DOS - 1995
Description of NHL 96
Let me begin this review of NHL '96 by saying that I do truly enjoy this game. After seeing what I have to say about it, you may think otherwise, but I can assure you, this game is quite fun even with all its little quirks and flaws that I will point out over then next few sections.
The NHL Hockey series of games from Electronic Arts we spawned by the overwhelming success of the earlier Sega Genesis versions of the game. The first two versions of NHL Hockey for the PC, has similar graphics to the Genesis and Super Nintendo versions of the game. All three had the 3/4 view of the game which made for an interesting and exciting perspective. In the new version however, the 3/4 view has given way to an assortment of camera angles and the sad part is, none of these offer the same quality as old view.
This however has changed with NHL '96. The makers of the game have decided to totally recreate the graphics engine for the new PC version. It appears that they used NBA Live '95 as their model when remodelling the graphics engine. The SVGA Graphics in High-Res mode are absolutely stunning and even in Low-Res mode they are quite incredible. There is however a problem with the new grpahics, the engine is a complete resource hog. On my machine even in Low-Res mode, the game can at times run like a dog (usually when overlapping with sound). There are even complaints about the slow frame rate from owners of P90's with 16 Megs of Ram when in High-Res mode. Makes one wonder what it would take to run this game to its fullest potential, which graphically is so promising.
Music and Sound
This game excels in its sound qualities. It is very true to real hockey in terms of sounds heard during the game. You really begin to enjoy it more if you have a good quality sound card. As a fan of hockey, its always a great adrenalin rush to hear the announcer say the actual name of your latest goal-scoring hero. And all the names of every player in the game are included which adds a nice level of ambiance to the game. Having played ice hockey myself for fifteen years, I can honestly say that they have completely recreated the sounds one would normally associate with the World's Fastest Contact Sport.
Music is greatly improved over the last versions as well. In NHL Hockey '95 the musical score was VERY SIMILAR to that used by a grand Canadian institution known as Hockey Night in Canada. I was slightly annoyed with that in the past version, not to mention the fact that the entire layout of the previous version was all but ripoffed from Hockey Night. The musical score however in NHL '96 is brand new and very catchy. Its quick paced and totally suits the game. Whereas the Hockey Night in Canada theme song incites odd emotional feelings inside many Canadians on Saturday nights, the theme from NHL '96 actually gets you pumped up to play the game. It is the first time any company has been able to instill those sort of feelings in me. I was impressed, well, as impressed as I can be in the music of a sports/action game.
This area of the game is for me, such a mixed bag of nuts that it is very difficult to review. I won't even take into consideration that the game sometimes has a choppy frame rate on my computer because I have seen it on better machines and the faster the processor and RAM you have, the better your performance. The game however has some serious AI flaws. It just seems that EA cannot get it right with NHL Hockey. There is always some sort of AI Flaw that puts a frown on the face of the people who play it. In previous versions it was things like your defensemen standing outside the Blue Line when the play was in the offensive zone. With NHL '96, EA undertook some challenging tasks in terms of AI in regards to hockey. As any hockey fan knows, when a defenseman "pinches" or goes on the offense, a forward usually drops back to cover his position. The people at EA decided to add this to the game, but its seems they entirely missed with it. Instead of one player covering for the defenseman, every player seems to stay back and watch the defenseman go on the offense. This makes it terribly difficult to score on one timers, or get any kind of a rebound. The worst part though, is it is entirely unrealistic. There are more flaws, but it would be like beating a dead horse.
I would like to again re-iterate, I really like this game. Its a very odd situation indeed. I find myself watching others play the game and I sit there complaining about various "glitches" in the game that really should have been corrected. When I get my Gravis Gamepad in my hand and actually begin playing it however, its a totally different experience. It goes without saying that I am enormous hockey fan, and perhaps this has something to do with it, but I seemingly become immersed in the game. This is a very powerful thing for any game to achieve, but NHL '96 does it. Also, the game is far more competative than previous versions. Everyone's favourite automatic goal move, "the deke" has been virtually taken away, although lately, I've been able to score with a variation of it more frequently.
League play in the game is virtually unchanged. This is somewhat of a disappointment too. There have been calls over the last three or so years for EA to implement some sort of management AI like the ones in the Front Page Sports series from Dynamix. Again, these calls have gone unanswered. I think this may be a matter of market positioning. If that's the case, then it is very sad for EA because they are allowing policy and politics to stand in the way of them creating a complete gem of a product.
I think one really has to play this game to get a feel for its good points and shortcomings. I have no trouble picking out what bothers me about the game, but when asked what part I like the best, it always comes out unintelligible. I just enjoy playing the game even with all its flaws. I think that is a credit to the Electronic Arts Canada division of Electronic Arts and it says alot about the game of hockey. There is not one doubt though in my mind that this game could have benefitted INCREDIBLY from one more month of in house testing and play. Perhaps EA should take the route of releasing beta copies to the general public for future games.
In the future versions of this game, and there will be future versions, I would like to see them add a few things. I would really enjoy it if they implemented some form of advanced management AI to the game. Even if it were to cost me a few extra bucks, I would be glad to pay for it. I would like to see them do more in house testing before releasing their games as well. It would get rid of a great many AI flaws I bet. Most importantly, I would like it if they returned the 3/4 angle view of the game. While all the new camera angles are nice and make for impressive replays, none of them are as good for gameplay as the old angle.
On the whole, I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a great sports game. I would add a footnote to that recommendation though, and it would involve things like EDO Ram and a very powerful processor. I have been forced to turn off all the frilly options in the game to get quality Low-Res performance, and while I miss having the announcer around for ambiance, I would rather have a fluid moving game. EA has given me this, sorta.
Review By GamesDomain
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