At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Matt Bailey Xbox Sega Visual Concepts 1-4 (Share screen), 2-8 (Live) Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Xbox Live subscription for online play PS2 Click here to buy ESPN NHL Hockey.

ESPN NHL Hockey review

As is often the case with sports games, I will introduce this review with an explanation of the series, and it's name changes, in order to avoid (or possibly cause?) confusion. ESPN NHL Hockey has nothing to do with previous ESPN titles (the ones from previous years, that is), except the licence itself. Like ESPN NBA Basketball and ESPN NFL Football, ESPN NHL Hockey is a Sega Sports title, and the latest in their '2K' series (the "2K4 Sega" logo featuring on the cover of all three games). In fact, the game is the follow up to NHL 2K3 (which featured the ESPN licence in content-only and not in name), and in that review I said Again, I point out before continuing that this is really a game catered to American audiences, and as much as I think it's an excellent game many will enjoy, as an American sport, I think it should be pointed out that it may not be suited to the taste of all British gamers.

Moving on to the game itself; the first of the new gameplay features in this year's edition is the ability to carry out certain moves with the right analogue stick. It may not sound major, but it's certainly a useful and worthwhile addition. You can now push the puck ahead of your player, try and outflank defenders, and even stop still in order to make space for a shot. Like the controls in general in ESPN NHL Hockey, it may seem daunting at first, but it's surprisingly easy to pick. The full list of controls in the manual may be off putting, but a couple of games with an advance control layout and you're sure to get the hang of things, due to how well the controls are designed. If you want to particularly excel, of course, you'll need to swot up on the full control list though.

As you'd expect from Sega, all the usual American sports game modes are in place; 1-on-1 challenges, seasons, custom matches; all the usual. There's also the challenge mode, however, which is hidden away in the wonderful 3D SkyBox (a virtual room where you can put your own music on the jukebox, play a bit of air hockey or pinball, check out your stats, check out your trophies and unlockables, and as I just said, take part in challenges). You choose which challenge to take up from a list available on the SkyBox's laptop, and winning the challenge unlocks a new feature such as a new jersey or even a mini-game. A quick look at the two big boards of unlockables gives you an idea to just how much depth this addictive, varied, and enjoyable mode presents. Like ESPN NBA Basketball's 24/7 mode, it's certainly a welcome inclusion to the series.

Another key mode in the game is the online functionality. Here you can take your game online, battle your friends, and even take on challenges with other players. The online games are highly enjoyable - added to by the lack of lag or slowdown on the efficient Xbox Live system. Downloadable rooster updates are promised for the near future too. Again, like ESPN NBA Basketball there is a shared camera point - but due to the nature of the game it doesn't matter so much - in fact, it plays like you're offline. The ability to share replays together is brilliant for showing off your opponents fouls, or boasting about your own goals.

Like it's predecessor, ESPN NHL Hockey looks very impressive. Again, the textures are of a very high detail - especially the ice which starts shiny and you see the blades scratch the surface during matches, the animations of the characters are smoother than before, and player models and faces now look more realistic. As you can guess from the title, the ESPN-style graphical interface is present here; something that was strangely lacking in NHL 2K3 last year (even though the other two received the treatment). This time things are just as good as it's counterparts (even though the menu systems are different), with an ESPN presenter greeting you at the start of the game, and overall the game manages to provide a completely authentic TV feel; with mid-match replays, commentary from the ESPN team, and an ESPN news desk providing the menu background. As I have said before in the ESPN NBA Basketball review: although it's not going to be easily recognised by most Brits, it still has the effect of making you feel like you're playing the events on TV, rather than simply playing a game.

Ratings

Graphics Plenty of detail is packed in - particularly on the all-important ice. The player models are improved over last year, and again there are well animated players. It's excellent stuff, and it's rounded off very well in the ESPN styling. 10/10
Gameplay Like the other ESPN games from Sega, it's not pick up and play, but it's intuitive controls, and the well designed gameplay, means you'll be getting used to things and getting involved in the action in no time. 9/10
Value At the time of writing, we did not have a value for money ranking. 0/10
Lifespan On top of all the basic modes, you have a tonne of challenges to keep you occupied for some time to come, and, of course, Xbox Live player is excellent. 9/10
Audio The music is of the good quality licence variety, and custom soundtracks are also supported. The crowds and other in-game sounds are excellent, and the commentary is surprisingly not annoying. 9/10
Overall ESPN NHL Hockey is packed full of depth, but is not too difficult to get used to, and is certainly worth investing the time getting involved in. It's the best hockey game around, and if you're the slightest interested in the sport, you should consider picking it up now. 9/10

Click here to buy ESPN NHL Hockey from Amazon.co.uk.

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