We haven't really played hockey too much, be it in real life or videogame form, so the chance to play the latest iteration of the NHL series was a welcome one. What appeals so much about this game is obvious: it's fast, it's frantic and best of all it is superbly violent. So, don your padding and helmets and shuffle with us as we bring you our verdict on NHL 2005.
Ice Hockey is huge in America, here in the UK it isnt'. Say the word 'hockey' and you get images of middle-class men and woman running about Astroturf like idiots and being about as exciting as trigonometry. Thankfully this is the good version of hockey, and whilst we don't know who any of the players or teams are, we know that NHL 2005 is eye-meltingly good fun!
There are loads of different modes to be enjoyed here, from simple 'Play Now', which lets you play a quick friendly match, then there is the 'Game Modes' section which is stuffed full of different ways to enjoy NHL 2005. 'Dynasty Mode' is perhaps the biggest of them all, putting you in control of a hockey team for ten seasons of full on franchise management. You do everything from playing the games, to coaching the teams, to dealing with emails you receive and working out exactly how your team are going to play by altering every variable imaginable. But this isn't just a simple career mode that you find in most sports games, this is the so much more. The main goal here is to make a name for yourself and your team. As well as winning games you need to make a profit in what you do and get people to sit up and pay attention to your franchise. Your budget is determined by your success in various areas from performance as General Manager to profit, match attendance, winning percentages, singings and various other things.
You also have to keep all your players happy to keep them playing well, so man management is very important. You manage everything in your Dynasty from the main menu that is displayed between each and every game. Here you can look at your calendar, manage your team, look at stats, coach, look at your emails (the games way of informing you of news and updates). You can also look at scouting reports, finances, signings and contracts and keep tabs on everything.
What is more you also have to negotiate TV deals for your franchise. A fairly good one is already signed up for the first season, but after that it is up to you. How well your team and franchise does in the first season will effect how much you get offered by TV companies, so success in play and in management is essential for future profits.
If all of that sounds a little daunting, then you could simply set up a season long campaign, where the focus is just on playing games and winning games, rather than all the extras that can be found in the ten season long 'Dynasty Mode'. There is also a Hockey World Cup (international teams competing in a competition) and also for us Europeans the 'Elite Leagues' where you can enjoy the best of European club hockey...no, we're not excited either.
Perhaps best fun is the multiplayer, be it conventional two player mode or the wonderfully violent 'Free 4 All', which does exactly what it says on the tin. Get three mates round, give them all a controller, one goal, one keeper, four players, one puck, all against all...mayhem. The normal multiplayer is great fun too, with the frantic pace of the single-player modes only increased by the fact that your opponent it sitting next to you screaming and shouting in your ear; marvellous!
Hockey is one of those ideas that just transfers so well to a videogame, and when it is done well it is something that is very hard to put down. EA have made a superbly addictive beast in NHL 2005 and one that is fun all the way. The controls are simple, the game is simple, the whole premise is gloriously simple, meaning that even if you have never played Ice Hockey in your lives (like us) you will catch on in seconds and soon be enjoying the fast paced action. And when we say fast paced, we mean fast paced! Never before have we played a sports game that plays quite as fast as this one, we found ourselves pausing the game to let our eyes catch up with what was going on in the game. What is more this title is such uncompromising fun, rather than just nipping in to steal the puck you have to slam into your opponents, making the walls around the rink rattle with the sheer impact. You can even smash the glass screens should you 'accidentally' hit the puck a little high...
Scoring is something of an art, weaving gracefully between defenders at break-neck speed, whisking the puck this way and that with dexterous flicks of your hockey stick is insanely difficult, and then you have to whip your stick round and smash the puck into the top corner of the goal with power and precision. When it works it is great, but it takes a lot of practice, and is one of the many things that makes NHL 2005 so damn addictive. It's challenging, but all of the challenges are fair and you will want to keep on doing them, as they are very rewarding.
EA have gone to great lengths to make this game look and sound great. All the players are wonderfully animated as they zip and smash their way across the rink, and the ice itself sheens with great realism. The replays look great too, showing your goals with great finesse. There is never a hint of slowdown either, with everything racing along at a great rate. The sound is perhaps better still. Most of the players are named and shamed by the commentary team (whom we are informed are big names in the USA) and all the chitchat and banter flows perfectly. There are also some great tunes included in the game from bands like Ash and Franz Ferdinand, this play both during the main menu and when play goes dead for Face Offs and the like.
Sometimes a little too fast and a little too based on luck for our liking, but pretty near perfect. It is always great fun and hugely addictive. Simple to pick up but a total bugger to master. Just how a sports game should be.
One moment really sticks in the mind. When we won the World Cup with Canada all the players stood in a line singing the national anthem, it was perfect synched and looks amazing. All the flashing lights, waving arms, perfect. The animation all through the game is superb and the whole thing is graphically excellent.
Excellent commentary and some great music make for some great sounds. Commentary both during the action and during breaks between periods is always fluent and engaging and the crowd really get involved with the action.
It will last you forever and possibly a bit more. The 'Dynasty Mode' is huge, and if you have some mates that enjoy playing too prepare to become addicted rather quickly and for a long time.
EA have pulled out all the stops to make this the complete hockey game. The real life game itself will always be perfectly suited to a videogame translation and EA are improving upon the tried and tested formula year on year. We have been hugely impressed with this title, even if you don't like hockey you'll find it to be a total blast.