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Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98 Review

Publisher - Midway Home Entertainment
Developer - Atari Games
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 6/10

The second hockey game has arrived on the Nintendo 64. Unfortunately for those of of us who like different games to actually be different, it's the sequel to the first hockey game. Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98 is Midway's update to last year's Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. This year's version has updated rosters, but the big question with sports game sequels is what else has changed. In this case, the answer is not much.

While the gameplay is virtually the same as last year's game, I'll cover the basics anyway for readers who missed the original or need a review. Gretzky '98 has two play modes, simulation and arcade. Simulation is a realistic hockey game, with teams of five players, a full size rink, long periods, and penalties. The arcade mode is for people who think penalties get in the way. Three man teams go at it in a small rink with nearly no rules and lots of over the top action. You won't just check someone, you'll cause him to flip, and flaming pucks are the order of the day.

While the simulation mode tries, it just doesn't feel like a real game of hockey. Hockey games on other systems do a better job of creating a professional hockey feel, through such things as player fatigue and line changes. Both are available as options in Gretzky '98, but the default leaves them turned off, and line changes aren't implemented as well as they could be, removing a strategic element from real hockey. And while the simulation mode does enforce penalties, it doesn't quite obey real hockey rules, with the significant absence of delayed calls.

I get along much better with arcade mode. Three players from each team beating on each other with no annoying icing or offside calls or anything slowing the game down. Having given up on realism, the game goes over the top with clearly unrealistic checks and other stuff that isn't very real, but is a lot more fun.

Naturally, since it's a hockey game, it has fights. The violence of the game escalates to a level where two players will drop their sticks and gloves and go at it. The main strategy seems to be to punch faster than the other guy until you're the only one standing. Winning the fight doesn't affect the game, since both players are removed (and both teams are penalized in simulation mode) but it can be satisfying.

Like other sports games, the game has a basic set of game modes, including single game and season play, and lets you do team management, including player creation and trades. Gretzky '98 doesn't have anything ground breaking or noteworthy in this department, but nothing's obviously lacking either.

By now, you're wondering what makes this different from Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey. Well, uh, it has updated player rosters. There's not much else here. The puck handling animation is a little more detailed, and there's now a calendar for season mode, but the gameplay is essentially the same. The focus of the game is a little different. Last year, the arcade mode was the thing, and the simulation mode was the add-on. This year, the default is for simulation. If it nailed the simulation, I could go for that, but as it is, it's a change for the worse. And it plays the same as last year anyway, so what's the point?

The game's graphics haven't aged well. Last year, it looked good, if chunky, but we didn't really have anything to compare it to. This year, it's still chunky, but now we've seen ISS and NFL Quarterback Club. We know the N64 can handle sports game graphics, and Gretzky '98 doesn't live up to that.

Like the rest of the game, the sound is the same as last year. The announcing is still serviceable, and the sound effects are still satisfying. What more needs be said?

The control was the weak point of the first game, and it's still the weak point this year. It's not that it's bad; the controls are fairly responsive and pretty middle-of-the-road for sports games, but Gretzky's major problem is that you never feel involved in the game. When you're playing a great video game, it doesn't feel like you're playing a video game. It feels like you're doing whatever is happening in the game. Gretzky never gets past feeling like you're playing a video game. I blame this on the control, since if it were tighter, you would feel more involved.

In the end, there's no real reason to get Gretzky '98. Presumably, if you're a hockey fan, you already have the first one (and if you have the first one, you have this one), and if you're not, it's not good enough to make you buy it anyway (unlike ISS). Unless you HAVE to play with this year's teams, you'll be just as happy avoiding this game. If you need a new hockey game, you should probably wait for Acclaim's offering in February, which will definitely be a different game experience and will probably hold up better as a sim as well.