Jason just reminded me, this is one of the things I wanted to post today.
As most of you know, and as if it’s not painfully obvious, I’m a hockey nut. This year the only hockey I will be playing is on X-Box, since for some reason I just can’t play competitively while I’m pregnant. Go figure.
Both Wayde and I (it’s a value Wayde has instilled in me) at importance on having the best NHL hockey game available. We once played on the PC, but now that we have an X-Box, it has become our platform of choice.
There has been an interesting development in the land of computerized hockey games this year when it comes to hockey. Long time champion Electronic Arts has been on the top of the heap for many years, but this year Sega has taken a leap into the ring to challenge the title of Best Hockey Game of the Year.
Last month, when EA NHL 2003 came out, we rented it from a local video store for a few days to check it out. It was pretty cool, but nothing spectacular. I did like the pop and alternative music that played in between plays and in the main menus, it added some flavor. The gameplay really hadn’t changed that much from the year before, but the graphics were much better than last year’s X-Box version (the colors were washed out, the porting to X-Box from PC didn’t work very well, I think). The player profiles and collector cards are a cool addition, but also was a feature from last year. I didn’t feel like they put much into making gameplay and AI changes, maybe they thought they were trying to improve perfection? Overall, EA still makes a good product but one big lacking feature that Sega does have is online play. Now, myself, I don’t put too much weight on this feature, but Wayde does and I’m sure most of the general gaming community does as well. One thing that definitely sucked about EA’s version is that, when playing a Season, you could NOT just opt to play one team and then have either a Player 2 or Computer play opposite of you. It was either all or none. And lastly, and I forget what it’s called, but EA has this feature where the crowd noise lowers, the screen turns red, the camera closes in on the player, the game play slows down a tad, and you hear a heartbeat pounding when you end up on a breakaway. I hate that. I think it *can* be turned off, but it happened somewhat infrequently, I just put up with it. (Besides, finding it in the menus would be a pain.)
Last night we got Sega NHL 2K3 and, well, it rocks. Sega’s gameplay is actually much more realistic than EA’s, which I wasn’t sure was possible. You can’t make players skate in impossible directions and if you try to, they can fall. You can pin players along the boards, and you have to aim the puck. One-timers are much more difficult, and player animations are way more realistic — especially the goalies! I never really liked EA’s goalie animations that much, now I definitely don’t. If you are a fan of EA, or are familiar with playing their brand of annual hockey games, you’ll be familiar with their controller setup as well. Sega’s methods are, well, much more complicated. Not really that much harder, but still more complicated. For example, you can sidestep to the left or right, and you can even drag the puck to the outer side of your turn to keep it way from your opponent. Getting used to the controls will be the hardest part, but well worth it, I’m sure. You *can* elect to place the game on a setting which doesn’t use the more diverse controls, but why spoil the fun? On a bad note, the music sucks. The music played during the menu selections is, I think, the ESPN bumper. BORING! But, hey, I’ll trade that for more realistic gameplay any day. Oh, and one more thing. The color commentary isn’t as “colorful” as EA’s, but personally I don’t mind it. I usually end up turning that stuff off anyway. When setting up to play a season, you can pick your team you want to play and for each game you can either play against the computer OR another player can jump in and play the opposing team. That rules. And lastly, Sega’s verson can be played on X-Box live.
My final verdict: If you’re in for realistic gameplay, and you’re not shy of learning to use most of the buttons on your gamepad, and if you even have an inkling that you might want to play online, definitely get Sega. On the other hand, if you like the more arcadish play, the player card profiles that give you “bonuses” earned, and you absolutely must have the cooler music, stick with EA.