Gretzky NHL PSP Review

Much like Sony's other sports franchises, the NHL Face-Off series got off to a great start, wowing gamers with unmatched graphical quality and a new gameplay experience. Also just the other games, the series quickly disintegrated in the shadow of increasing competition. Resurrected as Gretzky NHL, this PSP entry has everything right, except for a tolerable frame rate.

This is a more than competent game of hockey. It's actually quite enjoyable. At least, it would be if you could actually play it. With the physics of being on ice in place, you need to know exactly where you're at on the ice and plan moves further ahead than in other sports. Gretzky's frame rate doesn't allow for that.

Every move you make feels like it's lagging a second behind. It can become so choppy, it literally nears the single digits. The puck seems to magically appear and disappear somewhere else when passing, and trying to find it off a rebound is impossible. The graphics themselves are outstanding, and you can't see the blurry textures unless you're right on top of the players. That all comes at the cost already mentioned, and it's not a fair trade.

Off the ice, you'll immediately be impressed by a fantastic and thoughtful video looking back on the Great One's career to start the game. If you're playing for the first time, it's a great way to begin; if you know what's coming, you'll only be more depressed. Typical sports game options are present, including online play, season, and exhibition.

Each game you play earns you points to unlock jerseys, both alternate and classic. You can earn enough to play as Gretzky himself and the always popular cheats. A list explains the points and what you need to do to earn them. The roster manager doesn't allow for the creation of players, but everything else from trades, line management, and reordering.

The AI on the ice is strong, setting up an offense, dumping the puck to get out of dangerous situations, and occasionally being overly aggressive. Shooting can be either manually or computer controlled. If you're heading down on the ice, it can be hard to aim your shot. There are no other camera views other than a few vertical ones. If you enjoy your hockey from a side perspective or ¾ perspective, you will be frustrated here.

You never know how spoiled you are by today's play-by-play in sports video games until you play one without it. The latter unfortunately applies here. The intelligent crowd, talkative PA announcer, and rink music do add some life. Otherwise, you'll simply deal with the basic hockey sounds a puck hitting the boards, brutal checks, and slap shots. It does give you a feeling of being in the stadium, but what stadium offers you a personal graphical score overlay?

With a little more time, or even experience with the console, this franchise could very well be suited to the PSP. The problem is there's little doubt that competition will be available next year, and they'll need to implement far more than an acceptable frame rate to be competitive. Even if you need a NHL season on the go (or a NHL season period), this isn't worth the money, even at a discount.

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