NHL FaceOff 2003 REVIEW

NHL FaceOff 2003 Review (PS2)

They really should have named this game NHL HipCheck 1998. I could really just end the review there, but I have actually been pulling for 989 sports to make a comeback and I want to be fair. However, where I could see that effort was made in this years version of GameDay and GameBreaker to produce a quality title, I really don’t see that with FaceOff. It’s obvious that a financial commitment is not being made to this title and I feel for the programmers and production staff that work on these types of games that 989 has cranked out the last few years. I just keep asking the question if you are not going to try, than why bother?

Well enough of my editorializing. Let’s get to the review.

Here is where I got the clever name of NHL HipCheck, the main defensive move that is used entirely too much is the Hipcheck. Hooking is also used quite a bit, of course these defensive tactics are used quite a bit in real hockey, but the results vary, in FaceOff the results are very similar.

A hipcheck will usually result in a player being completely flattened and if he is near the bench he will go tumbling into the bench. Sounds OK, right? But it happens all the time and it doesn’t look very realistic. I am guessing they used Bryan Marchment for the motion capture since most of the hipchecks look like cheap shots. Also the players go into some goofy looking squat to load up for the hipcheck and if they miss you, they go flying by looking completely unrealistic.
I am the farthest thing from a graphics whore, but there is very little to like about this game graphically. It’s odd that the game actually looks better on the closer action cam than the high vertical cam, but either way it’s not much to look at. The cut scenes are OK and offer some amusement, the helmets look great but this is probably one of the worst looking PS2 titles I have seen.

The animations are very limited as well; they seem to spend a lot of time on animated big hits and very little on the subtle parts of the game like skating and shooting. The stance that defensive men take as they skate backward really reminds me of games from the SNES days. It is very robotic and stiff, not natural looking at all.

The Gameplay is not all bad and the game is at least playable. However it’s faults are too big to ignore. As I mentioned the animations are robotic and stiff, so is the gameplay. I honestly feel like I am watching code instead of a hockey game. The movements of the CPU players are way too predictable. The defensive men actually move in unison at times with absolutely no variation in how they respond to the puck.

You will get very tired of seeing the CPU try to hipcheck you as you try to cross the blueline and hook you if you get past them. The puck physics are kind of whacked at times as well, especially on the hooks, the puck will inexplicably go sliding way far away from you as you are hooked. There are also times that the puck will do a complete circle around the boards and even seem to pick up speed on the way.
On the plus side, the control is decent and the action is fast paced. With 10-minute periods I had pretty realistic scores and a realistic amount of scoring opportunities. The goalie AI is decent as far as stopping the puck, but not so hot when playing the puck.

Another good thing is that the on the higher difficulty levels it is not easy to score and a fair amount of passes are off target or intercepted. On the downside the lack of animations kills this positive aspect of the game. The CPU picks off every pass in the same manner, the puck magically appears on the tape and the CPU player is immediately headed off in the other direction. There are just too many frames missing in various animations and because of this, the realism suffers.

Darren Pang and Mike Emrick are pretty good, but the sound bites are limited, although I still get a kick out of Pang’s favorite saying, “Holy Jumping”, I have no idea what this means, but I like it.

The crowd noises are horrendous, they remind me of the first World Series Baseball on the Dreamcast, the booing and cheering sound very fake and aren’t used very well.

There is a season, playoff, tournament, shootout and career modes. The career mode is for 10 seasons and has absolutely no depth. At the end of the season when you go to sign free agents you find out that you can only decide to sign guys that the CPU determines, want to play for you. So basically you have no opportunity to bargain with any of the players you might want to help your team, you can only choose to sign or not sign the players the CPU offers you. The rookie draft is two rounds and is nothing special, just picking players from a list based on their ratings.

The shootout mode could be cool but at least against the CPU it lacks any real excitement.

A lot of people seem to look for things not to like about games, I like to take the opposite approach and I try to find things to like about games. There just isn’t much to like about FaceOff 2003 especially when a game like NHL 2K3 is on the market or a game like NHL Hitz is available for the arcade fans. The graphics are bad, the gameplay is below average and the career mode is weak, add it all up and it makes for a game I can’t really recommend to anyone.

NHL FaceOff 2003 Score
out of 10