Game Review - by James Allen
EA Sports has long dominated the hockey sim pc et, with the line of NHL games, from 1993 to the present (I actually HAVE the original). In comes NHL Championship 2000, by Radical Entertainment and published by Fox Sports Interactive. Will this new entry cross-check EA into the boards with better gameplay, or be sent to the penalty box? Will I continue with bad hockey references? Read on, gentle reader...
All the features you would expect in a hockey game are included here. You can compete in single exhibition games, full seasons (anywhere from short to long), playoff series, and world tournaments, using teams representing several countries. Several contests feature "rivalries," between teams such as the Avalanche and the Red Wings. I have yet to see this have any effect on gameplay. The individual game has several customizable options, including difficulty, period length, referee strictness, line changes, and coaching. There are separate lines for offense and defense, and the coaching can be tailored to the current situation: do you need to catch up, stay even, or protect the lead? All of these can be changed to your wants and needs for a complete hockey experience.
The strong point of EA's game, but how will it fare here? The game menus are decorated with FOX graphics, and look slick. As for the actual game, the players are OK, but seem slightly blocky. Shadows beneath the players do connect to the skates, so the players do not look as though they are floating in the air. All the arenas look the same, but how much do arenas look different? But, the center ice displays the teams logo, and the banners hang in the rafters, reminding you that the Calgary Flames once won a cup. The overhead scoreboard displays all the stats, although after a penalty is over, the penalty clock still shows. The puck is followed by the famous FOX glowing line (you can turn this off). The graphics are competent, but nothing beyond shocking.
The ambiance of the game seems like you're in a hockey arena, although the crowd sometimes cheers sharply and sporadically. But, they boo (with the one or two annoying guys clapping) when the opposition scores, and cheers on the power play. The sound for checks into the boards last way past the actual checking. The play-by-play sometimes can get on you nerves (Kenny Albert can get SOOOO annoying), but Kenny Albert and John Davidson generally bounce off each other well with their commentary. Every once in a while, though, they make a comment that is not true: "Boy, this guy is tough" when he has 0 fighting majors. In general, the sound is good, and adds to the game.
OK, here's where the game really matters. Gameplay is good, but not great. After you download the patch, the players on Pro level (the middle level) skate WAY to fast. Also, the checks are too unrealistic: the players flip head over heels constantly. Passing is also too accurate (get ready for 80% pass completion). Other than these things, the gameplay is pretty darn good. Gone are the days of taking one player down the ice without passing. The AI will check you too quickly, you gotta pass the puck. The shots for each team are not too unrealistic, since many are blocked by defenders, or miss the net completely (just like in real hockey!). Speaking of defenders, they often gravitate too far from the goalie to help him out: he's left to fend for himself. Don't worry, though: goalies do a good job. Goalies save shots that are straight on and they see, usually giving up goals only on one-timers and rebounds. This is a downside, though, since you can really expect not to score on a slapshot. Modifications to the files made by fans of the game can correct some of these problems, but they really should not have been an issue. But, the gameplay is the closest thing to real hockey I've seen, and with a few tweaks, can be awesome.
NHL Championship 2000 is a good hockey game, and wonderful competition for NHL 2000 by EA. If you are looking for arcade hockey, try NHL 2000. If you want simulation hockey, try out NHL Championship 2000. Since this is the first of this series, we can expect NHL Championship 2001 to be a very, very good game. This game delivers a good hockey fix, with few lost teeth.