Last year's NHL title from EA was hands down the best hockey title for the Playstation. So, how do you improve on near perfection? That was the question EA had to be asking themselves when they started work on NHL 99. And their answer is. . .
NHL 99 has several new features that seem geared towards first time players. For example, there is a new softer level of "Beginner" that will allow just about anyone to pick up a controller and start playing. Also, this year there is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of each offense and defense play. This feature will really help players that know less about hockey get into the game. Another newbie-friendly feature is the new "Coaching Drills" mode which allows you to practice game situations like 2 on 3 breaks or penalty killing. This again will be really helpful to those player not familiar with the intricacies of "The Coolest Game On Earth". NHL 99 also features an "Expansion Draft" option. Players are able to draft a team for the expansion Nashville Predators and play their team in season mode.
Graphically, EA has stepped up with a solid looking title. The game looks very similar to last years effort, but with a few minor differences. The players look a bit crisper this year, but have lost a little detail. EA claims that this year's game features "NEW Mo-Cap animations" , but I was hard-pressed to find them. There do seem to be a few more animations in this year's version, particularly the special moves that star players can pull off, but they are of about the same quality as last year's. The stadiums and playing surfaces are once again well and realistically done, complete with the ads and accurate team logos.
This year EA Sports has tweaked gameplay by adding a few new features. First off there is a new shot meter, so now you'll know exactly how hard that slap shot from the point is going to be. Then there's the AI which, according to EA, has been redone to allow for easier passes and scoring opportunities. After playing for some time I found that, while my passes were picked off less I also actually scored less. Why? Damn good AI, that's why. The computer-controlled teams and my CPU-controlled teammates worked hard to get into the correct position for the play every time down the ice. I mean, if the CPU team is suppose to run a zone defense they run a zone defense or die trying, and the offensive plays are run with equal intensity. This may not have been what EA was going for, but I think most hockey fans will appreciate the more realistic play.
On the down side NHL 99 seems to move a little slower than last year. It's not a huge drop off, but it is noticeable. Also, there seems to be less commentary than last year and fewer dynamic close ups of the players before face-offs and during line changes. This is made up for, however, by the fact that this year the commentary doesn't lag behind the action like last year.
Okay, so what is the bottom line? Well, NHL 99 seems to take two big steps forward and one little step back when compared to last year's game. EA steps up with more game modes, some nice gameplay improvements, and more realistic AI. On the other hand it seems a tad slower. Overall this is a solid game that's going to appeal a bit more to those players that like thinking about coaching strategies and line changes. But really, anyone that buys this game is going to have a good time with it.
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