TITLE: NHL Hitz Pro
RELEASED: October, 2003.
To give credit where it's due, I'm following TGD's review layout. The headings are clear and concise and allow for a nicely structured review.
Being Canadian, I'm naturally drawn to the hockey games. Given the recent spate of poor showings from EA, and the subsequent dumbing-down of their NHL franchise, I was forced to look elsewhere for my hockey fix. I've been playing the EA NHL series since NHL '98 and have been very disappointed with the versions newer than NHL 2001. A friend introduced me to NHL Hitz, which is an adrenaline based hockey game. Light on the rules, but heavy on the gameplay.
Let me get this out of the way. If I want a realistic game of hockey, I'll strap on my skates down at the rink and play on the beer league. If I want a reasonable facsimilie of a hockey game that I can play online, I'll throw NHL 2001 on the PC. If I want a fast paced, hard hitting, laugh at my best friend because he can't one-time game then it's NHL Hitz Pro.
Gameplay is significantly different from the previous NHL Hitz game. Gone is the over-the-top cartooney gameplay, replacing it is a more accurate game of hockey, albeit a little light on the penalty rules. NHL Hitz is not a series for the hockey purist, but clearly targeted towards a more casual console audience. One major difference in NHL Hitz Pro from NHL Hitz 2003 is that you have FULL teams on the ice. 6 players per side as opposed to 4 players per side in earlier versions. Also, in NHL Hitz Pro, there's not so much emphasis on the players emanating smoke, bursting into flame, or being struck by lightning. The adrenaline effects are much more subdued, but still a noticeable component of the gameplay. The referees are still light on the penalties, unless there's a blatant infraction such as fighting or cross checking the goalie.
The one thing I found very odd was the ease with which goals are scored. A fail-safe formula is to grab the puck with one player, skate down one end of the boards using the turbo, then pass to a flanking player for a one-timer shot. This almost always resulted in a goal. I played an exhibition game where the end score was 16 to 0 in my favour. Granted, I was playing the computer AI, but I don't think such a lopsided score was all that entertaining. It became routine to score a goal. Not good.
The different game modes are as follows:
Exhibition: Pick any 2 teams from the roster (Current to July 21, 2003) including international teams and play an exhibition game.
This mode is probably the best choice if you want to have a quick game with a friend. The periods are set at 5 minute lengths, which makes for a convenient, and fast paced game. Of course, the game options can be modified so you can have full 15 minute periods
Franchise: Create a brand new team and play an entire season/playoff.
With the Franchise, you can customize your own non-NHL team and essentially put together your own minor league team. If you have time on your hands this can be very entertaining since you have a vested interest in the well being of your own team.
Season/Playoffs: Select an existing NHL team and play an entire season/playoff.
Pick-Up: Mini hockey games with preset objectives.
These are quite a lot of fun. The arena is a frozen pond with kid players on the ice. The pick-up games have set objectives which must be met in order to win the game. For example, in the first pick-up game, the object is to score 3 goals in order to win. These games can be played multiplayer, or player vs AI.
Hockey School: 17 different training sessions to familiarize the player with the NHL Hitz Pro game.
Very useful in learning the different moves and shots utilized in the game. Narrated by NHL Coach Scottie Bowman, and after every training session you're "treated" to a FMV clip of an NHL player describing the move/shot and the situation where you'd apply what you've learned. The FMV sequences are rather hokey since you can tell that the players are reading from cue cards. In fact, some of the clips are so painful, I found myself skipping past them.
What impressed me the most about this game was the face detail of the individual players. Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund actually look like their real life counterparts. The fluidity of the player movement is very accurately rendered, and the puck physics are on the ball (no pun intended). The game doesn't have a screaming polygon count compared to something like Bloodwake, but it manages to do quite well. The players, arenas, and crowds are rendered with an excellent amount of detail and I didn't see anything that would detract from the gameplay. The goal replays employ a unique feature, you can "be the cameraman" and take control of various camera angles as the replay is being shown.
The sound quality, of course, is superb. Like almost all sports titles that have been released lately, Midway has employed quality announcers to provide play-by-play and colour commentary. The comments reflect the action on the ice, and lend to the feel of watching a "real" hockey game. The background noise and music are also spot-on. The crowd reacts appropriately depending on the actions of the teams, and they certainly have a bias towards the home team. the crowds are not hesitant to voice their displeasure when the visiting team scores, or gets away with a wicked cross check. The ability to use your own audio tracks as the game soundtrack is a welcome feature, since I'm not a big fan of the supplied in-game music.
A decent balance between adrenaline style gameplay and by the book realism. The audio environment makes the player feel as if they are participating in a real TV broadcast of an NHL game. The fighting model is a little bit clumsy. Instead of a button mashing fest, it's almost like playing rock-paper-scissors. It appears as if fights are won more on timing than by brute force. Midway tried to make NHL Hitz Pro different than the earlier versions, and deliver a more serious game of hockey. Although it looks as if they have a good blend of ideas, I think some minor details need to be improved, and certain aspects of the gameplay could be matured. Maybe they will address these minor detractions in next year's version.
- Many different gameplay modes
- Historical Team Jerseys
- Accurate player rendering
- Fluid player motions and puck dynamics
- Killer audio
- Canadians don't care much for the cheesy "glowing puck". There's no need for it.
- Fighting is non intuitive
- FMV "acting" by NHL players
- Too easy to score
Overall Score 7.5/10