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NHL '98
Developer E.A Sports Options
Distributer Electronic Arts 1-8 Plyrs
Game Type Sports Simulation Mem. Card (1-6 Blocks)
Review Date November'97 Multi-Tap
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Setting the Scene
NHL '97 was graphically one of the finest sports titles produced with the polygon players being motion captured to create an illusion of a realistic ice hockey game. The rest of the package was presented in a tidy format from the smooth FMV intros to the television quality multi-camera modes.

Now EA SPORTS presents NHL '98 with a brand new game engine that generates fast, transitional, NHL-style gameplay that gets you off the bench and into the action like no other sports game.

Marc Crawford, Colorado Avalance Coach and Stanley Cup Champion, teamed up with EA SPORTS to devise and implement unrivaled NHL coaching schemes - from powerplays to penalty killing, fore-checking to back-checking, and true offensive and defensive strategies you can change on-the-fly.

NHL '98 is a simulation of the sport of Ice Hockey. The game features all 26 teams within the National Hockey League, 18 top National clubs, 2 All Star teams and 2 Custom teams. Each team has five outfield players and a keeper to begin with but rough play can see your team numbers rapidly reduced for timed periods. The game is played on an enclosed ice rink, obviously, and the ball is a puck which the players attack with a hockey stick. The players wear multiple layers of clothing for protection and because it's damn cold, while masks and gloves are worn because it's dangerous.

If FMV intros are anything to go by then EA Sports have certainly got it cracked.
"Are you willing to compete with your body?" booms the announcer.
"Gotta problem with a boney?
Would you stop a speeding bullet?
Are you afraid of the masked man?
Come on - bring 'em on!
Think you gotta game?"

The intro then rips into a non-stop barrage of live footage featuring some of the worlds top players in action. Shots, stops, shoulder charging, near misses and the inevitable punch ups, all backed by thunderous heavy rock music. All this is culminated by the scoreboard exploding into flames. Man, this game is won before the face off.

Before each game the teams line up for a short introduction as the camera glides down from the scoreboard before settling in your chosen position. There are eight angles in which to view the game and an option to switch on the Auto Zoom feature.

The graphics are now unbelievably smoother than the '97 edition while a smarter Artificial Intelligence has been programmed into the players to offer added realism. The polygon players have once again been motion captured to create the illusion of real hockey action. Every player has their own names and numbers texture mapped onto their shirts but they appear to have been involved with that genetic scientist who experiments in cloning as their unshaven features are once again identical.

Sounds and Effects
The game commences with a brief rendition of the National anthem for the teams taking part. The rest of the music follows the example of the intro being a selection of heavy rock tunes. The excitement this generates is splendid and it's all presented in Dolby Surround.

The in-game sound effects are as realistic as you can get with the clattering of sticks, the swish of the skates on the ice, a few grunts and groans as players collide at speed, all backed by the sound of the baying home crowd. The commentary is much more detailed than last years NHL effort with each player in possession named and every decision explained.

As far as gameplay is concerned NHL '97 is a very easy game to pick up and play. All of the face buttons have a dual function dependant of whether your on the offence or defence. When attacking the press of the appropriate button will allow you to pass, shoot, speed burst or perform a special move. When holding off your opponents advances the players will hook, block, speed burst/check or sweep/poke. What could be more simpler? Accelerate and brake I suppose. The shoulder buttons are used to adjust your strategic pattern or simply alter the camera line. Don't forget, line changes can be the key to winning or losing games.

Multiple gameplay modes are once again available. Exhibition is a single game between any two teams. Up to eight player can play in this mode by connecting two multi-taps.
You can play through a 25 or 82 game NHL Season complete with player transactions and stats. When the regular season ends, the top eight teams from each conference move on to the playoffs where the champions will attend an awards ceremony for their gallant effort.
If that takes too much time then why not dive straight into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 1, 3, 5, or 7 game series.
A round-robin Tournament may be set up with 44 NHL and national teams to determine the undisputed NHL '98 champions.
For a quick thrill Shootout mode has been included to practice your penalty shots.

First you must grasp the rules of the game otherwise play will degenerate into a series stop-start frustrations. The red line divides the rink into two halves and the two blue lines mark the start of the offensive and defensive zones. Penalties will be called for hooking, slashing, tripping, interference, cross checking, elbowing, holding and probably for throwing snowballs. Thankfully this can be turned off for a thoroughly enjoyable dirty game.

Offside is called when a player enters the blue offensive zone before the puck does. Thankfully this can be turned off for the goal moochers. A two line pass is penalized when the puck is passed from the defensive zone to the area past the red centre line without contacting a player, while icing determines whether a puck can be played from the defensive half to the area behind the goal you are attacking. If these are also switched off then you don't need the ref.

During the interval of each quarter your offensive and defensive set ups may be edited to change the flow of play. Getting to grips with this facility is essential as a correct tactical change should alter the course of the game.

If we were honest one of the main reasons for watching the sport of ice hockey is for those inevitable punch ups. Don't give me that crap about it being a contact sport or the tensions of the players in a red hot atmosphere (hot? It's held at an ice rink). It's downright thuggery... and I love it. When tempers flare the game grinds to a halt and off come the gloves. Two players move in on each other and fight to the death (well, until someone falls on his arse then). It may not be Tekken 2 but it's fun all the same. The anti-boxing brigade can turn off this option at the main menu screen.

Value for Money
What more can I say? Yet another ice hockey sequel hits the already packed shelves to confuse the regular punter. Who am I to say which one you should chose, as all tastes are different. All I can say is that NHL '98 equals the best out there in gameplay and pips them all with that splendid intro.

GRAPHICS: Excellent EA Sports have got their act together with this sound ice hockey sim. Excellent graphics, quite good sound and commentary, all of the skill levels, stats, play options, and team rosters you could want and Oooh, that intro. If there was one obvious flaw in the whole game it was the after goal celebrations went on a little too long, especially when it was the opposing team dancing around in delight.
SOUND: Average

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