Thursday, April 3, 2008


After Kris decided to dust off his SORNY Playstation (the newest gaming technology available in France, apparently) and play some NHL 2000 on his new SORNY TV (and brag about beating the Devils, and about how much better his fake Sabres team is vs. the real one), I decided that I had to reply. Little did he know that he's stirred the pot, awoken the beast and created a monster: last night I found my PC copy of NHL 2002. This could get ugly.

I haven't played it in about 3 years, and it was pretty funny seeing Super Mario (Lemieux, not the Nintendo star) on the cover. While not as immediately enjoyable as NHL '94, graphically stunning as NHL 2001 for PS2, or as slick and shiny as NHL 08, this game was fun to play, not overly glitchy and endlessly customizable. I even had my "ditties" (clips of songs you upload that play during stoppages) still on the hard drive. While NHL 98 was an excellent showcase of what a PC hockey game could be, this edition may have been the last solid NHL game that EA released on the PC.

However, it wasn't a simple process to just "play a game" on my old computer. First, I had to reinstall it, and find the old box which had the EA registration code on it (ugh). Then I had to find a driver for the gamepad (which I had actually bought as a backup but never used), and download the newest rosters I could find (2005-06 season). Was it worth it? Yes it was. (Or was it?)

I set up a quick game of Sabres @ Devils at the Continental Breakfast Arena, playing at difficulty level 2 (it goes from 1 to 4, where 4 = frigging impossible). As I began to play I realized that this was the first NHL videogame I've ever played where I didn't have Scott Stevens playing D for the Devils--and I didn't like it at all. One thing I did notice that always bothered me about the game is the weird computer AI whenever one of their wingers skates towards the goal with the puck. Instead of going directly at the goal, 80% of the time the player would skate straight north-south (as if he was in a bubble hockey slot) to almost the goal line, and then make a sharp right angle cut. If you could hit him or knock him off the puck before he was able to get off a pass into the slot, you were fine. If you didn't, there was a good chance they'd score a one-timer goal. Very odd. Also, the goalies are pretty dumb about covering up the puck around the crease, and seem to ignore it while it sits on the outside of the net. Otherwise, it's a solid game (if you can ignore Don Taylor's silly color commentary).

As I was slowly relearning the game controls on the weird new (to me) gamepad, I was getting badly outshot/outhit (I had a lot of shots AT goal, which dammit, NHL 2002 doesn't keep track of). On one side, you had a great Sabres squad with Drury, Danielle and Maxim for Men (who must have a "speed rating" of 99). The home team was a so-so Devils group, with Gomez, Gionta and Madden, but also Grant Marshall (on the first line?), Mogilny (who barely played that season) and Kozlov (who in typical Russian fashion, dogged it all year) and spotty defense. However, the Devils still had Marty in goal so it all added up to a 4-0 shutout. (Sounds like their entire team history since 1994.) I checked later, and the Devils' team rating was actually one point higher than Buffalo, though seemed like they didn't have as much talent. I made Miller look silly on a Gomez breakaway, and on the final Langenbrunner goal, which he seemed to give up on (realism!) standing almost straight up as the puck sailed by like a Frisbee. He also looked silly wearing a black/red mask and pads with the blue/gold 3rd jersey, but that's not important when your save % is only .810.

Once I remember how to play (and lay down the BIG HIT), I'm going to switch to a higher difficulty level and perhaps start a playoff tournament with all of this season's teams in the mix.

(Anyone out there have the latest rosters for 2007-08?)

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