I agree with Mike that NHL 2002 is the closest you can get to the actual game of hockey on a console to date. But Im not sure that the game entirely succeeds in bringing the game of hockey to a videogame. Its close, but no cigar.
This is because of the inherent faults in simulation. In most sports videogames, the goal is to create a simulation that mirrors the real-world sport as closely as possible. The problem with this approach is that there are an infinite amount of details, or at least a sufficient amount that it is functionally impossible to note them all, let alone write a program that realistically portrays all of them.
This is not to say that sports games that concentrate on simulation are inherently failures. In most cases, it is enough to grasp a large group of details and then present them in increasingly excellent graphics. The results are usually not capable (yet) of fooling a viewer beyond the first glance, but the games maintain a fairly constant rate of evolution that keep the sports game experience fresh and entertaining.
The problem here is that hockey is a game where a great amount of things happen at an incredibly high speed. Out of all the major sports, hockey is probably the fastest in terms of action. The puck and the players are constantly in motion, and the game is mostly free-flowing, with strategy applied on the fly. NHL 2002 does a good job of conveying this speed, but at the same time, there are sacrifices that are made. The camera never really gives you a good option in terms of allowing to see what the player with the puck is doing and also where your entire team is. It is a credit to the game that veterans will be able to anticipate the placement of their teammates, but it would be nice to have the ability to see exactly where each player is headed. The option of a translucent radar in the corner or bottom of the screen would go a long way towards helping, and would be a welcome addition in further additions to the series.
NHL 2002 seems confused about what kind of game it wants to be. Its styled as a simulation, with realistic rosters, jerseys and rules. Yet there are arcade aspects to the gameplay, like the big hit button, or the cold streaks where NHL All-Stars are suddenly launching shots that look like water-balloon lobs. There are also inexplicably weak portions of the game as well. The fighting portion of the game is weak even compared to the ancient system used in Blades Of Steel. If its to be included, it would have been nice to have it decently done. I also never really noticed the Emotion Meter playing much of a major role in the games I played, and I usually wound up ignoring it after a while.
Overall, NHL 2002 is an excellent game that suffers from a certain amount of internal consistency and some weaknesses in certain areas, none of them really being key.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
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