NHL 2005 Review (PS2)
Another sport, another coming tragedy. Why cant owners and players just get along and realize what they do, they are doing for the fans. Without the fans all this crap with them locking out the players is meaningless, which for all intensive purposes will turn the NHL into what once was a good hockey league. Luckily for the real life fans you can go to a minor league hockey game, probably travel a lot less to get there, unless of course your in an NHL city, and it will be a hell of a lot cheaper. Not to mention that the game is still just as fast and hard hitting as the pros, they just make a few more mistakes. I enjoy watching the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League here in my neck of the woods in the Midwest. Sure they aren’t a full-fledged minor league hockey league (just a junior hockey league), but they have some very supportive fans, and a very dedicated community, and my family and myself enjoy watching them.
Falling off my tangent I now bring you the only choice NHL fans have at this time and that is video game hockey. This is a segment of the sports gaming industry that seems the hardest to sell. EA Sports has always managed to put out decent sales numbers with their NHL franchise and this year with “NHL 2005”, EA Sports hopes to continue if not build upon that trend. Thankfully over the past couple years ESPN Videogames (formerly Sega Sports) has built a contender as well that has given EA some much needed competition and has driven them to push their limits on what they can deliver to the gaming fans.
”NHL 2005” is not a slouch when it comes to features. The main feature, Dynasty, I will talk about shortly, but the smaller features also have some substance to them, depending on how you want to use them. First off you have the obligatory Play Now mode. After that you have Exhibition where you can practice and fine tune your skills. Season mode, where you can take any team through a single NHL season. Next are the newest modes in the EA Sports NHL series. World Cup of Hockey is a mode where you choose an international team and their opponents. Then you set them up in a round robin (every team plays each team in its ‘division’ once, twice, or three times) and the teams who place in the top 2 in their division advance onto the next round which is similar to a playoff. With the final goal in being the World Cup champion. This is very similar to how the World Cup is setup for soccer, so if you are familiar with that you have a very good idea what is going on. Elite Leagues is an option that is similar to season mode except you are using teams from the Elite League. There are 3 leagues to choose from and several European based teams in each league. Once the season is over and you have been eliminated or have won the championship you must restart a brand new season.
EA Sports Free 4 All is a new mode that is just as it says, a free for all. The unique piece is that it is all against all pitting you and up to three other humans against a goalie on a half rink. To win you either score the most goals in a set amount of time or score a set amount of goals. You also can add two defenders to the mix to make things a little harder. While this was fun the first couple of times it really isn’t something you will spend much time with even with just one other player, 4 players with a Multitap, however, would be a lot more fun as things will get pretty wild with 4 sets of arms flailing around.
Playing online also is back for the PS2 version of “NHL 2005”. There hasn’t been much in changes made here. The couple games I played online were both smooth and luckily I had a couple of good opponents that played a solid game of hockey. I was lucky both times and had opponents with a good connection, so your experience could change depending on the opponent you choose and yours or their connection.
Getting back now to Dynasty mode shows a few new additions are awaiting the user. Taking a page from the Madden series, the “NHL 2005” franchise mode has you involved in nearly every possible aspect of running a NHL franchise, except for locking your players out of the league. The depth of things you can adjust and set is mind boggling. Not only is the micro-management deep, it also is necessary to keep on top of it to keep your players in their best possible playing form. Ignore some of the micro-management and your players will suffer, especially if you are losing. Flipside goes for you if you are winning in that your team wont need to be managed as much. Profits though will help your team development and your franchise in the end as the profits are tied to upgrades that can be made. These can be coaching developments, or even facility upgrades that will offer a much higher potential for your players’ careers. If there was anything to complain about with the options in Dynasty mode it would be that it is not something that a sim player wants to just blast their way through. There are only 10 seasons maximum for Dynasty mode, so sim players will move through this rather quickly, where as those who play the majority of their games could be busy for quite sometime.
There is however a couple of things missing that really ticked me off in “NHL 2005”. First off is I could not find a create a player option anywhere. There is a create a team option, but all you are able to do is add existing players to the league, which in turn creates duplicates of those players, plus the created team cant even be used in Dynasty mode, which makes it in my opinion rather useless. Another omission is not only the trend of EA Sports to get rid of what I thought was a unique feature in the EA Bio, but to get rid of user tracking all together was just plain and simply a dumb move.
Wow, a musical soundtrack that not only is pretty varied but actually damn good. Purely my opinion, but hearing Faith No More and Franz Ferninand on the same soundtrack alone was great for my ears. The biggest downside with the soundtrack is that is one of the smaller soundtracks I have seen in an EA Sports game in quite some time. The commentary is still the same duo that has been there for quite a while now. They still sound the same as they always have, to some that probably will be a downside; I though have enjoyed the commentary in the series for quite sometime. With all the wild names in here, especially the foreign names on the international and elite league teams, I thought I would hear a lot of numbers, but that wasn’t the case. I heard a lot of names being called, so there was some recordings down for this years game, just nothing very major outside of the names.
The on ice sounds are also about the same. The hits sound like hits, and with the amount of hits there are in this game it gets rather annoying after a while, more to be explained on that later. The arena music fits the atmosphere of the arena, and I like the varying horns there are in the game, especially for the created teams, I still wish I could have had a created team in Dynasty mode though. The crowd chants can get entertaining to hear also, especially if you are blowing out the home team, as the heckling gets quite funny. Outside of the sounds above there is not a whole lot else there in the terms of unique sounds. The rest of the sounds belong to the gameplay itself. Glass breaking is still a very satisfying tone to hear.
Still a staple of EA Sports games is the quality of the graphics. Even on the PS2 the graphics still look good. Unfortunately for EA Sports is that the gap of the graphics between them and ESPN Videogames is drastically shrinking, with ESPN bypassing EA in the quality of the graphics. If I had to guess I would say EA has few plans to reinvent their graphics until the next generation of consoles come out, so all they can do is just tweak and try and make what they have look crisper. This is exactly what was done here. Yes the players’ faces look damn good. The few players I would actually recognize on the street actually are recognizable here as well on close-up replays.
The arenas also still are very good looking. The details are seen in the opening sequences, varying cut scenes, and replays. The crowd in “NHL 2005” has been dramatically improved this year. Now they actually look like a crowd and even react at times like one. This is just a minor detail however and really does nothing but add to the background visuals. The fluidness of the players is still solid. I never saw any signs of slowdown while playing in any instance. Pace is as fast as you want it or as slow as you want it depending on how you want to play the game. Even the menus are easier to navigate and laid out very well. Unfortunately for that the graphics do right the gameplay has some problems.
Starting things off with the gameplay shows that EA has added a new revolutionary control tweak called Open Ice Control. Open Ice Control was something I didn’t think I would need much of. I have been getting much better at hockey since last years ESPN NHL Hockey came out last year. It helped refine my video game hockey playing and helped me understand the sport better then I ever had before. After ignoring Open Ice Control for quite some time I decided ok, now that I have an idea what EA’s game is going to play like I might as well try and turn this into a hockey game. So finally I dropped down a difficulty level and decided to play around with this new control. Out of the gate it was cumbersome to use, but brilliant in design. The design of the control is so that it made me actually feel like I was two human players playing against the AI. So many times have I had that feeling when playing against two human opponents online at the same time. With Open Ice Control I was able to skate down the rink and then switch to another player, set myself up and BOOM; score an awesome looking goal or setup and even wilder shot from one of my other teammates. The rewards for learning how to play with Open Ice Control are excellent in execution, as long as you give yourself the chance to learn it and practice it.
Another new addition this year is the Face Off Playbook. When getting ready for the face-off you have the option of setting your team up in three different face off formations. Conservative, Normal, and Aggressive. Each one has its own reasons and rewards for being there, and when learned how to use in the right situations, can add a new breakaway element right from the face off. Making shots also has been tweaked this year as there are now two different buttons used for making shots, but only one of these will be used successfully for one timers, which adds a little bit of skill to effectively getting goals with one timers.
On ice gameplay outside of these new additions is relatively the same as last year except that the action and movements are much more refined. Momentum feels and looks more realistic than it ever has before and the dekes are player specific for the bigger named players, which adds some personalization elements to the team you choose. With all the positives I have mentioned, it ended out taking me quite a while before deciding if I liked or disliked this game. There are elements that really made me frustrated and I kept questioning myself why I kept on playing this game. I guess on one hand that means something was done right to keep me playing, but when I keep questioning game after game I begin to wonder just how long this will last in my library.
As I just mentioned I had issues with the gameplay. My biggest issue was the reactions of the controller. Majority of the time I didn’t have too many issues, but there were other times where my players were not reacting, especially when trying to switch during a breakaway. Usually when I about to get into a critical defensive situation with a breakaway I would have a hard time switching and getting a player to react. Maybe this is what they intended but it is frustrating. Especially since the momentum of the player was heading the direction I wanted them to be going and then when I switch they would not react to a change of direction (not even in a momentum type movement change).
Another complaint I have is that somewhere hidden in the gameplay is a game of hockey, but it can only be found once you get over all the excessive hits. I don’t mind hitting while playing hockey as it is just as much a part of my video game experience as a lot of others, but when I hit more then pass there is something wrong. I was able to finally get my style of offense going but I had to definitely get creative to avoid getting plastered every time one of my players received the puck. Generally if you run into another player the odds of getting the puck were there, but here in “NHL 2005” you the vast majority of the time have to hit the other player to have any chance of getting the puck. To me this feels like I should be playing NHL Hitz, as the emphasis on hitting is about the same in feel. If that is the case just give me NHL Hitz and the “NHL 2005” franchise and I will be happy as I know that is what I am getting. Otherwise I will continue to question why I keep playing this game time and time again.
It is such a hard decision on how to rate this game. While it does things right and has a ton of replay value, being called “NHL Hockey” might be going too far. Fans of the ‘sport’ of hockey are going to be frustrated by the extreme emphasis of arcade gameplay. So frustrated they are going to wonder when Midway’s next title will be coming out to get the true arcade hockey video game. Those who are looking for a more simulation based hockey experience also better look elsewhere. That leaves the video game players who want a game that has some longevity but don’t really care about how they get it. They are going to get satisfaction from plastering players all over the rink, as well as thrive on buzzer to buzzer contact; those are the ones that are going to buy this game. If you are that player pick it up. If not look closely around you at the other titles and pick up the one that is selling for twenty bucks or more cheaper, then you will find what you had been looking for in a hockey action. Since this is the only pro hockey action you will be seeing for quite some time that has NHL in the name.