BY TODD MOWATT
Can't get enough of the NHL playoffs? Video game publishers are vying for the Interactive Stanley Cup, with new offerings for hockey fans from Electronic Arts, Fox Sports Interactive, 989 Studios and Sega Sports.
NHL 2000: Act as general manager or heckle the losers after a win.
The games are realistic, says Chris Pronger of the St. Louis Blues, who was an avid gamer even before he became a spokesman for Electronic Arts' NHL 2000.
"Some of the guys on our team even play our upcoming opponents to see how the game thinks we will do," he says.
NHL 2000 ( out of four) A mainstay on the PlayStation since the system's inception, NHL 2000 (EA Sports, for PC and PlayStation, all ages, $39.99) the series just keeps getting better with age. The biggest addition to this year's game, besides the improved graphics and improved frame rate, is the Career Mode. Made popular in Madden NFL Football, this mode gives you the ability to play multiple seasons, deal with free agency, trade and retire players.
Serious hockey fans can act as a general manager, such as Neil Smith of the New York Rangers, and try to pull the pin on a trade that will elevate a team to a Stanley Cup contender. Controlwise, the game is about the same as it was last year except that EA has added a new check button. Many of the scoring tricks you mastered in last year's game can be executed again this year. EA also added the ability to taunt and celebrate after a goal with the press of a button. So now, after you win a brawl or score a goal, you can rub it in.
Rock the Rink () In Rock the Rink (EA for PlayStation, rated Teen, $49.99), the NHL meets the WWF with plenty of explosive action. It's a fast-paced three-on-three arcade hockey experience, like Midway's NFL Blitz with skates. There's a ton of scoring, few rules and plenty of attitude. The philosophy is simple: Why go around an opponent when you can go through him?
In the Challenge Mode, gamers can earn power-ups, rewards and the ability to unlock other NHL teams. Some rewards include stronger sticks, the power to check harder and "lightning" skates to skate faster. The game is a blast and shows hockey in a different light.
NHL Face Off 2000 () The Face Off franchise gets a face lift this year with NHL Face Off 2000 (989 Studios, for PlayStation, all ages, $39.99). The game changes a few of the front-end options, and smiles have been mapped onto players' faces. The game has more TV-style presentation, and the auto-replay features have been modified. The icon passing feature is back, and the game still relies heavily on this option.
A number of camera angles have been added, which makes following the action easier. The offensive and defensive strategies are back, but instead of picking plays, you can choose from normal, aggressive or conservative.
NHL Championship 2000 () Fox Sports Interactive enters the video game fold with NHL Championship 2000 (Fox Sports for PlayStation, PC; all ages, $39.99). The game is solid, but it can't stand up to the features, graphics or super-smooth gameplay of EA Sports' NHL Hockey 2000. This game suffers from a choppy frame rate and some artificial intelligence issues. But with a few minor modifications, it could be a contender in the next few years.
The in-game commentary is well done by John Davidson and Kenny Albert. One unique feature is a rivalry meter that increases the likelihood of in-game fights that fans will see - a nice touch.
NHL 2K () Dreamcast hockey fans might be disappointed with NHL 2K (Sega Sports for Dreamcast, all ages, $59.99). The game seems rushed and doesn't have the great gameplay and graphics of NBA 2K or NFL 2K, two titles previously released for Dreamcast. The action is choppy, and the puck physics and player models need work. Still, it's much better than Sega's previous NHL All-Star Hockey (for the Sega CD system).
The goalies in NHL 2K are all-stars and are very hard to get the puck past. But once you figure out the "money move," you can score and score. As a result Sega Sports and developer Black Box fail to make the interactive playoffs.