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NHL Faceoff 2003
PS2 Staff Review by Mike Weatherup

When NHL Face-Off 2003 arrived before the holidays, I was quite excited at the prospect of playing an improved game. Last years title, although was not pretty to look at, had more playability than EA Sports usual hockey fare. Unfortunately, a few minutes with 2003 and it was clear that for some odd reason 989 Sports hockey franchise has taken a step backwards. The front-end interface leaves a lot to be desired, the graphics are poor for this stage in the PS2 development cycle and the game play is messy at best.

It is odd indeed that the visual package has worsened. The pre-release screen shots and videos looked half decent, too bad the final product does not match 989s pre-hype. The player models feature quite a few jaggies that makes them look very unreal. In addition, their uniforms do not seem to fit right, almost making them look like cardboard cutouts. While sub par graphics can be overlooked, awkward camera movement cannot. The camera seems to have a mind of its own at times. One moment it is moving in too tight, while the next it is pulling back too fast. After playing for a while it tends to make one feel sick. The TV-style presentation looks good but is two years out of date. The pre-game warm-ups, walks through the tunnel, players pushing and shoving between whistles and post game celebrations are essentially what we saw in NHL 2001 from EA Sports. The arenas are mostly generic as 989 Sports were unable to secure all of the necessary rink licenses. The ambience and sound effects are standard fare while the real NHL announcers bring something fresh to the scene. Unfortunately, they tend to repeat themselves much too early making them ultimately annoying.

As in most sports games, the ability to control your players in the most vital element. Glossy visuals are useless if you are unable to play the game. Face off 2003 takes a step backwards in this department. 2002 had tight controls that resulted in very natural and realistic feel to the game. This years game feels like something that was rushed through the development cycle. The players move as if they have cement in their skates. Even after adjusting the games speed, they still looked like peewees rather than NHL stars. Successful passing and the ability to have more puck control are painfully missing from this game. While EA Sports and Sega are implementing more natural control, 989 Sports looks like they are just trying to spit out a basic hockey title. Problem is, that did not work. Even frame rate becomes an issue in many scenes of action. Alternatively, how about a puck going through the back of the net. Unforgivable in late 2002.

I am probably one of the few reviewers out there that still hold some respect for 989 and that the hope they can return to the glory days they enjoyed on the PS1. However, here we are halfway through the PS2 cycle without anything close to a hit. We can keep hoping that something will change for the next year, but I think at this stage next year will be a do or die year for the development team. Regardless, if you are into hockey, Segas NHL2K3 is the best offering this season with Midways NHL Hitz 2003 a very close second.

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