Does EA Sports Care About AI Anymore?

NHL 2001
Reviewed On
PlayStation 2
Available For

Ever since EA Sports, as well as Electronic Arts, turned their back on Sega and dedicated all their services to the PlayStation2, it occurred to me that they were only concerned about a game’s visual presentation, no matter how poor the actual gameplay turns out to be. I found this out when I tried to play NHL 2000 last year, and was infuriated with the game’s poor goaltender AI and unrealistic collision physics.

As a result, I ended up playing Sega Sports’ NHL 2K, a game which I really enjoyed because it had some of the best goaltender AI I’ve seen, perhaps a bit too good. It seemed that only a real sharp one-timer would go into the net, but hey, even Olaf Kolzig could not make a save like that all the time.

Unfortunately I received some bad news this year, as NHL 2K1 was cancelled in order for Visual Concepts to assist with 2K2, so I ended up having to go with NHL 2001 on both the PC and PS2.

Back at E3, I had an interview with a developer for EA Sports about the 2000 debacle, particularly involving the goaltender AI, and I was told that it would be vastly improved. Imagine my shock when I installed 2001 into my PC, and lo and behold my team’s goaltender was still giving up slapshots from the blue line at a frustratingly high rate. Not one day after I bought the game, a patch came out promising to fix this problem.

Still, even with the patch I had to witness these supershots go into the net, even with a goalie rating of 100. Still frustrated, I consulted many of the NHL 2001 websites online, and was able to find a tweak that made goal scoring more like that in the real NHL, and to an extent it worked out, but I’m still dealing with rather unrealistic 8-4 scores. Usually hockey games average scores of 4-3, but this is just ridiculous.

That wasn’t the only problem I witnessed. I’ve also noticed that computer players must be made out of rubber, because every time I went for a body check, I suddenly bounce off of him, only to see him score afterwards. But on the other hand, when they just touch me, the puck is instantly stolen. Now, I’ve been to many an NHL game and I know you have to work your butt off to steal so efficiently, but in EA’s case, only touching a player will cause a steal.

Worse than that, goaltenders tend to stay behind the net whenever holding the puck. Sometimes they will constantly pass towards the net, only to have the puck ricochet back to them. This can seriously delay the game. Referees are also very biased towards the computer as well, as they can smack me without any calls whatsoever. Meanwhile I can give the computer a love tap, and I’m getting a 4-minute double minor. And while we’re on the subject of referees, where are the goal judge replays that occur on controversial goals? Has that been removed as well?

Add more serious flaws, such as a malfunctioning scoreboard, and it makes me wonder why EA Sports would release a game like this. Maybe it’s better that they’re not making games for the Dreamcast after all, if they’re going to be like this.

Then again, not all about NHL 2001 is bad. The graphics have been greatly improved on the PC, and they could rival the PlayStation2 version (though the PS2 has the better lighting, but a bouncy frame rate, unlike Madden 2001, and it’s impressively constant 60 FPS). And even better, you can add your own music files to make the arena more like its real life counterpart.

Still, these pluses cannot overshadow the negatives I feel for this title. I never thought I’d have to do this before, but this game needs three ratings. Only 2 1/2 Gems can be given to the PC version at its default state, and 3 Gems can be given to the PS2 version. However, if you’re lucky enough to add some tweaks to the AI like I did, add another Gem to the PC title.

But for those who can’t find any tweaks and patches, you’ll feel that EA Sports should change their slogan from "KICKIMUS MAXIMUS BUTTIMUS" to "KISSIMUS MYIMUS ASSIMUS!"

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