NHL Powerplay 98
Windows - 1997
Description of NHL Powerplay 98
This is Pat Burns Hockey 98
If you follow the on going NHL season there is a fair chance that you have come across Pat Burns. He is of Irish origins and became a policeman on the streets of Quebec City. I have no idea what brought him into hockey, but he became what people call a career-coach. After successful junior coaching he made his debut behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens. Actually, Pat Burns is famous because he coached only "Original Six" teams, namely the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins.
Pat Burns Hockey is a defense oriented hard-working and hard-checking style of hockey which suits especially well relatively less talented teams. He has a coaching style which brings out the most of his players and his teams. And that, in essence, is what makes NHL Powerplay 98 such a good game. Translate talent into glorious, impressive graphics and you know what I am talking about. The other hockey title, NHL 98 features clearly superior graphics compared to NHL Powerplay 98, but, for my tastes, the graphics in this game are as functional as anything. The graphics in NHL Powerplay 98 allow to look beyond mere glitz and to realise that, in the end, a game should be played and not only watched.
The game honors good passing
NHL Powerplay 98 simulates hockey in the sense of Pat Burns and that means: it's a tight checking, defense oriented game. Possibly, Radical overdid this a bit, because there is so much grabbing and clutching that you instantly understand Mario Lemieux's decision to retire, but even in today's NHL you will rarely see that much of it. Anyway, to get through with a smart play you really have to think. Imagine: you get hammered in your zone but manage to get the puck. Your players follow the game plan (which you set up in the superb coaching menu) and start a nice breakout. The coaching options are well done and reflect the positions of your players on the ice, and not some academic pressure percentage... Actually, the essence of the gameplay which this game offers is: you can and have to pass around to get in position. The passing itself is fairly easy but mastering the different ways to pass is a matter of practice: flip passes over the stick of the defender, a normal on-ice pass and a nice drop pass to get the center into position. You can speedburst in NHL Powerplay 98 but Slava Fetisov remains slower than Brendan Shanahan no matter what. The speedbursting Fetisov is a tad faster than the normal Fetisov and he can speedburst only for a couple of steps because he gets tired. That's the way it should be.
But what about the AI?
If you have read this far, I am sure, you wonder about the AI of this hockey game. It is well known that sports games may look good but feature, simply speaking, stupid gameplay. NHL Powerplay 98 leaves a mixed impression. It is strong when it comes to the ability to play a position. If you control the center, your wingers know where to go and where to be, they try to get open when covered and allow you to pass the puck. The same goes for defenders, when you control a defender who gets cought out of position, your fellow will most likely back you up. Great. NHL Powerplay 98 is my choice to go head to head with my buddy. It's so much more fun to actually play hockey than Master of the Speedburst because you can score real beauties, convert 2-1 with the right accuracy and you will start to understand the importance of hard work in penalty killing.
On the other hand, the computer can't score. Ok, I am a hockey game pro, I don't expect the computer to beat me 10-0, but still, it should score when it gets the chance but as soon as its players enter my zone they start to pass wildly around instead of taking the odd shot and score by deflection. If you are a hockey novice you will find it difficult enough to beat the computer, but if you have had your share of experience with other hockey games, then call in a friend and try to beat him instead, because the computer makes your life too easy. The other option which is worth mentioning is that it makes a difference whether you choose the Red Wings or Tampa Bay. Actually, I suggest you play a world cup championship with Switzerland (Thanks Radical - international squads are in this game for true international championship tournaments!). If you beat Canada in the finals, then you have truly mastered this game.
There is a life beyond the framerate
NHL Powerplay 98 is a great game, but a game which has some solid drawbacks. I already mentioned the graphics: make sure you have a Direct3D hardware accelerator, the 2D version is more a joke than a serious option. And make sure you have either a fast cpu (P166 and above) or get reduced detail. Actually, and this is a good one, I played the game on P100 first and scored endlessly, then I upgraded to a P200 with exactly the same graphics hardware (Voodoo) to see my scoring go down markedly. If you have a slower CPU, reduce the details even if the framerate seems acceptable because the graphics eat up all the resources which should be used for the AI. I wouldn't call this a bug, it's just interesting and it tells us an important thing about 3d acceleration: there is a life beyond the framerate.
The sound isn't too impressive, there is no play-by-play and the announcer is technically no way near the ones you love in Electronic Arts products. However, it is the official Vancouver Canucks announcer and that adds a bit of realism, particularly to the customers in Canada. There are people around complaining about the menu screens failing to support a mouse. Sure, that could have been done better, but, heck, since you only want to play this game with a gamepad that's not a real problem. A more serious problem is the lack of multi player support. All you can do is get Gravis Grip or a similar multi-pad system but you can't connect over modem or serial connection, let alone through the Internet. That's a real drawback because this game excells in multi player mode. In Europe, we don't care that much about the lack of multi player support because our phone bills are skyrocketing during those games, but I still see this as a major flaw in terms of marketing. Europeans will probably never understand a career oriented game, but that is not a problem in this game, because there is no career mode. Pat Burns wants to know how Joe Thornton plays this season, he could care less about how Joe Thornton is going to play in five years.
Actually, I can't help but saying it again: if you like hockey on your computer and you like a gameplay which honors clever passing and good tic-tac-toe plays then NHL Powerplay 98 is the game for you. Play it with your friend and you will have enormous fun. It is not exactly the game to show your party guests what your new machine can do, but then, you buy games to play them, not to watch them. That brings me right back to Pat Burns: it's not important how the game itself looks as long as it is a winner in terms of gameplay. NHL Powerplay 98 honors the hard working player and you start to realize how much fun a good defense can be. Hey, this game teaches you a thing or two about hockey, just ask Pat Burns. Anyway, NHL Powerplay 98 is a clear winner for me. Go get it!
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