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NHL 2002
Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports

Graphics & Sound:
Now that this year's hockey season has begun, we can focus on more important things: playing the video games to speed up the very long season ahead. With that said, NHL 2002 will do just that. Beginning with graphics and sound, I must say that everything here is top notch. The player models are incredible looking, and facial features are even more defined than ever before. Whether it be in the pregame warm-ups or in the third period, you'll swear you're watching an actual hockey game, backed by realistic animations. All of the standards such as slapshots, checks and glove saves are in place, but there are brand new animations like reaching for the pass and kicking the puck up onto your stick. Not to be forgotten are the immaculate arenas in which the teams play in. Each rink is mimicked to perfection, and all have crowds ready to go nuts once the lamp is lit. The only flaw I found was that while all the players have different facial features and body types, all of the coaches looked identical.

My goodness, I could talk for hours about the audio for NHL 2002. First off, the commentary is unbelievable. I found myself rolling on the floor from laughter after listening to the play-by-play for one period. They follow the game perfectly, and the color man is always quick to say something stupid, although it comes out hilarious. 'There's a sign posted on the right: The Highlight Zone!' Heck, even the stadium announcer throws out some comical mischief every now and then, although it's a little tougher to hear. Sound effects wise, I have heard none better. The crowd noise, the body checks, the puck hitting the boards, all is done to perfection. The music doesn't let you down either, featuring tracks from the Barenaked Ladies and others.

As most gamers know, when a sports game has great graphics and sound, half the battle has already been won. Then comes the other half: gameplay. Sadly, NHL 2002 had me at hello, but then lost me at the Career mode. That is one of the brand new features added to the standard Exhibition, Playoff, Tournament and Shootout games. The Career mode starts off as a regular Season, but once Lord Stanley is raised, it's time to play GM. The best way to describe this is the cut-and-paste version of EA's Madden series. You draft two players onto your team, and then head to free agency. Here are where the problems lie. First, unless you've written down your entire roster, you don't have any idea of which players are up for a new contract or who retired. Second, there is no salary cap or money involved at all. Players you want to sign give their feedback to your team via Mood Indicator: one of four faces that ranges from 'Where do I sign?' to 'I didn't know that city had a team.' However, players only want to sign with you if your team is playoff bound. Therefore, don't expect any big names on your roster if you're no good. Sadly, everyone in NHL 2002 is playing for the love of the game, not for the big contract. Even if you do sign somebody, you won't have any idea on how long their deal is for. I haven't been let down this bad since my high school nickname was 'Dateless.'

Besides an awful rendition of a Career mode, the rest of NHL 2002 is incredible. The other features to the game include Create-a-Player, NHL Cards, and Game Stories. With the Create-a-Player, you can make the next superstar for the NHL. The NHL Cards is another copy of the Madden series, although this is much better. You earn points for things you do in a game (score a hat trick, win five face-offs, etc.), then later purchase cards that can boost your players, or unlock secret teams and cheats. The Game Story is brand new, and that shows up during the game when you're in a rout or in a comeback, and says something at the bottom of your screen like 'Controlling the Play.' It doesn't do much, but it does add to the TV style presentation, so no harm no foul.

The game itself is just like the game of hockey: very physical. You'll have to work the passing game around if you ever want a chance at scoring. Believe, one timers are your friend. I'll also mention the other little replay feature: if your goalie makes a great save or if you deliver a punishing blow, the game will stop and replay it three times, and then resume play. I loved all of these new features, besides the Career mode.

If you're worried about being schooled once you take to the ice in NHL 2002, fear not. There are four different degrees of difficulty: Beginner, Easy, Medium and Difficult. However, there are other ways to make the game tougher to beat. You can change the settings for how well your team can pass, check, or shoot. There's even a setting for how many rebounds the goalie will more or less have. Either way, you'll find yourself playing new and different ways for hours at a time.

Game Mechanics:
There is good and bad news when it comes to the mechanics of NHL 2002. First, the loading time is very minimal, which means you'll have a faster time getting to the rink. Also, the controller configuration is as easy as it ever was. This means it won't be long until you're skating circles around your opponents. The only bad thing I can think of is that a huge chunk of your memory card will be used (3 MB). Still, it's a small price to pay for great hockey.

I would have given NHL 2002 a score in the 90's if it wasn't for that pathetic Career mode. EA Sports is leading the NHL series in the right direction for gamers, it just seems they're doing it very slowly.

-Red Dawg, GameVortex Communications
AKA Alex Redmann

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