If Sony’s 989 Sports studio were any more in the shadow of EA Sports, they’d need a flashlight to find their shoes, or in this case, to lace up their skates. That being said, 989’s Gretzky 2005 closes the gap between itself and EA’s NHL-monogrammed franchise. One reason: they went to an outside developer -- Page 44 Studios -- to wash away the painful black eyes of the most recent NHL FaceOff games.
The game’s graphics are pretty tight. In-game character models, uniforms, and logos are faithful to their real-life counterparts. However, some of the mugs on those models could stand an appearance on Extreme Hockey Makeover. Hey, now there’s an idea -- a reality TV show involving petulant, spoiled, locked out hockey players… In general, the game’s animations are fluid to the degree that a gamer can suspend disbelief and just play the damned game. By contrast, the goalie animations are superb. Considering how much time is usually spent hovering around one goal or the other, this is an appropriate use of development time and animation data.
Paying good money for music to put in a hockey game is like asking U2 to open their current concert tour in your backyard (tucked right between the Webber Grill and, with apologies to the “Beverly Hillbillies,” the see-ment pond). The tunes are only heard during menu time and in short bursts within each arena, so 989 Studios plays it right by delivering a few “A-list” artists along with a competent selection of other groups to round out the play list. The question is does any of this music fit well at a hockey game? Well, it’d be pretty quiet without it.