The NHL series from EA Sports has been treading water for some time. Bad AI has simply ruined the series, even though the graphical presentation has always set the standard for PC sports games. Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, NHL 2001 shatters the shackles of mediocrity and stands atop the PC hockey hill as the undisputed king of the genre.
Completely redesigned artificial intelligence is the reason why NHL 2001 succeeds where previous editions failed. It’s is not an easy game to conquer. AI defenders attack the puck, bump players off balance, and attempt to set up an offense when inside the attacking zone. When set on the higher levels of difficulty, the computer has the ability to compete against an experienced human playerâ€”something that no previous NHL game has been able to accomplish.
The game allows you to tweak nearly every aspect of the gameplayâ€”the vast array of AI sliders is a tremendous addition. You can customize game speed, computer aggressiveness, hitting power, fatigue, shot accuracy, pass accuracy, pass speed, pass interceptions, puck friction, speed burst levels, shot blocking, and more. The effect that these sliders have on the gameplay is simply astonishing. Bump up aggressiveness and the computer defenders attack on sight. Bump up fatigue and you will be forced to make use of your third and fourth lines. In fact, even with the general AI improvements, it’s the AI sliders that truly make this game special.
The “Golden Goal” problem from earlier versions is, for the most part, a thing of the past. Some scoring methods work more often than others, but after playing 40-some odd games there still does not seem to be a sure way in which to score (unlike NHL 2000, which took about five games). You need to work for your goals, and that makes each game feels like a brand new experienceâ€”something extremely rare in a sports game.
The franchise mode that EA introduced last year is back again. It’s pretty much the exact same model with the 10 season limit. The draft is still limited to two rounds and the free agent signing method is the same. It’s also extremely tough to sign a top name free agent even if you have a good team.
NHL 2001 plays a competitive game, is loaded with options, and looks gorgeous. The game’s features, for the most part, are identical to those found in NHL 2000, but notable improvements to AI, graphics and audio make this a winner.
System Requirements: Pentium 266 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 250 MB HDD, Win98
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