" If your teammate isn’t performing up to expectations, punch‘em in the arm. "
Title: NHL FaceOff 2001 by 989
Format: PSX Hockey
Reviewing Monkey: The Goodyear Chimp
The Hype: "Made by the pros, played by pros." Though, by far, my favorite part is the advertised "New Shootout Mode!" As if no one’s made a hockey game with a shootout before.
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: Even before clicking on the texture smoothing of my PS2, this was a pleasant surprise. Despite goofy flat faces and identical character models, the hockey players look good. You can read their jerseys if you drop the camera in close enough. Other than the players and the refs however, there don’t appear to be any people worthy of rendering. Someone should slap around sports developers until one of them makes a crowd that doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollock painting. The menus are also a bit of an eyesore. Still, the uniforms are colorful and detailed (especially on replays), the arenas have a different personality depending on where you are, and the rink looks great. Even the requisite FMV intro is funny and well done. 4 out of 5
Sound: "Yeah, can I have an order of silly synthesized heavy metal over here? Thanks." What you want to hear from a hockey game is the sound of a player’s bones breaking when he gets pounded against the side of the rink. With FaceOff 2001, you get that and the immediate reaction of the crowd. Arena noises are a huge plus in this game and really help suck you in. The national anthem—American or Canadian depending on your location—is reproduced faithfully and the crowd’s boos or cheers can really impact your game. I’ve missed a number of scoring opportunities when not on home turf because the crowd kept cheering when my shot would get stopped. The commentary by the New Jersey Devils Mike Emrick and ESPN’s Darren Pang is both a high and low point. Though you’re tempted to hurry play along with a little button press, stopping to listen to last year’s stats on that player who just scored a goal is fascinating and part of the whole charm of this game. That’s the high point. What sucks is how the calls on the action can come a little late. You try to hand the puck to a teammate, it gets picked off, and the commentator congratulates you on a good pass. Or you slap one toward the goal, the opposing team returns the puck across the centerline, and the boys in the booth suddenly shout, "What a great save!" Still, they’re interesting and funny enough to keep you from muting the slow bastards. 4 out of 5
Game Play: In general (given their recent outings on the PS2), I wouldn’t trust 989 Studios to make a simulation of air hockey that didn’t suck ass. However, they’ve somehow managed to create a hockey game that feels "classic." There’s really no other word to describe how this game plays. On top of that, FaceOff 2001 has game options busting out of the box. You can play practice games with three to five players on a team, play exhibition games, hold a shootout (but what’s the point really?), simulate whole seasons, simulate playoffs, and engage in player creation and a draft (both of which are way more fun than they sound). The action is fast but easy to follow and you can affect it by turning up or down penalties, clock speed, injuries, and practically anything else your heart desires. The controls are easy to pick up but have expanded tactics built in when you’re ready for them. This game feels like hockey on a console should. My only complaints revolve around the difficulty on the ice. For starters, even if you’ve never played hockey before, you should change the setting up one notch from "Rookie" or you’ll get sick of hearing your players’ names when they score. On top of that, no matter which difficulty setting you’re on, offensive and defensive strength are misbalanced. A team that couldn’t cover their goal if it was the size of a Dixie cup will morph suddenly into an entire squad of Wayne Gretzkys if you let them have the puck on your side of the ice. It’s not a big complaint though as that issue won’t stop you from playing this game for days. 5 out of 5
Level and Environment Designs: When it comes to the arenas, nice touches abound. From the proper nation’s flag flying in the opening shots to the logo at center ice, everything is in place. There are Zambonis to whirl about between periods, a goalkeeper’s water bottle that flies into the air when you nail a sweet one timer, and my favorite touch is the hats that fly onto the ice when you score your third goal (more if you’re at home, fewer if you’re on the road). It all contributes to the hockey atmosphere. Oh, wait. The crowd still looks like a smear. 4 out of 5
Multiplayer: Eight guys playing a game that’s good enough for one? Yep, it makes it better: especially because all the game play complaints about difficulty disappear. If your teammate isn’t performing up to expectations, punch‘em in the arm, it’s at this point that I should also mention that your friends could join into any season that you currently have going and hop out just as easily. 5 out of 5
Replayability: The ability to create players and stage a draft make the team combinations nearly infinite and the game play modes from practice to season let you simulate whatever you want for as long as you want. The only reasons I can find to toss this one on the heap are a sudden hate for hockey or FaceOff 2002. I’ll tell you if I tire of it after I finish off my eighty-six game season. 5 out of 5
Story/Dramatics: If you’ve never been to a hockey game, you’ll have less appreciation for the cute touches that abound here. Here’s a sampling: the proper national anthem is sung before each match, stars of the game are named and come out for a bow after the last period, the goal keeper bangs his stick and hangs his head if you slap one past him, the zambonis swing around the ice in between periods, and the capper—pun intended—the crowd litters the ice with hats after you score your third goal and they throw more if you’re playing at home! Hilarious. This combined with the hit-and-miss commentary makes for that "classic" feel I was describing. 4 out of 5
Instructions and Learning Curve: One thing that I like to see in a game is a nice combination of tactics for beginners and pros. Here is an area where 989 Studios succeeds beautifully. Pages 4 and 5 of the manual contain the "Quick Start Controls" for offense and defense: there are nine in total. Just browsing over these two sparse pages will have you playing the game with little difficulty in a matter of minutes. When you feel ready, turn in your books to pages 6-8 where there are an additional twenty-eight commands for you to absorb in the "Advanced" section. So while a beginner can be satisfied knowing how to pass and shoot, a grand master can change offensive and defensive strategies on the fly and call up icons to mark players to whom he’d like to pass. Amen. Now if only the rest of the manual had been written by the genius who did the control section, I could move on. Sadly, it appears that some exec’s senile grandmother wrote the descriptions of play modes and even the "How To Draft" bits. I said that player creation and trading were more fun than you might think and this is not misleading. It’s figuring out how to perform those tasks that’s a royal pain in the ass. 3 out of 5
Installation and Real System Requirements: During this section, I will change my focus to address the designers of the game rather than my readers. What do you mean it takes FIVE BLOCKS to save a season? This is an insult to memory card owners everywhere. Who says we also need an extra block for the settings and records? What are you designers doing so sloppily with your code that it takes SIX BLOCKS TOTAL to save my game? In addition, if you were going to make gamers use so much space and sit through intolerable load times, the LEAST you could do, would be to include an auto-save feature. Sure the games themselves load quickly but this memory card nonsense is just inexcusable. Feh, I say! 1 out of 5
|Still own PlayStation1? Eat, sleep, need hockey? (Have empty memory card lying around?) Buy game. Game good.|
The Good: The rinks, the sounds, the game play, the extra touches that make it feel…"classic."
The Bad: Commentators on downers, uneven difficulty in the one-player mode, a gimpy manual, and SIX MEMORY CARD BLOCKS.
The Overall Ugly: When you hear the announcer shout, "The Penguins are really putting the heat on in their opponent’s end."
What it's Worth: Market, though there should be a rebate included for buying an extra memory card.