Review: Dear Wayne, if hockey ever comes back, fix the Coyotes.
Hockey. You remember that sport, right? The one with the pucks and the sticks and teams that combined might barely have enough teeth for one jaw. Yeah, the NHL. Well of course, the real NHL is locked out right now, and it looks like the season won't even happen. But in the video game world, there's no such thing as a lockout; just games with outdated rosters and schedules. While EA struggles to make their game relevant again while Sega (or rather Take-Two) masters the art of making a hockey simulation, SCEA has retired their once-great NHL Faceoff franchise, and placed the most famous hockey player ever, Wayne Gretzky, into the position as spokesman for the oddly titled Gretzky NHL 2005. One would hope that with the Great One's blessings this game could turn out to be a true competitor to the bigger-named competition, but alas, 989 and SCEA need more work still to accomplish this ? though what's in place is a good start. Instead, you get a slow-paced game with shaky controls and occasional fun?and with ESPN NHL 2K5 available for $20, there's really no reason to pick this up unless you really, really, really miss hockey.
Like most sports games today, Gretzky NHL 2005 comes with all the trimmings, such as basic exhibition games, a season mode, and a franchise. There's nothing particularly special about anything in the game, but it's there to at least keep the feature set comparable with the competition. Like always with 989 Sports though, the online setup is outstanding and is a great building ground for the PSP lineup of 989 games and eventually their PS3 efforts. 989 gets a lot of flak for not competing well with the likes of EA and Take-Two's sports divisions, but it's arguable that their online setup is worlds better than either. If online play is important and can tolerate the clunky gameplay, it might be the most worthwhile game to acquire, at least in terms of depth. You can even import your face into the game using the Eyetoy, but I do not own an Eyetoy so I have no idea how good it is.
The biggest problem with the game on the ice is the odd feel. When you play ESPN NHL 2K5, you get a smoothly-paced game with excellent controls and despite being a simulation, the game is as fast as real hockey is?sometimes it moves so fast you miss things, and you're the one playing. With Gretzky though, its slooooooow. There's not a real feel of excitement very often, and the controls can be very unresponsive at times ? pulling off a one-timer is a challenge because of this slow pace and bizarre timing on the controls. Considering how important speed and precision is needed in a hockey game, this is a huge irritation and all I could think of was how much better this was pulled off in ESPN this year, for $20 less than their competition. It's certainly not terrible, nor anywhere near as bad as the Faceoff games were on PS2 (which hurts because NHL Faceoff '99 is my 2nd favorite hockey game ever next to NHL '96), but it's a year or more away. 989 has a great engine here since it feels very hockey-like?but it needs to be sped up. The promise is there.
Speed issues aside, the graphics of Gretzky NHL 2005 are nice and pretty fluid. Character models are nice and the rinks look realistic, etc. The framerate is solid and everything flows well, other than of course, the lack of speed sensation when playing. It might not look as good as EA's effort, but it compares fairly decently with ESPN NHL (which is somewhat ugly on the PS2). On the other end, the audio comes with some good sound effects, solid commentary, and?horrendous music that was obviously done to compete with EA's equally hideous EA Trax. They should go back to the 80's and pull out some hair metal?perfect for a hockey game.