If you have spent any quality time with the first two offerings in the 2K series from Visual Concepts then you have now high expectations for each additional game in the series. NFL2K was a magnificent start to the Dreamcast library and amazingly Visual Concepts topped it with NBA2K a mere 3 months later.
From the outset little was known about NHL2K and the developer who was behind it. It was like a hidden gem that was purposely kept off-side until absolutely necessary. In January information gradually became available about the game it's Canadian developers Black Box. The game sounded magnificent with all of these little graphical details added along with a visual treat. Downplayed was how the game played and what the AI was like. Now that the game has arrived, one can see why these issues were pushed to the back in favor of graphics.
Easily the high point for the game even though improvements could have been made, NHL2K looks great. Each player consists of 1,500 polygons. Over 800 unique player faces have been included. They only marginally resemble the actual players and are not in the same caliber as those found in NBA2K. The coaches for the most part all look the same and have not been recreated to their real-lie counterparts.
The in-game animations are done well at run mostly at 30 FPS with the odd instance of 60 FPS. While this does not detract from the overall experience, it still feels a tad slow and one has to wonder what it would have been like running constantly at 60 FPS. The visual effects are a treat and give it a next generation look. Player reflections on the glass and ice, ice spraying as players stop or turn, water bottles spray water when hit off the net, and skate cuts decorate the ice.
All 29 arenas are shown in full 3D detail with championship banners. This looks good when you can actually gander at the arena, which turns out is very rarely. In a sense the developers spent a lot of time with detail that we hardly ever see.
There is supposed to be 1000 motion-captured moves but after playing for several days, I can't figure out where that number came from. The players move fluidly at some points and at others seem awkward. This becomes very apparent when in close around the net area.
Black Box went out of their way to include 12,000 play-by-play and color commentary files from the talents of Bob Cole and Harry Neale. This is a mixed bag because for those of you who are familiar with the duo, the game commentary lacks their usual brilliance that they bring to real hockey games. For example when you score Bob Cole says "Oh baby!" in a forced manner. Just sounds silly and un-natural. With 12,000 files you would think that repetitiveness would be low, however this is not the case. The commentary becomes quite mundane and after a few games you will want to turn it off.
The sound effects are pretty basic and lack some of the most fundamental sounds found in a hockey arena. What happened the end of period buzzer? The crowd doesn't react so well with the play action and the arena tunes are pretty basic.