Hockey was always the one sport I found crunchingly violent at school. Due to the teacher's inconsistency with decisions and his firm belief that any untoward tackling was just a case of getting used to the rules, playing hockey was literally putting your life out on a limb.
So when it comes to reviewing NHL Championship 2000 (or C2K for short), I probably know more about ice hockey (there can't be that many differences, can there?) than anyone else at EuroGamer.
Ironically, not even my feeble repertoire of hockey facts could stand up to C2K...
When you first load up NHL Championship 2000, the first thing that strikes you is the snazzy interface. It's very sharply contoured, and navigation is swift. Should you be interested in customising the various statistics and rules you can do so to your heart's content. Equally, if you have next to no comprehension of how any of this ice hockey mumbo-jumbo works, you can just hit "Play" to go through a game with the default teams and settings. In order to work out how the game played (not because I was clueless), I tried this first...
Since just about every sports game in the world these days requires a gamepad, I put my hard-earned to good use and picked up an MS Sidewinder a few months ago. It has served me well with games like FIFA 2000 and EA's NHL 2000, and I've never wanted for another pad.
I only tell you this, because in spite of the manual's insistence to the contrary, the controls just don't work as specified. For instance, buttons Y and Z on the pad are supposedly unbound, but instead buttons B and C seem to be devoid of function and buttons Y and Z do other things completely. Another control-related quibble is that when the goalie receives the puck there seems to be no way of dispatching it again using the pad! Believe me, I've tried!
This quickly made the game very hard to play (and frustrating too), so I reverted to the keyboard and fired it up once more. Disaster! The game's configurations are shockingly bad - you either cram yourself into the top-right corner of the keyboard or spread yourself across the left. Either way the game is impossible to control effectively, and of course you can't reconfigure the controls either...
Making A Pass
Nevertheless, I wanted to enjoy the game, so I put aside my qualms and tried to play the game with one of the keyboard configurations. Things can only improve from here .. or so I thought.
I skated around aimlessly for a while, trying to grasp the game in the same way that I had grasped EA's ice hockey titles, but to no avail. For all its official statistics and supposedly simplistic control system, I could never manage to put together the hasty and effective passing movements that had made NHL 2000 so much fun.
Nor could I culminate anything with a finishing shot. Instead I would usually either put the puck safely into the keeper's glove or lose it in transit and risk reprise from my opponent's counter-attack.
To NHL Championship 2000's credit, its defensive and attacking AI is very well done, at times reminding me of just how inexperienced I am when it comes to ice hockey. But then at times it's just plain unfair.
If I'm on an attack I don't expect to see a 6ft hockey stick wielded in my face to prevent my shot - even I know that's breaking the rules. You are supposed to be penalised for that kind of behaviour, but the referee sees nothing - play on. At least in NHL 2000, this sort of event would lead to a Street Fighter-esque beat-em-up round. I haven't seen anything like that in C2K...
You're Looking Average, Tonight
One area that any sports title should try to avoid falling down in is graphics. EA Sports really have set the trend in terms of authenticity, and Fox Sports like so many others have yet to catch up.
Graphically the game is functional, although at times impressive - the interface, for example. But even though competition comes by way of EA, that's no excuse for the rather dodgy player animations found throughout. You press down the Wrist Shot button and, unlike the smooth backswing of NHL 2000, your player's arm flicks into position without so much as a transitional frame!
While I'm on the subject of graphics, why oh why does the game insist on replaying every little incident and minutely exciting moment? The goalie covers up the puck (which I can't help, seeing as I don't have any way of getting rid of it) and, oh look, a replay of the events leading to it. It gets depressing, and you end up scrambling to try turn it off.
Speaking of average-ness, the sound effects are of the usual acceptable sports-game standard, with pucks flying and sticks swirling as expected. That said, sticks don't swirl too much at all.
The high level of fisticuffs seen in NHL 2000 are not present within NHL Championship 2000, although the players do fly across the ice in a fury after somewhat faint clashes with their opponents. The realism factor just isn't there.
"It's a two-goal game!"
The "play-by-play" (as the Americans like to call it) isn't all that great, with the commentators being unable to explain which teams are playing or what the score is! "It's a one-goal game!" is a wimp's way out (although the difficulty is such that you won't get that many more goals anyway).
To their credit, during stoppages in the game the commentators focus on particular players and recount a few anecdotes about each. Thankfully there's enough material to prevent this growing stale, but amassing this knowledge base seems to have taken precedent over getting the commentators to accurately comment on the events as they happen! Quite the paradox.
In fact, NHL Championship 2000 as a game is a bit of a paradox. Ice hockey by reputation is a fast, furious, and violent game of end-to-end mayhem. C2K barely warms up by the half-time hooter. In order to experience anything like an exciting experience you have to set the PC up to play against itself.
Even the multiplayer mode is lacking, and networked games where the puck runs loose for several seconds are common, because both players are hunched over the keyboard trying to understand how to play the damned thing! The frustration is overwhelming.
To be fair on Fox Sports though, the game is not devoid of virtue. The statistics are very impressive (every single statistical abbreviation that you might find used in the NHL is included herein - I could barely contain myself), as are the various authentic play-modes (Season Play, Playoffs, World Tournament, anyone?).
At the end of the day though it has not done enough to keep me interested, because I don't want to fight through incomprehensible statistics, unplayable controls, and downright unfair AI for my gaming experience.
Although Fox Sports' latest title is a far cry from the proverbial that they were shovelling only last year, the game is still dogged with problems that will make it inaccessible to all but the most enthusiastic of ice hockey fans.
I don't doubt that a lot of entertainment could be gleaned from this title, but for the average gamer it will be a step too far.