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NHL Faceoff 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: September 1999

Background Info


Appearing in 1995, the original FaceOff (which claimed as its own forefather ESPN National Hockey Night for 16-bit consoles) brought the NHL to the Playstation; the following year FaceOff 97 proved superior to EA's initial effort. But some good things do come to an end. With a new developer (Sol Works), 989 Sports looks to rebound from two years in which its FaceOff series, once the pride of Playstation ice hockey, found itself on the defensive as both EA Sports and Radical Entertainment mounted strong challenges and offered compelling alternatives. Let's drop the puck!

Presentation/Graphics : 94
Apparently 989 Sports had some design materials left over from NFLXtreme2, for the menus are a bit curious in appearance (flames and wires frame the options) if very functional in operation. Once more the game offers individualized arenas that approximate the real things (although we in Phoenix wish that we had the sightlines suggested by the representation of America West Arena). Between periods you can watch zambonis and a blimp make their way about. Even better, the in-game camera does not swivel from side to rear just after a faceoff (making it easier to set up plays off the draw), and wait until one player score three goals, for THE HATS ARE BACK--littering the ice at home, with a few appearing on the road. Optional is a halo around the puck to help you spot it (although there are no puck trails). Replays offer a tight view of the play in question; the interchange between live action and replay screens adds to the image of a televised contest. At game's end the three stars accept the crowd's cheers. Good stuff. And I see where Mrs. Webb's third graders are making their rounds of the league again, for the message boards on the scoreboards are still greeting them.

The players are sharp, and the frequent close-ups during stoppages in play and after goals allows for close-ups of individual faces. Animations are smoother (although still a little jerky) and deeper; watch for the much-improved goalie movements (especially stretches and sprawls) and player skating (look for the backwards crossover). However, when it comes to uniforms, FaceOff 2000 needs some updating, for several alternate jerseys are missing. Even better was a replay where Adam Foote of the Colorado Avalanche was wearing goalie equipment. Finally, the Stanley Cup FMV is . . . just okay.

Presentation/Audio : 88
FaceOff 2000 builds upon a fairly solid past record when it comes to the sounds of the game. The in-game noises are fine (they could use a little more body and punch). Here and there you'll catch tracks that all appear in GameDay 2000 (the "Hey, hey, goodbye" song is really a hockey thing, not a football one). The announcing team of Mike Emrick and Darren Pang turns in a solid performance, mixing in new commentary with last year's observations. Their observations do not lag behind the play, and this year they even exchange wisecracks. Arena noises are appropriate to individual rinks, adding to the distinctive environment. Be aware that when the sounds starts to jumble up (as it did several times on my game), your current contest is doomed to be discarded (I habitually save after every game).

Interface/Options : 70
Up to eight human players (using two multitaps) may participate in a game, or you may match wits against the CPU in a one-on-one duel. And there are also multiplayer seasons and playoffs (something that appears to have vanished from NHL 2000). You can choose period length, game speed, difficulty level (start at veteran unless you are new to the game), and toggle or determine a number of in-game rules and coaching options. There are seven cameras, including a new "action cam," complete with zoom-in, that works rather well from an end-to-end perspective.

The controller remains largely unchanged. There is only one "shoot" button: tap it for a wrist shot, hold down longer for a slapshot (at least this year there are separate wrist shot and slapshot power ratings). Icon passing returns; so does playcalling on the fly (although it's probably better to wait for a whistle). Control is rather responsive, and on the whole it's easy to move the player under your control--but sometimes one's teammates do not cooperate, as wingers sometimes fail to break for the net when centers cut wide, and forwards don't always cover for rushing defenders. Oh, yes, you can fight. It's not clear whether fisticuffs serve any purpose (I concede defeat and welcome the pause in button-mashing).

Each season/playoff eats up four blocks on a memory card; user records (really a record book of single-game performance highs) take up an additional block.

Some serious problems persist--and one is made even worse. Like its predecessors, FaceOff 2000 persists in offering players only three groups of five skaters at full strength. You can't change forward lines and defense pairs independently; you lack a fourth set of forwards (unless you do a lot of juggling on the line management menu). Why 989 Sports remains enamored with this poor excuse for line changes is beyond me; other games do a better job. Like other games, it forgets to allow the home team last change so that you can make meaningful matchups. Perhaps the boys ought to have spent more time with Scotty Bowman (the Detroit coach who was brought in as 989 Sports' answer to Marc Crawford in an effort to improve gameplay and AI). Somewhat less important (but annoying) is the labeling of offensive zone, breakout, forecheck, and defensive zone approaches as "normal," "aggressive," and "conservative." These labels simply don't make sense in several contexts. Since when is sending two forecheckers in "conservative," while the trap is "aggressive"?

But most objectionable is the roster management system. Teams are limited to twenty players overall, with two or three goalies. Yet NHL teams always carry several extra forwards and defensemen--who disappear from the game altogether here and must be created (there are only 25 free agent slots, so I guess that's a maximum of 25 created players). These restraints make it almost impossible to keep rosters current, for several players now retired are still in the game; this year a number of players remain unsigned as the season starts; new players and rookies are going to have to squeeze in where they can. Other games do a much better job of handling this situation. There should be a much larger number of free agent slots; there should be larger rosters in the first place. Past editions of FaceOff had larger rosters (although no limit on the number of roster players who could play in a game); this year's edition confused game rosters (eighteen skaters and two goalies) with team rosters (which are usually between 25 and 27 players in all).

Oh, by the way, there is no tournament format that will allow you to pit international teams against each other outside of exhibition play. Nor can you create players for international teams. And once more the classic teams are noticeable by their absence. Perhaps someone someday will explain why video hockey can't follow in the footsteps of the football games and offer us the chance to match the 1960 Montreal Canadiens against the 1982 New York Islanders, the 1972 Boston Bruins versus the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins, or the 1987 Edmonton Oilers versus the 1994 New York Rangers (although so many Rangers were former Oilers that it might get pretty confusing).

Gameplay : 85
Simply put, vastly improved--but not flawless. The game rewards good positional play on defense; on offense, deadly one-timers are now augmented by realistic rebounds that encourage you to bombard the net in hopes of pounding home a loose puck against an out-of-position goalie. Although once in a while the game becomes an exercise in end-to-end dashes, a good number of efforts to move up the ice are thwarted in the neutral zone, and only the strongest or fastest skaters will hang onto the puck for very long. Experiment with the offensive sets and work on one's passing in exhibition games (it really is too bad that 989 Sports chose not to restore the practice mode found in FaceOff 97); you can work the puck back to a defenseman off the draw for a shot through a screen.

Scoring is up in FaceOff 2000. Part of this is due to the revised handling of rebounds; a little of it is due to rule revisions concerning the crease (although goals are still called back). You should average a little more than a shot on goal a minute, so stick to the ten-minute periods for realistic stats. But don't depend too much on the speed burst, for it rarely makes much of a difference and comes at the cost of depleting your line's energy--and that energy is depleted as a far faster rate than in FaceOff 99, rendering on-the-fly line changes critical to success. The teams that headman the puck and transition from offense to defense (and vice-versa) quickly will prevail.

The veteran level offers a better intermediate challenge than it did in the two previous editions; there is a more natural progression between levels. Still, for the hard core, All Star will be the way to go. There are a few goal-scoring tricks (the cut-across parallel to the goalline from the high slot for both forehands and backhands) that could have been cut down had the CPU AI cleared the slot more effectively. Game designers have to continue to work on making team defense more effective.

Replay Value : 75
Sorry, folks: no franchise mode, no multiple seasons, no frills. The escalating challenge offered by rising difficulty levels will have to do (and that means All Star for experienced players). Rookie level offers no challenge at all (unless you want to see how many goals you can score in a fifteen-minute game); on veteran there are some close contests, but a skilled video puckster should prevail. However, the multiplayer versions do offer long-term value for leagues.

Overall : 84
The good news is that NHL FaceOff 2000 is a distinct improvement over its immediate predecessors of the last two years. I have not been this pleased with the series since FaceOff 97. Players move more realistically and what happens on the ice looks a great deal like hockey (at least most of the time). If the game on the ice is what matters to you, or if you require multiplayer options, this may be the game for you. However, when it comes to coaching, roster management, franchise/career modes, and international play, the game still falls short of its most obvious competition. It's almost as if this is what FaceOff 98 should have been (and certainly FaceOff 99). Be pleased but not overjoyed.

By: Brooks Simpson 10/6/99

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