GameSpot Sports takes a trip back in time to relive the glory of one of EA's finest hockey games: NHL 98.
1997 might not seem like that long ago, but from a hockey video game fan's perspective, it may as well have been the 19th century. Unlike today, where there are only two or three NHL video games to speak of, not counting 989's upcoming Gretzky NHL 2005 and the recently revived hockey management sim NHL Eastside Hockey Manger, 1997 saw the release of five solid hockey titles, including NHL Breakaway '98 and NHL Powerplay '98.
EA Sports, not to be outdone, released a puck title of its own with NHL 98, another installment in EA's legendary hockey series that is perhaps second only to the venerable Madden NFL series in terms of longevity and consistent popularity. In this, the first installment of GameSpot Sports Classic, we'll take a look at this exemplary hockey title. Specifically, we'll reveal its strengths and weaknesses and divulge why the game is still worth a look, even today.
Based on how NHL 98 plays, it's clear the EA Sports crew had two things on its collective mind during the development of the game: speed and intensity. From the brutal, intense, full-motion video that opened the game (which showcased some amazing scores and big-save highlights from the previous season), EA was determined to up the ante in terms of high-octane excitement and up-and-down action.
The result is a game that places a premium on speed and offensive play. This focus on scoring and quick-paced gameplay meant that NHL played at a speed that was, for its time, shocking...and more than a little difficult to get used to. Forget the relatively plodding (yet more realistic) pace of recent games like NHL 2K5. NHL 98 was all about getting up the ice, dumping the puck at the goalie, and hoping for the best. Amazingly, and despite its speed and decent-looking character models, the game suffered from next to no slowdown. Players such as Anson Carter might balk at that last statement, however, because the game made no concession at realism in depicting African-American players.
NHL 98 piloted a mini-revolution in camera angles by offering more of them than had ever been seen in the NHL series, including two overhead options, a scoreboard cam, and the traditional ice and chase cams. Specifically, the overhead cams, while a bit awkward in some situations, made finding open players up-ice much easier, and they eliminated a lot of the guesswork in the passing found in previous versions of the game. Players could also change their preferred camera angles on the fly by using the R2 button on the PlayStation controller. This was a friendly option, sure, but it was one that proved disastrous at times. Too often in the heat of battle, it was easy to unwittingly change the camera angle by grazing the R2 button accidentally, thus throwing your entire game into chaos.