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NHL 2001
Preview By: Joe Rolfe
Developer:   EA
Publisher:   EA
Genre:   Sports
Est. Release Date:   November 2000
Posted:   9-24-00

Ask any hardcore sports game fan what their top three favorite sporting titles are. More likely than not I bet at least one of them will be a game from the storied NHL series. Like just about every other EA Sports franchise, the Sega Genesis was the first console to really put the NHL series on the map, and why shouldn’t it have? The NHL games had a fast – and fun – arcadey gameplay, smooth graphics and a simple, yet intuitive, control scheme. After the 16-bit era, however, EA’s hockey skills seemed to take a downfall. The first few NHL releases for the PlayStation were hardly anything to write home about (please, let us forget that horrid NHL ’99), as the series had a problem defining if it was a straight simulation or an arcade game. Thankfully, the 2000 iteration got its act cleaned up and ended up being the best hockey game in years. At present time, the PlayStation2 is just a month away from launch, and that means another year of hockey for the PS2 as well. Can the game live up the previous year’s quality, or will it just be a rehash with just updated eye candy? Only time can tell, but at this point things are looking quite well.

Like most of the EA’s PS2 first-generation sport games, NHL will not be a direct redesign of 2000. The play modes will consist of Quick Game, Season, Tournament, and Playoffs, so don’t expect a vast number of additions here (those are left for the PC edition). NHL 2001’s main goal is to clean up and polish the rough edges of the ’00 game, being animations, physics and the presentation. While last year’s game played pretty well, some of the speed settings and skating mechanics were a bit off. One-timers scored too frequently, and more often than not the passes would end up trailing the receiver too slowly. EA is back to fix that though, refining the engine to a T in an attempt to truly balance the game out (a tough task, indeed).

NHL’s aesthetic will also be getting a great boost, due in part to the power of the PS2 console. New and more realistic animations will be added, plus some fresh camera angles that should have no problem following the pace of the game. Late game momentous comebacks will also be added, so now those thrilling late-period wins can come true on your television set. The visuals, of course, will be getting quite a boost as well. While the overall package doesn’t look nearly as impressive as the Madden and NBA Live games, the NHL 2001 is still an awe-inspiring game. Detailed player models, improved textures and jerseys, plus an expanded TV-style presentation will all add up to an ideal game for any NHL fan. Not to mention that all official 30 NHL teams (including the two new expansion teams), plus 20 International squads, will be in the game too and you’ve got a hockey fan’s dream come true.

Even though it’s still early and not quite complete, NHL 2001 has a lot of potential going for it. EA Sports can just as easily screw this game up (as they’ve proved in the past), but I highly doubt that Sony can afford to have a weak hockey game in the early going for the PlayStation 2. With hot graphics, improved gameplay and the charm of EA all rolled into one, NHL ’01 could very well be the best hockey game we’ve ever experienced come November.

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