- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

Most of EA Sports' major titles favor simulation, which makes the company's recent direction with its NHL title even more odd. In fact, the word arcade almost comes to mind, and that surely is a sign that this venerable franchise is headed south.
Perhaps the most consequential difference from last year is the name, NHL 2003 instead of NHL 2002. Beyond updated rosters and the like, there's not much different here. And that's not a bad thing, considering that this long has been one of the best sports titles on the market. Play remains crisp (in the initial settings it feels sluggish, so remember to speed it up), the visuals are fantastic (especially with the camera zoomed out a bit) and Jim Hughson and Don Taylor return to provide the most colorful and amusing commentary on any game.
But the one addition EA Sports appears to be touting reduces this game from a must-have to a why-bother. NHL 2003 takes the breakaway mode the camera zooms in, and play slows to a ridiculous pace, a bad idea if there ever was one a step further. By jiggling the right control stick to perform a manual deke, a meter begins to fill up at the bottom of the screen. Once the meter is full, a "game breaker" becomes available. Essentially, this is nothing more than a power-up that triggers the breakaway mode at any time.
The dynamic dekes are even worse, requiring players to pull off a set of moves reminiscent of Mortal Kombat or some other silly fighting game. For instance, shooting the puck between a player's legs requires the right analog stick to be in the upper left corner and the left analog stick to be in the upper right. It's just too much, and that's not even taking into account the lack of realism here.
NHL 2003 does improve the franchise mode a little bit. The GameStory little statements in the middle of games detailing trends or summarizing action tracks player and team highlights and stories over the entire season instead of on a game-by-game basis. What remains missing here, however, is a full-blown dynasty mode a la Madden. There's no dealing with budgets. Perhaps the NHL's compensatory picks system is too complicated to simulate, but free agency here is reduced to a simple click of a button, with players randomly choosing to say yes or no.
That EA Sports chose to forego a major upgrade of NHL 2003 is obvious (NBA Live received one, so it's possible the NHL title will get one next year). And what the company added were a couple of cheesy arcade-like parlor tricks. So hold onto that 2002 edition. Sure, it's a year older, but at least there's nothing on it that's a "game breaker."

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