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Developer Radical Options
Distributer Virgin 1-8 Player
Game Type Sports Sim Memory Card
Review Date January 1998 Multi-tap
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Setting the Scene
As the saying goes, 'Another day, another dollar'. Another year, another sports sim. So why should 1998 be any different? NHL Powerplay Hockey '98 is the latest addition to the ever growing catalogue of Playstation sports games.

The original Powerplay Hockey game was fairly sluggish and possibly more suited to the novice player. It was relatively easy to pick-up-and-play but the tasty graphics were spoilt by the fact that it was difficult to see who had control of the puck - which rather defeated the object of the game. It also lacked the abundance of options and stats which fill out every other sporting title and failed to include the obligatory punch ups that add a bit of realism to ice hockey games.

This years offering is a vast improvement in both graphic and gameplay departments making for a more playable and enjoyable experience, but would it satisfy the craving of a public who have already witnessed the irresistible NHL 98 from EA Sports? Let's see.

NHL Powerplay 98, in case you haven't already gathered, is a simulation of the sport of Ice Hockey. The game features all 26 teams within the National Hockey League and a selection of top International squads. 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, with the idea being to smack a small puck into the opponents goal more times than they can score in yours.

NHL Powerplay 98 has certainly moved up a few notches on the visual side. When the motion captured players first take to the ice and skate off to their allocated positions each action looks mighty impressive. Once again their reactions and movements are quite realistic, especially when two players collide sending one, or both, sprawling head first across the icy surface. Rather than leap back onto their feet they gradually drag themselves up taking a few seconds to regain their senses.

The speed of the game has been vastly improved but not to the point where the realism of the sport is lost. It takes a second or two for the players to gather momentum (even with the speed button firmly pressed down) and although pushing the left and right directional buttons offers an instant reaction as they weave through the defence, a sudden 360° reversal will see the player overshoot the mark, grind to a halt and then he must slowly build up speed to catch up with play. This will be acceptable to those who have got off their backsides and ventured on to an ice rink, while those who do not understand the physics involved may call this sluggish. The increase in speed from last years offering has had a slight effect on the look of the players as they now have a slight grainy appearance. Not enough to cause confusion as their strips are easily identifiable, so are the squad numbers on the back of their shirts, but it is noticeable.

The smooth scrolling, cool blue ice rink is accurately set out with the red and blue lines that highlight the zones having a misty edge to them that gives them a slightly melting appearance. The player in possession is highlighted by a brightly colored circle at their feet while the opposition in control bears a dull grey indicator.

Thankfully this years offering makes use of more intelligent camera positions. The standard tracking view should be suitable for most players but an in-game option is included should you feel the urge to tamper with the visual settings.

A replay mode is available for use at anytime during or after play and the use of the fast forward and rewind controls allow you to check out individual players performances and abilities.

Sounds and Effects
Sadly there has been little change with the sound effects. Once again there is no big name commentator to report on the action, however there is a stadium announcer who keeps you informed on certain aspects of play. The noise from the crowd is a constant roar which seems more of a background fill-in rather than a creation of atmosphere and is only interrupted by the occasional few bars from the stadium organ. There's the clatter of hockey sticks, the scraping of blades on ice and the occasional sound of the referees whistle but that's about it.

Hard-core hockey gamers can generally be placed in two categories. Those that seek out the best sim around at a given time and then stick with it. They will play it to death, learning every shot, block and check and play out numerous full seasons with several teams. The clock is set at the maximum 20 minute period, while the options are rarely used as Offside, Icing and the 2 Line Pass are permanently welded on. They regularly adjust tactics, trade and coach players. In their spare time they peek through a gap in the curtains, awaiting an unsuspecting mate to pass by. Then they pounce.
"Fancy a game on my Playstation?"
"Ever played Powerplay hockey? It's cool. All you need to know is that you press this button to pass, that one to shoot and that to check. Okay, lets go".
During play your mate notices that you are skating backwards, line changing, switching players, fast skating, hooking, smothering, performing wrist shots, slap shots, body checks and poke checks.
"How did you do that?" cries the mate.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you. You just press this, you just press that".
Before you know it they have well and truly whopped your ass and then gleefully claim that it was 'fun' and 'we must do this again sometime'.

Then, of course, there are the gamers who must purchase every single sports game on the system, no matter how similar they are. This type of player demands real named players, up to date stats and an option to switch off certain rules to speed up the flow of the game. In fact the inclusion of NHL Powerplays Quick Start should suit them down to the ground. When first loading up they will probably go for a 5 minute period Exhibition game playing as the high flying Philadelphia against a lowly opposition such as Switzerland. Just to test out the moves, of course.
After a few Exhibition games they will probably opt for a World Tourney or skip straight into the Play-offs. Should the offer of playing out a Season prove too tempting, then thankfully the full option of games may be reduced to as little as eleven. You see, to these players time is of the essence and there is no way they could find the eighty-two hours required to play out a full season. I often wonder how may people complete more than one season because I assume the majority of gamers play to win. therefore after 41 fixtures you are usually too far off the pace to succeed or so many points ahead it becomes boring.

NHL Powerplay Hockey '98 should be suitable for both these types of player as all of the above features are included within this sporting sim. In addition there is a wealth of information to browse through at your leisure such as Top 25 player stats and a helpful guide to team tactics that lists the pros and cons of specific playing styles. Of course Powerplay Hockey would not be a true simulation had the finer aspects of the sport not been included, therefore the opportunity to square up with an opponent will be warmly welcome with punch, uppercut and block at your disposal. It's all over in a few moments and the players involved doubtlessly meet up later in a polygon bar for a beer and a laugh, somewhere behind the scenery.

Value for Money
If you were satisfied with last years offering then you will perform cart-wheels over this years version. The difference is immense. However if you are looking to purchase your first ice hockey game on the Playstation then I would advise you to rent this and NHL 98 before deciding which to invest your cash on.

GRAPHICS: Average Although NHL Powerplay 98 is a vast improvement over last years version I still feel that it is playing catch-up with other hockey titles. It is better than NHL 97 but doesn't quite cut it against this years offering. I suggest that next years update should hit the shelves before NHL 99 and steal some of it's thunder.
GRAPHICS: Brilliant
VALUE: Brilliant

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