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National Hockey Night Hands on Preview(PSX)

Product Info
Publisher : ESPN Digital Games
Platforms : PC,Playstation
Release Date : Cancelled

ESPN's National Hockey Night looks to grab some of the Playstation hockey market share from Sony and Electronic Arts. After extended play with an early preview copy, it appears that this game has some serious aspirations, though it also needs a lot of work before its official release.

The game offers all the bells and whistles usually associated with EA Sports games. Of course, the game includes all of the NHL teams and their players, including the Nashville Predators, who will begin play this year. At this time the rosters are a bit dated (Brett Hull is still with the Blues, for example), but hopefully by the time the game is released this will be remedied. The game also includes 16 International teams as well as the North American and World All-Star teams. The familiar ESPN Sportscenter theme can be heard, as well as the ESPN National Hockey Night television theme music. Play by play is by ESPN's Gary Thorne and Steve Levey. At this point it is very repetitive and a bit disjointed. Hopefully this will be addressed before the game's official release.

National Hockey Night is loaded with options. There are three difficulty levels and three modes of play: Arcade, Simulation and Custom (which is completely user-definable). Such options as offsides, 2-line passes, icing, penalty shots and fighting can be toggled on or off. In addition to this, the game offers injuries and penalties, whose frequency can be scaled to your liking. The usual three period lengths of 5, 10 and 20 minutes are included. With use of the multi-tap the game can support up to 8 players at once.

There are 6 modes of play included: Exhibition, Season, Playoff, World Tournament, Head2Head and Shootout. The depth during season play appears to be impressive; I say appears because not all the options were functioning in this early copy. For starters, each and every team can be selected to be used during season play, so you and 26 friends can take control of a team and have at it. You can create players, edit lines and set up your own coaching options for each team. The coaching options are extensive: you can set strategies for when you are leading, tied or trailing in the game. In addition, you can also set strategies for your breakouts, entering the zone, defensive positioning, forechecking, team defense, power play and shorthanded situations. Season schedules can be set for 13, 26, 52 or 82 games. A wide variety of stats is available for teams, players and users. A record book will keep track of the best performances in both game and season categories.

The graphics at this point are nothing special, resembling Sony's Faceoff game more than EA Sports NHL 98. Uniforms are accurate, but the players look a bit washed out and their animations are a bit jumpy. The game does offer nine camera angles with a zoom feature that can be scaled to your liking. The audio is equally unimpressive at this time. The sound of hits is barely audible and the crowd hardly seems to be into the game at all. Nothing special happens when you score a goal, other than Gary Thorne and Steve Levy getting a tad excited. Uninspired is the word that comes to mind for the game's audio and visuals.

Commenting on gameplay is a bit dicey at this point: I have no idea what is being addressed in the coming versions. The lack of impressive audio also takes away a bit from the gameplay, as I really couldn't tell when I got a good hit on somebody. The controls are pretty easy to pick up, but unfortunately there is a noticeable lag from when you press the button to when the player takes the action you just ordered. In its current state this is unacceptable, but usually this is the sort of thing is tightened up before a game is actually released to the public.

ESPN's National Hockey Night holds some promise for hockey buffs. It has all the options you can think of and is customizable to the nth degree. If the game gets the polish it deserves before its release, there could be a new challenger for the Playstation hockey crown for the 1998/99 season.

By: Jim S. 9/1/98

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