Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Old Time Hockey (PS4, Steam) Review

The NHL (National Hockey League) playoffs are still going strong. Some teams are feeling the blues right now, especially ones that have been in the playoffs many times yet still haven't ever won the Stanley Cup. What better time to review a hockey game than right now, then? That's exactly what SuperPhillip Central is doing today with my review of Old Time Hockey.

Who needs playoff hockey when you've got Old Time Hockey?! Okay, don't answer that...


In the midst of the NHL playoffs, it seems like a perfect time to play some hockey... virtually. After all, who likes all that cold and skating. I never got down the latter. V7 Entertainment's Old Time Hockey seeks to bring back the retro styling that many old school gamers grew up with. While doing so, it lacks some necessary features and possesses some stiff controls to make for a hockey game that isn't quite the best game you can name.

Old Time Hockey's Story Mode puts you under control of the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, the worst team in the ten-team Bush Hockey League. The Brews' season showed considerable promise until the very first regular season game where three of their top players were sidelined for the duration of the season by the rival Widowmakers in a bench-clearing brawl. If the Brews don't make it to the playoffs, the team will be disbanded, so it's up to you to make sure certain key games in the season are won to make sure this worst case scenario doesn't happen.

When the puck is on fire, goals are even easier to make.
Starting off, the Brews team is all-around terrible to play as. Their stats are low, their offense blows, their defense is shoddy, and their goalie is atrocious (actually non-AI team goalies are all horrible and will seemingly give up even the easiest of shots). Through accumulating stat points by completing secondary objectives in games, your team gets better. The Brews start with zero stars total, but as you play on and do well, the stars for one of three stats can go all the way up to five stars, making your team play better and do better (again, except your goalie, who always seems to let up easy shots because he's a failure at both hockey and life).

That said, I was still winning games easily. Not because I was scoring more goals. No, instead it was because my Brews under my control were damned violent demons on the ice. My goal was to injure every possible player, and in doing so, the other team is forced to forfeit, even when the score was them: 10 and my Brews: 2.

Two to three secondary objectives are available for each game you play. These are things like winning a certain percentage of faceoffs, taking a specific number of shots, winning by so many goals, and so forth.Thankfully, if you find a batch of secondary objectives that seem too difficult to complete, you can back out of Story Mode, reenter it, and get a whole new batch. You can do this as many times as you like until you get a batch you're comfortable with attempting to complete. As stated, each secondary objective earns you stars that can level up the Brews' abilities. Some even factor in to specific PlayStation 4 trophies and Steam achievements. Then there are primary objectives that occasionally pop up that must be completed in order to continue the Story Mode. These are generally as simple as winning certain games. After all, the goal here is to make it to the playoffs.

Thankfully, the developer listened to critics and players of the game who saw that learning moves and hockey abilities that any players should already know would no longer be locked behind tutorials or doing secondary objectives. This makes for a much fairer game starting off rather than being stuck slogging through the first few weeks of games with little fun being had. Sure, you'll still find little fun here, but that's whole another can of worms.

Part hockey game, part war zone!
The Story Mode does its best to give character to the Hinto Brews, and it succeeds in this regard. There are numerous newspaper clippings and loading screens that detail the behind-the-scenes goings-on of the Brews, from the coach selling the team's beer storage locker due to their rampant rookie drinking problem, stories of players beating up mall Santas, and more. It adds to the charm of the team, as does the ability to collect trading cards from completing various goals, each card providing background info on particular players, Brews or not.

Old Time Hockey's presentation is very much set in a simpler time of hockey games. It's like a hockey game from the Dreamcast era in visuals with its cel-shaded art style with the arcade style appeal of Wayne Gretzky's line of games from the Nintendo 64 era. Sure, the cel-shaded skaters, players, and crowds on display don't look like they're pushing the PS4 hardware much at all, but they offer a throwback approach that is very similar to the basis on which Old Time Hockey was founded. Simple effects abound, such as basic animations, small amounts of blood being scattered on the ice when a player is knocked down by a check or involved in a fight, and elementary crowd movement is all key in presenting a very old school, retro, vintage feel.

This continues with the audio, mostly presenting players with classic tunes fitting to hear in a small-town hockey arena of the time. Whether it's snapping one's fingers with The Addams Family theme or hearing a must for hockey games, "The Hockey Song" where "the good ol' Hockey game, is the best game you can name. And the best game you can name, is the good ol' Hockey game." Something not as delightful to hear is the commentary. It's by no means bad, but it does get awfully repetitive awfully fast. It makes close showdowns on the ice less spectacular and intense than they should be.

Unfortunately, for all the pretty dressings that the developer made to the presentation of Old Time Hockey, it's the gameplay that wasn't given as much attention as it needed, as it's a little half-cocked. Control is overall stiff, making lining up hooks and hip checks on the defensive side of the ice pretty challenging, and frustratingly so, as again, your goalie always sucks. On the offensive side, the windup time required for a slap shot more often than not leads to the the opposition stealing the puck. This may be in line with retro games, but for recent hockey titles, it's astonishingly slow. Some relics from the past are best left forgotten and were forgotten or improved upon for a reason.

A celebratory group photo for a most likely unearned goal.
Roughhousing isn't just possible on the ice, it's encouraged. Once you hip check or knock down three players, your team will enter a time period where your players will hold a flaming puck. This makes scoring goals much easier, but the other team can also gain this ability. This also happens when a penalty is called. The team down a man will also face a fiery opposing team, able to score all the more easily.

Secondly, when a player has been roughed up enough, they will have been instigated, having a red fist icon over their heads. This means they can enter a fight with an opposing player, a simple three-hit-and-you're-down battle of fists where the loser either gets injured (for losing by never landing a punch) or has their energy depleted. As alluded to earlier, you can injure an entire team, forcing them to forfeit the game.

Throw in the towel-- this fight on the ice is over.
Option-wise, Old Time Hockey offers an abundance of control options to choose from. From NHL game style controls and a retro NHL game style control scheme to more simplistic schemes like a two button system and a one-handed "beer mode", there is something for every skill and accessibility level, which is very pleasant to see.

Outside of Story Mode, Old Time Hockey offers local multiplayer, and that's all. There is no online to speak of. Still, you will find a lot of stupid, silly fun to be had with a friend to either team up with or take on. Just don't expect to be blown away.

Still, if V7 Entertainment continues its improvements with Old Time Hockey, then the game will only get better. Already the constant crashing with the game has been remedied, the need for tutorials to learn basic hockey moves have been removed, and the gameplay is slightly faster (but still not up to stuff). If more improvements come (particularly to goalie AI), then Old Time Hockey will very much be worth picking up. As it stands now, only look into the game if you're seeking a modern take on a retro hockey game and not looking for something that rivals such a game.

[SPC Says: C-]

Review copy provided by V7 Entertainment.

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