At last the PlayStation is flirting with other game genres. Instead of just racing, beat-’em-up and soccer sims, it’s time for the minor leagues to make their play. NHL Face Off is the first ice hockey game to appear, although it will be closely followed by VIE’s Powerplay Hockey, so it needs to be impressive.
NHL Face Off offers the player over 30 of the top American NHL teams, such as the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago, Washington and Toronto to control, and there are tons of leagues and matches to compete in. The game is also ably supported by a wealth of options that allow you to fiddle with every aspect of the game – from less well known rules to camera views – and suit it to your personal tastes. There is also an agile replay mode that lets you view the action from any angle.
First impressions are good, and the rink itself looks extremely impressive as the camera zooms in and rotates around the screaming crowds before settling behind the players as they face off. The great visuals, complemented by atmospheric crowd chants and cheesy music make you feel as if you’re actually there, complete with popcorn, hot dogs and annoying people with faces painted in their team colours. All is well until the puck is dropped into the fray…
As the whistle blows and 12 men attempt to hack each other to death with razor-edged sticks the one thing that is immediately apparent is that the player sprites are absolutely rubbish given the PlayStation’s immense capacity for jawdropping visuals. How did this get through Sony’s rigid quality control procedures? It would have been better if each individual player was digitised and made to look like the real NHL counterpart, or even if they were shaded polygon creations; anything except the sad and frankly embarrassing stick-like morons who skate with all the ease and grace of the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts! Ray-tracing – Ray Harryhausen more like!
Thankfully, the players are easy to control, with a simple configuration of buttons to change players, pass, shoot and skate faster/shoulder barge. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it soon second nature. My only real complaint is that it’s sometimes too hard to keep track of the rough looking puck as so much is going on.
Fortunately this game comes with four different views, at least one of which will be your instant favourite. I recommend the vertical cam because it lets you see the whole rink and illuminates open angles for scoring. Playing Face Off in the comparative FIFA view is tough, and the horizontal is nearly impossible. Still, all things to all men, and it’s good that you are at least given the choice. One thing that you most certainly are not consulted on is the inclusion of any violence. NHL Face Off is so tame you could let it sleep on the sofa overnight without fear that there would be a turd waiting for you next morning. Sony, conservative as ever, have omitted the one thing that makes ice hockey bearable as a sport – the fights. There are no punch-ups, moody exchanges, fingers slashed off, noses broken or even kits ruffled – in short this game is a complete wimp!
The PlayStation is supposed to be a next generation, not regression, console and even the lowly Sega Mega Drive had a hockey game with some balls. By far the most satisfying aspect of playing an ice hockey sim is that you can go bonkers and try to kill everyone on the rink without getting so much as a scratch. Face Off is sanitised, censored and quite obviously designed not to offend anybody. I expect more from a 32-bit console that is supposed to be aimed at adults.
NHL Face Off is a playable enough action game, but what it lacks is the ferocity and excitement of the actual sport. It’s no Actua Soccer and I urge you to wait and see what Powerplay Hockey has to offer before parting with your cash.