Black Box has a lot to prove. After all, this is a company releasing a sports game for the Draamcast right after Visual Concepts created two titles that changed sports games as we know it, NFL 2K and NBA 2K. In creating NHL 2K, it needs to be taken into consideration that Black Box was responsible for the Saturn conversion of NHL Powerplay, the only NHL title that I feel would easily dethrone anything that EA Sports game out with (it did beat them that year, as NHL 96 for the Saturn and PlayStation ended up being scrapped).
Powerplay included what I felt was the most realistic hockey engine to ever grace the Saturn, and now they carry this engine over to the Dreamcast.
A lot of reviews I have read criticized NHL 2K about having brain dead AI, but I feel that they either reviewed a beta copy (which was rumored to have poor AI), or they don’t follow hockey for real. After months of playing NHL 2000 on the PC, dealing with its goaltenders who always let slapshots go in, or don’t go out of the crease to retrieve dumped pucks during the powerplay, and bearing with its very unrealistic breakneck speed, it felt great to know that Black Box fixed all these problems.
Goaltenders act like they do in the real NHL. They are in butterfly stances, they make glove saves, stick saves, diving saves, cover the puck when covered, and go behind the net to recover dumps during a power play. Players are just as realistic. Where in NHL 2000 I couldn’t get my team to set up in the zone during a power play, thereby resulting in me getting very few shots on net, NHL 2K’s players set up in the zone, so I can pass to them with accuracy.
And speaking of which, the analog control is very precise. Those "so-called" reviews may complain about the lack of controls used in NHL 2K, but I find it to be perfect. Using one button to control wrist and slap shots is what I’ve been using since the Genesis days, and the analog control is perfect, providing non-stop movement of my player, as opposed to NHL 2000, where my player froze up when I tried to obtain a possible game-winning rebound.
Graphically this game turned out to be better than expected. Once again, we must keep in mind that this is not Visual Concepts who designed this, but Black Box, and in their first attempt, it is very impressive. Each arena and uniform was rendered to their real-life counterparts, and the game runs at a near-constant 30 frames per second. There is some drop when a lot is on the screen, but none as bad as some of the preview tapes have shown. Extra features such as real-time tracks on the ice and reflections on the ice and boards are a nice touch as well.
Sound is a mixed bag. While the in-game sounds and PA announcer are dead-on, I felt that the play-by-play is the only thing that NHL 2000 does better in. The PBP by Hockey Night in Canada hosts Bob Cole and Harry Neale gets rather repetitve, as I was able to predict what would have been said next.
In addition, bells and whistles are very limited. There is no practice mode, shootout mode, or anything like tat. It’s basically exhibition, season, and playoffs, and that’s it. No fantasy league either, which hurts as well.
Still to me, Black Box comes out swinging, concenrating on the gameplay and realistic NHL action and come out a winner. Even with the lack of extra goodies, repeated commentary, and slight slowdown, NHL 2K still earns a respectable 4 GiN Gems in my book.