NHL Hitz has always been the more action orientated hockey game, much like its cousin NFL Blitz is to the more realistic football games. This year Midway has set out to make both series a little more serious than they have been. In NHL Hitz Pro, Midway has gotten rid of the 3-on-3 game and created a game with the full 5-on-5 game and full teams. They have also brought the option for you to have a more EA NHL Hockey-like simulation game as well. They have also left the old Hitz type of fast, hard action…something I’m generally glad they didn’t get rid of.
This game doesn’t have the best graphics. This year they’ve brought more realistic face graphics than before, but the hockey players still look the same when you’re just playing the game. Overall the gameplay graphics run at a steady pace with the speed of the game totally up to you via a slider. Where this game hurts itself in the graphics section is during the game walk-in and during replays, but there is a fix. During replays you will see the camera do a “stop and go” motion where things start to jump instead of being a smooth replay. The reason this slowdown happens is because of the fans in the arena. Each one looks like a 3D animation and if some fans happen to be in the camera angle that the replay is happening on, things slow down. The fix to this is in the settings part you can turn off the crowd entirely. Then you have smooth replays, still have the crowd noise, but the arena is empty. There are a lot of replays in this game, so be prepared to live with the slowdown or turn off the crowd to have smooth sailing.
At least on the Xbox version there are some nice ice graphics. If you do a sharp turn you will see a mark made by your skate on the ice. That mark will stay until the period is done. Helmets fly off and you can still slam a player right through the plexiglass. Only problem is sometimes the helmets disappear (or they stay there or pop in) and the plexiglass is replaced as soon as there is a stoppage in play, much like the helmets would be gone after that as well. It would have been cool to keep the plexiglass open after slamming someone through it. I mean, can you imagine the bills the owners have to pay for me slamming people through the glass all the time?
What this game does well with graphics is bring a smooth gameplay experience to you. This game is fast and it never slows down when you are playing on the rink. It just won’t stand up to the ESPN NHL Hockey and NHL Hockeys of the world in the overall graphics department. Players are rendered far better in those two games, but then again those two games are bringing a different experience to the table than this game is attempting to do with its simulation aspect.
Much like in past years, NHL Hitz Pro brings a nice selection of music to the table. I have not heard a rap song yet (a genre that is heavy in other sports games) and the songs are generally something you would hear in a regular hockey arena. Seems like Midway also strayed away from the general hard rock they have had in previous iterations as well. More straight, hard-beat songs in this one. Since this is the Xbox version you are also able to put your own music in the game as well. Only thing is you have to choose between the game music or your music, there’s no sharing like there is in Madden 2004 for instance.
Sounds have gotten an upgrade this year. The normal announcer from Hitz and Blitz is here, but he has been joined by a color commentator whose name escapes me. They have very good banter and you are even treated to a little commentary while loading is going on. The commentary is spot on as well, which is amazing considering how fast hockey can be. The lead announcer is right there with actions, last names, etc.Control is nice and tight with one caveat: the turning of your players is sometimes slow. X is shoot (hold down for slap shot), Y is deke, B is controlling the puck, A is passing, R trigger is turbo, L trigger is dumping the puck, R analog stick can be used to move the puck ahead, behind or to the left/right of you on offense. On defense X is stick check, A is body check, R trigger is turbo, etc. Things are easy to get the hang of and one-timers (where you pass to a person and hit X before they get it, the player will then slap it toward the goal). Controls are just spot on and is what has made this game so fun to just pick up and play.
I’m certainly glad they left the Hitz style of play in this game because the simulation side of things doesn’t go far enough to challenge the major games from Sega and EA. Midway, in my mind, has always had the best arcade-style game, why mess with success? Maybe their sales were low and they needed to mix it up a bit. What we have here is a simulation mode that tries its darndest, but it just isn’t as robust as the other games out there.
Major game modes are franchise, season and playoffs. You can play by Hitz rules (no penalties, fast and furious gameplay) rules or you can go through the myriad of sliders found in this game and set up a semblance of a simulation. I played with the sliders for a bit, but it was hard to get over the fact I was playing a Hitz game that should be straight forward action instead of NHL Hockey 2004 or ESPN NHL Hockey who already have simulation aspects as a foundation of the series. I played a few games of simulation and I saw the scores dwindle down to NHL level, but it just wasn’t fun, so I went back to the Hitz type of playing.
First off, the game is way too easy on anything but the top 2 levels. You will literally blow out your computer opponents on the lower levels, but the scores will not be as overblown as they were in the earlier Hitz games. You put yourself in Franchise mode and there are tasks to complete in every game as you try to get to the NHL (need to win 10 of your 15 games against non-NHL opponents to get into the NHL). Many of these tasks require the use of your lower lines, such as the check line and the 4th line. The game becomes very difficult when you can’t have your top or 2nd line out there and you have to score 3 points (assists or goals) with someone on your 4th line. You can have manual control or have the computer control your lines (in franchise mode you cannot turn line changes off) and it is smart to do it manually. You will have a tired line, but you get some pretty cool Hero items (items won by completing tasks) if you finish the task. Of course, a major problem is that you cannot switch your lines on the fly like you probably can in the other games…a major thing when trying to create a simulation environment for die-hard hockey fans. Season mode is just that…taking your NHl team through the season. Once again you can have Hitz rules or simulation rules (and slider changes). You can even create your own players, but it isn’t as robust an engine as other sports games have.
The bottom line is that if you play this game under Hitz rules it is a great game to just pick up, play and have fun while doing it. The simulation aspect is not as well planned out as it could be and it hurts the overall package (and brings the overall score to the 80s because they are bringing something new to the game that would probably not draw many in). However if you treat this game as any other Hitz game I think you will enjoy it quite a bit. The new 5-on-5 action makes things even more crazy than they were in 3-on-3 action. Bodies flying everywhere, more people to set up shots, etc. Being on fire is still in the game, but you have to win a fight in order to get on fire. Fighting is quite simple, one of the four face buttons is highlighted and you hit that button as fast as possible to win the “round”. After 3 “rounds” on either side is done, the other person wins, then the team is on fire. Fire has been toned down a bit. Yes, you have a faster shot and are overall better, but it is no longer a guaranteed goal when you shoot.
This game is just easy to pick up, play and have fun with. As long as you are not a simulation fanatic (and if you are the sliders may get you a semblance of what you want) I simply cannot fathom someone not liking this game. Even someone who doesn’t like hockey could pick this game up and play it. I akin the Hitz series to the old Genesis EA NHL Hockey series where you used to just get some friends together and play. The final score was high, but you had a lot of fun scoring goals and taking out your opponents with the hard checks.
Franchise and Season mode when played in either Hitz mode or default simulation mode (without touching the literal tons of sliders) can increase the replay value quite a bit. I enjoyed having penalties on for instance so I could have some powerplays or the computer could have some. It switches up the dynamic quite a bit and is something that has never been seen before in this series. Goalies are even better at blocking shots than they used to be. I can just see myself sitting down for hours playing this game in any mode. there are even some other fields you can play on, like on tar or in a smaller rink where you play to whoever scores X number of goals. It’s a nice distraction to being on the rink.
One of the detractions to this section is that this game is not playable over Live. It is evidentally playable on PS2, but it is sad that there is no Live support. I have heard the PS2 version has much worse graphics and that may have been the only way to make a stable online experience, especially with the fans being present in the arena. Hopefully next year they can bring this game to Live, because it is just screaming party game.