I will confess right now that Im a hardcore Hitz fan. Thats right, I said it and Im proud of it. I have the first 2 games for the Xbox and still play 2003 on a nightly basis with my friends. I played so many games of 2003 that I went through 3 disks already and have found every bug in that game, which really isnt that hard, but there was never any fixes for them. Create-a-player was my hook. My best player was 70, 250 lbs, had a huge horse head and was named Mr. Marbles. He could shoot over 110 mph for a slap shot, pummel everyone on the ice and after a fight, the announcer would scream Mr. Marbles The Destroyer good stuff. My whole team has a special character and are all sporting my friends names and some characteristics. The speed, pickup and play game style, and addictiveness for this game has turned this series into a must own for myself.
So after I got my hands on the game, I was very shocked to see what they did to this series. New and improved menu layouts, 5 on 5 play, bigger rink, more fundamentally sound hockey? Did Midway sell out to try and keep up with ESPN and EA? They did, but they did it in style. This game has now proven to be a competitor to the 2 sports leaders. But they changed their complete image. They went from a cartoonish game to a much improved sim, but is it still Midway? Im still not too sure yet, but whatever you want to call it, its definitely a great hockey game.
The game play is much improved this year, as the addition of two more players on the ice has now opened up many more plays then the previous pass and shoot a one-timer. The deke and guard puck moves are still the same, but now, when youre behind the goal, you can go for the new wraparound move that was added. This basically takes you from directly behind the goalie, snaps you around tremendously fast, and allows you to try a nice Gretzky-like shot. The AI has been upped quite a bit, making it much harder to just slam everyone around and take out the goalie (I had times that the goalie just knocked me on my butt while I was skating).
Hero equipment was a nice add-on feature to look forward to during franchise mode. By accomplishing various tasks during the games, you get awarded equipment that is actually used by real players. Each piece of equipment adds to your franchise players stats. You can get Turco Pads, the Sakic Stick, or even the Domi Helmet (they should have made them boxing gloves, but I wont get picky). Speaking on the topic of boxing, the fighting system has been changed. Fighting and hockey go together like white on rice; its essential and one of the few reasons why I watch the sport. The previous versions of Hitz had a sweet system low punch, high punch, and grab which led to some very cool finishes. So what did they do to improve it? I guess someone at Midway thought that playing Rock em Sock em Robots was cool again and made it so you have to tap a random button each time faster than your opponent to get one hit in, three punches to win. Why? Why did they do this? I disliked this so much that I disabled fighting during the game because it was just a nuisance; very disappointing. Franchise Mode is setup so that you can make your own team (no special heads anymore) and add attributes to your players, but while playing no-name teams. That kind of takes the fun out of things because you dont really know who youre playing to start your team, but it does help you get used to the game and you can get updates using the franchise status option in the menu. Once youve completed the set amount of games required for Franchise Mode, you get promoted to the NHL to play with the big boys in Season Mode.
Pick-up Hockey has been added to get a nice quick game in of backyard hockey. You can either play on the Local Pond, City Park, or Parking Lot while setting how many goals the other team must score to win. This was a nice add-on being that on the Parking Lot, its roller hockey, but you cant play with your custom teams, just the 2 teams they decide you should play with. Its nice to have this in there when you dont feel like getting sucked into a season with your franchise. Scotty Bowman is also back giving you some tips, if needed, on how hockey is played, but he brought some friends this year, a handful of NHL All-Stars. Scotty gives you youre tips, you do the task, and then a clip from a pro player comes on telling you why you did what you just did. Glenn Murry (Boston), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit), and Stephen Weiss (Florida) are just some of the players they got to help out with this game. Nice touch as it adds that much more to the simulation edge Midway was shooting for with this game.
Overall, this game is great competition for ESPN and EA. With the new Pro style of games, Midway Sports can now keep up with the others and hopefully broaden their fan base. Its just that for this writer, I dont see why something that wasnt really broke got fixed.and totally changed around.
Hopefully Midway decides to stick with the arcade style they are known for in the future and not drift away from the hardcore extreme style of their games. Listen to the fans of this game and let us play together on XboxLive, its there for a reason.