Description of NHL 95
Before I begin, let me get this out of the way: I am a huge fan of hockey. I can't even figure out why people watch any other sports. Hockey combines grace, speed, and violence (I'm not talking about fisticuffs here...but about the bone-crunching checks) into a single sport. Hockey players are some of the most phenomenal athletes on the planet because the sport demands strength, stamina, and flexibility in a way that no other sport does. Don't even get me started about goalies who catch and stop pucks traveling at over 100mph while huge guys skate around in front of them, trying to disrupt their vision and concentration!.
But it's not just me. Hockey is the second fastest growing sport in America, and the popularity of EA Sports NHL Hockey is just one more indication. Just in time for hockey's lockout this past year, EA Sports unveiled its new upgrade, on CD-ROM only, NHL Hockey '95. NHL '95 features all of the players from the 1993-94 season (Rangers win the Stanley Cup), slick new presentation, improved computer opponents, and (thankfully) no major changes in game play.
Capturing the Flow of Play
I say thankfully because what made the original NHL Hockey such a delight to play (I was still playing it when the new version arrived) was a simple interface that captured the overall feel of the game of hockey, though it may not have captured every single nuance. Effectively, you have only the following options as the player: skate, shoot, pass. The computer controls your teammates (you are always in control of the player who has the puck), the goalies, the speed and angle of the shot or pass and virtually every other aspect of play, except line changes.
That may make it sound like you don't get to do much of anything but the problem lies with the game of hockey itself...it is terrifically difficult to simulate. The game is full of split-second decisions and impromptu creativity. The best players make pin-point passes to breaking teammates without even realizing consciously that they saw them! What the game captures beautifully is the flow of the action. You have to find open ice, get the puck off in the direction of a teammate before that big nasty defenseman levels you, or fire the "one-timer" as soon as you get the puck. Trust me, even though you don't specifically tell the computer to feather a pass or shoot for the top shelf, you will feel enormous satisfaction when Craig Janney passes to Brett Hull who "one-times" it home for the go-ahead goal!
One reason the game works so successfully is that the rating system for the players generally captures the feel of each player. You will go down hard when Scott Stevens hits you. You will have no idea how Curtis Joseph got across the net so fast. You will watch Pavel Bure skate right past unless you pick the correct angle. It is to the game's credit that you actually find yourself staying aware of when the best players are on the ice. It's not that Donald Audette isn't a threat...it's just that Alexander Mogilny is much more of a threat.
The game features a much more slick interface as well. Most of the non-game screen have high-resolution graphic images. The team data and player data screens are absolutely gorgeous, and actually make the game almost worthwhile as a statistical database! The actual game graphics haven't changed at all. The game is played at a 3/4 view. Scrolling is wonderfully and smoothly done. They've added some nice touches on the "scoreboard" and in the musical track (including "Rock n Roll, Part 1") which really add to the feeling of being at the game. The game sounds are improved as well...you'll even hear the goalie bang his stick against the ice to signal the end of a power play!
Nothing is ever perfect, of course. And the same is true here. Like a mediocre goalie, the game is eminently "solvable." Certain strategies will allow you to score virtually at will. On the other hand, if you eschew those strategies, the computer opponents can give you a pretty good game, though over time they stand little chance of beating you...even when you play Ottawa and the computer plays Detroit.
There are niggling problems in game play as well. Stamina affects how long players can stay on the ice for one shift, but doesn't seem to affect how well they play late in the third period. Injuries will force players off the ice for a period, but never longer. Even in league play, injuries never extend beyond the current game. The computer automatically shifts lines to fill in for the injured player, but doesn't re-insert that player when they become available. It doesn't even inform you when it happens! Major penalties are too much of a rarity and fighting is not even included (though that may have been required to obtain the NHL license). There's no drop passes, no deflections on shots from the point. In short there's stuff missing.
League play is possible. Any number of teams can be human-controlled and the computer will control the rest, simulating any necessary games. You can view team and individual leaders in a variety of categories. Trades are possible, but only between human controlled teams and nothing prevents you from making teams human-controlled and robbing them blind! Sure, Jimmy Waite for Patrick Roy is a good deal. Like all non-Front Page Sports sports games, league play pales by comparison. Even without the comparison, however, it's a makeshift job at best.
Unfortunately, it's not a terribly well-executed makeshift job. One of the most questionable "features" is that you lose game data if you do not return to "Sports Central" before exiting the game. Add to that the fact that stats for your team are not updated until the league data is "merged and updated." This has proven especially annoying in a PBEM league. I can't look at my player's updated stats until the end of the "month" when the league's GM merges and updates files!
You are not going to get statistically realistic results from NHL Hockey '95. In my league, Sergei Makarov leads the league with 70 goals in 60 games, Pat LaFontaine has taken over 600 shots, and Arturs Irbe has a GAA of 1.15! (Oh, by the way EA Sports...Goals Against is figured by dividing goals by minutes played and then multiplying by 60, not by dividing goals by games played! This statistical error was in the previous version and whoever didn't get rid of it should be flogged.) The computer won't return outrageous results like these for simulated games, but it won't return statistically accurate results either.
The Bottom (Goal) Line
I could spend most of the review trying to let EA Sports know what they should do to improve the game. And they should improve it. But the bottom line is this: I have not owned a game in years which I have played as consistently and for as long as this game. Yes, the game play is arcadish, but that means that it is fun, fast, and exciting. It captures the feel of hockey without bogging the player down in unnecessary details and decisions. If you want a statistically-accurate hockey simulation, then it's not the game for you. If you want a hell of a fun and challenging game...even if your not a hockey fan...then this is a great game that you'll find yourself playing for a long time!
Review By GamesDomain
How to play NHL 95
Unzip the game then mount the ISO file as a CD. Launch INSTALL.exe from the CD and install the game on C:.
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