|Title||:||NHL Faceoff 2000|
|Review by||:||Jeremy Pallant|
If a video gamer can be said to have a "video gaming career" then during that career there are times when that gamer is exposed to a genre for the first time. Indeed, there are two types of such exposure: those occasions when the exposure is pleasant, and those occasions when it is not. I have fond first memories of certain genres. For example, the first time I played a first person shooter? It was Doom II, if anyone is wondering, back in 1994. On a video game console, my first such game was Turok on the Nintendo 64, the first game I purchased for that platform.
The first racing game I ever bought was Extreme-G, again for the N64. On the PSX, the first such title was Wipeout XL. I'm sure others can list the first game of any genre they have played, especially if they purchased it. Simply naming the games brings to mind a whole host of memories. First RPG — Final Fantasy VII. First mech game — EarthSiege, still one of the most involving games I have ever played and one that demands translation to a console. First mech game on a console — Armored Core. First console shooter — Einhander. First fighter I actually enjoyed – Bushido Blade. First space combat game — X Wing. First, and only, turn based strategy game — Mission Force: Cyberstorm, another game that cries out for conversion to a console. First real-time strategy game I enjoyed – Populous: The Beginning, at least until I got to level twelve where the whole thing ground to a halt. First RTS game that didn't grind to a halt around level twelve — Warzone 2100, a game that might yet make an appearance on the Dreamcast.
In a similar fashion to one's first exposure to particular genres there are what I like to call "gaming moments": moments during the playing of a video game that stick in one's memory. During my first impressions report, I touched on such a moment during the playing of Warzone 2100 on the PSX. After completion of an away mission, I directed my two tank platoons to return home. One of them took the direct route back the way they had come, but the other elected to return through a gorge I had not yet explored. After watching the first platoon for a moment, I switched viewpoints to the other, and was treated to a moment of almost cinematic glory that was appreciated all the more for being completely unexpected. That gorge was liberally filled with mortar posts, machine gun bunkers, flamethrowers and the like, so my view was of a line of tanks, turrets swivelling as they fired, surrounded by explosions and gunfire. Yes, I lost a couple of units in the process, but that's not the point. It was the moment that was important.
I could continue in this vein for a while, but I'd deny myself the opportunity for a completely separate article at some later date. I will, however, briefly mention one other "gaming moment" of significance… Metal Gear Solid. No, not a particular event, the entire game.
By now, you, the patient reader, are probably wondering where I am heading with all this. After all, the subject of this article is supposed to be a review of NHL FaceOff 2000, not a nostalgic foray though the high points of video games I have played. Well, NHL FaceOff 2000 represents my first experience of a particular genre — sports games, and contains to date at least two of those afore-mentioned "gaming moments." The first of these occurred when I trickled a shot behind the goal keeper from ridiculously long range in such a manner that, not only did I fail to realize that I had scored, so also did the goalie and the spectators for just long enough that I began to wonder what I had done… it had been a lucky passing shot, not a full blown attempt to score. To cap off this "gaming moment", one of the commentators — either Mike Emrick or Darren Pang — remarked on the goal and the delay of its awareness in an entirely appropriate fashion. The second such moment occurred again at extremely long range, and was a full blown slapshot that perfectly intersected the narrow gap between the goal keeper and one of the poles in such a manner that it was almost as if I knew what I was doing.
When a game can produce such a "gaming moment," it is usually a good sign. That I could produce them is nothing short of a miracle, because I don't have the first clue of how to play ice hockey. This is what I've determined: if a member of the opposing team has the puck, hit them. They sprawl on the ice rather nicely, and if you're really lucky, they'll be sufficiently damaged that they play no further role for the rest of that game. This grants you a nice feeling of having accomplished something and, if you have a dual shock controller, you're granted a little impromptu shiatsu massage. Once you've gotten control of the puck, skate straight at the enemy — sorry — opposing goal and hit the puck as hard as possible in that general direction. Occasionally it will go in and if you're lucky enough to repeat this several times in a single period, you'll really look like you know what you're doing. I achieved this feat four times in the first period on one occasion, and while during the rest of the game only two more goals were scored — one of mine, one of theirs – it looked good on the TV screen.
Certainly the game looks good and plays better. From a distance you could be forgiven for thinking that an ice hockey match was really on cable, an impression enhanced by the excellent commentary of the previously mentioned Emrick and Pang. Rarely does a game make my jaw drop – metaphorically speaking. Metal Gear Solid was one such, as was Soul Calibur, each for different reasons. NHL FaceOff 2000 thus joins a select group of games in being able to achieve such a response from me through the excellence of the match presentation, especially the commentary. The graphical presentation of a match includes many neat touches. For example, panels surrounding the ice are nicely transparent, and can be clearly seen to shake when someone slams into them. Sometimes a goal will knock the goal keeper's water bottle onto the ice, often with suitable commentary as it occurs. The scoreboard above the ice has dynamically changing displays, including an advertisement for 989 Sports. Such attention to detail certainly helps make a game memorable.
However, match play does have one fatal flaw: unreliable score keeping. On several occasions the score has not been properly updated, which can affect the outcome of a game. For example, when playing the second game of a season, my team was the Dallas Stars, I was leading 6 — 5. The opposing team scored, complete with commentary and action replay, yet the score was not updated and remained 6 — 5. Now I went ahead and scored two more points for a final score of 8 — 5, yet had the score remained static, I would have gained an unearned win. This was not an isolated occasion. This was a replay of the second game of the season, meaning that I had played three matches, and I was attempting to determine if my eyes were deceiving me with this issue. During these three games, I observed the problem twice. This makes four occasions in which I have observed improper score keeping, the other two occurring while playing Quick Start mode.
This problem casts a shadow over the entire game, my positive comments notwithstanding. When the score cannot be trusted, and the game hinges on the score, the entire game becomes tainted. I'm assuming the score is important to the game. I mean, this isn't about getting out onto the ice and pushing a puck around, is it? It's about winning or losing. Maybe I'm being unreasonable, but if I win, I like to win because I earned it, not because the score was improperly maintained. I wonder, too, why this problem was not spotted during testing and fixed before release, given the ease with which I was able to find it. I'm more puzzled by other reviews of this game that I've read and which have did not comment on the problem.
My recommendation concerning NHL FaceOff 2000 is to rent the game for the excellent commentary and presentation of the matches, but unless the actual score is of secondary importance, don't purchase this game. It really pains me to have to make such a comment, but experiencing the score-keeping problem is rather like driving a Ferrari at 150 miles per hour, then having the engine spontaneously drop out of the chassis. It was great while it lasted, but even with the eye-catching packaging still in place, it isn't going anywhere afterward.
This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Video Gaming Central (CompuServe), 01-Oct-99