NHL 2K3 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NNNN
GRAPHICS: 110 per cent.
ADDICTIVENESS: The season's a marathon, not a sprint.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: There's no "I" in "Team."
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: Just take it one game at a time.
NHL FACEOFF 2003 for PlayStation 2, $80. Rating: NN
GRAPHICS: Sharp as a skate blade.
ADDICTIVENESS: A real turn-off.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Don't expect to win any new friends with this.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: Makes hockey seem as dull as curling.
The hype and hand-wringing over Grand Theft Auto: Vice City aside, video game machines, at least in this country, are still only as good as their hockey games.
No matter how stunning they look, shooting games, World War II sims and Formula 1 games are relatively trendy purchases. Finish the mission or play these games with any real obsession and, except for the absolute best, you'll burn out on them pretty quickly.
Sports games, particularly those that let you experience the highs and lows of complete seasons, are the ones you return to. How else to explain the wild success of hockey, baseball, soccer and football series that return year after year with few changes beyond updated rosters?
There are no fewer than three different hockey games, led by the established and excellent NHL 2003 franchise (reviewed in NOW, September 5-11). The other two, NHL 2K3 and FaceOff 2003, represent the best and worst of hockey sims.
Like the NBA 2K3 and NFL 2K3 games, NHL 2K3 tries to capture the complete essence of the game. This is as close to a professional hockey game as you can get without shelling out scalper's fees for platinum seats.
Most impressive is the actual action. Finesse rules here, and incredible attention has been paid to documenting how a game is played. In 2003, that means increased penalties for hooking and holding, the ability to pin your man on the boards and then kick the puck free, and the freedom to block shots by hurling yourself at the puck.
The 31 pages of instructions and tips in the booklet push NHL 2K3 to the top of the hockey heap. NHL 2003 should watch its back.
FaceOff 2003 is positively ghetto in comparison to NHL 2K3's sleek finesse. It's the Don Cherry version: big hits pay off, fights are raw, the speed of your shots is posted and the play is wooden compared to the natural flow of the other two games.
Those with just a casual interest in hockey will be satisfied, but anyone with a real knowledge of the game should steer clear.
A criticism of both games -- the commentary. The no-names providing the chatter here capture none of the game's energy and are as dim as Dubya. Someone call Harry Neale!