. The on-ice sounds are very good and the crowd noises and player voices are superb.
While graphics, sound and animation are all important, a game such as NHL 2001 won't get much attention if the gameplay as a whole isn't up to par with the individual pieces. Fans of pure sports simulations may not find the gameplay overly appealing since it's based more on fast arcade style action. But, with some simulation elements thrown in, it's a good approach for most game players. A new feature, the momentum meter, allows players with below average skills to score several goals in a row once their team has "big mo" working for them. Not particularly accurate in terms of simulation, the new element adds to the overall excitement of the game.
Hockey fans are sure to enjoy NHL 2001. It offers impressive (albeit repetitive) audio, superb graphics and animation to go along with exciting gameplay and fans of both arcade and simulation-style sports games should be able to find some aspect to enjoy. Online play, customizable rosters that are available for download from the Internet and multiple season modes make this a game that should occupy the hard drive for a long time, at least until the next version is released.
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