NHL 2003 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NNNN
GRAPHICS: As good as they get, down to the figure eights on the ice.
ADDICTIVENESS: A full season is both long and hard.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Hockey is truly hand-to-hand combat.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: Holy mackinaw!
In the wake of the Ron Maclean soap opera, a dose of celebrity-free old-time hockey might be just what the system needs to get up to speed for this week's season openers.
There's no Coach's Corner, no Satellite Hot Stove and no aw-shucks talking heads on NHL 2003 -- just brutally realistic, incredibly hard simulated hockey. It's a nice change, but after the last few weeks it's also a missed opportunity.
If the folks at EA Sports, who make the wildly popular NHL 2003, had realized how massive our hockey commentators are in this country and put them to work as the voices of this game (Ron could always use the extra cash), this game would be in every house in the country.
As it is, NHL 2003 is fairly complete. Except for the up-to-date lineups, there are precious few changes here to the franchise's well-established formula.
Players look and act like themselves, their skates progressively cut up the ice, and all the hockey clichés about the season being a marathon, not a sprint, inevitably come true when you're playing against the computer.
To judge how realistic this game is, try to get hold of one of the early versions of EA's NHL series. The amount of control you have here over your players -- and the puck -- is stunning. Those with a god complex intent on creating their own players can have even more of a handle on the design of the game.
The rest of us who are just pretending to be pros can take pleasure in the simple things in life, like hammering a bushel past Curtis Joseph and the Red Wings.
Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.