When it comes to sports, Midway is one of the kings of extreme, having created some of the most action-packed titles on the market, including the likes of NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. At one point, Midway laced up their skates for Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, and later with Open Ice, but their hard-hitting hockey series wasn’t as popular as their other sports franchises. Fast forward a few years, Midway has risen from the penalty box to hit the ice again, this time with NHL Hitz 2002, an over-the-top arcade hockey experience that only the folks at Midway could dream up. A few months ago, we gave the PlayStation 2 version a thorough cavity search and if you read that review, you’ll probably find this review to be quite similar, save for a few points. So without further ado, grab a stick and let’s drop the puck on NHL Hitz 2002 for the Xbox.
Developed by Black Box Games (NHL 2K2), NHL Hitz 2002 sports an assortment of game modes including exhibition, championship, franchise and a skills mode. The exhibition mode pits two teams in head-to-head play. The championship mode invites players to defeat each of the 30 NHL teams, while the franchise mode allows aspiring pros to create a team and lead them to the Midway Cup. Last but not least, the skills mode affords beginners and veterans alike the opportunity to learn and practice such abilities as passing, shooting and winning face-offs.
To spice things up a little, players accumulate points by winning contests in each of the modes, answering trivia questions and completing various objectives. These points can then be used in the Hockey Shop to unlock alternate jerseys, fantasy rinks, hidden teams, and even increase the attributes of created players. The create-a-player function in NHL Hitz 2002 is surprisingly strong. You can customize just about every aspect of your player, right down to their facial features. The create-a-team feature is just as well implemented. Once you’ve chosen your team jersey and rink, it’s off to the franchise mode en route to the Midway Cup. It’s nice to see such a variety of game modes and options in NHL Hitz 2002, not to mention a solid reward system, especially since previous Midway sports titles have been fairly barren in those respects, but at the same time you shouldn’t expect anything as deep as the simulation-based NHL series from EA Sports.
If you’ve played any of Midway’s sports titles, the gameplay in NHL Hitz 2002 should come as little surprise. Big hits, big shots, big saves and big fights are the order of the day. On the ice, teams are comprised of three skaters and a goalie, and you can alternate players before the start of each period. In a rare dose of reality, players become unavailable to the team for a period of time if they lose a fight so you do have to manage your players to some extent in the championship and franchise modes.
One of the main differences between the Xbox and PlayStation 2 editions of NHL Hitz 2002 is the fluidity of gameplay. I found the framerate in the Xbox version to be much smoother than its PlayStation 2 counterpart. Interestingly enough, the overall speed of play in NHL Hitz 2002 is not as feverous as fans of the hockey series, or Midway sports games in general, are probably used too. Besides that aspect, the style of play remains relatively unchanged.
When I initially wrote my review of the PlayStation 2 edition of NHL Hitz 2002, I brought up the fact that the artificial intelligence of the computer opponents seemed to adjust itself during play, ensuring that most contests came down to the final few seconds. I immediately received a pair of e-mails from the developers, Black Box Games. They mentioned the “catch-up” style AI was specifically left out of NHL Hitz 2002 due to complaints gamers had regarding that aspect of the game. Instead, they attributed it to players and goalies getting “hot” or “cold”. Well, it’s still a little disheartening when your goalie suddenly gets ice cold and allows a few soft goals at the end of a game, while the opposing goalie becomes a brick wall.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of NHL Hitz 2002 is the fights. Easily one of the best fighting engines in a hockey game to date, NHL Hitz 2002 offers a variety of actions to perform during a scrap. Besides an assortment of punches, you can get your opponent in a chokehold and throw in a knee for good measure. On the other side of the coin, you can dodge, block and duck incoming punches. When all is said and done, the fighting is far better than the button-mashing contests we’ve become accustomed to in other hockey titles.
In terms of presentation, NHL Hitz 2002 for the Xbox is a sweet looking game. Player models are very well detailed, player animation is nice and fluid, and the various arenas are all well representative of their real-life counterparts. In the stands, fans are as active as they’ve ever been, flashing signs with game codes on them. Unfortunately, the crowd isn’t shown nearly as much as it should considering the effort that was put into them. The audio isn’t quite as tight as the visuals are. The announcer is the familiar voice behind Midway’s NBA and NFL franchises and as usual, he’s very excitable. Unfortunately, he’s also very limited in what he has to say, thus becoming repetitive very quickly. The sound effects are over-the-top, in tune with the theme of the game, and the soundtrack features a cool collection of rock and techno music.
When the final buzzer sounds, NHL Hitz 2002 skates away a winner, albeit with a few bruises. Despite the diversity of game modes and a nice reward system, the single-player element can be a relatively short experience. There’s definitely fun to be had with multi-player though and the over-the-top arcade action lends perfectly to such an occasion. If you’re a fan of Midway’s brand of sports titles, NHL Hitz 2002 surely won’t disappoint, as long as you don’t lace up expecting a realistic hockey simulation. You’d be better off picking up EA’s NHL 2002 in that case.