NHL Breakaway '98
Reviewed by Scott McCall
Like NFL Quarterback Club '98 before it, NHL Breakaway '98 is a
game filled with a lot of flash but not enough substance. It is
far more realistic than the Gretzky series, but it comes nowhere
near close to matching the excitement and realism of EA's NHL series.
NHL Breakaway '98 has been described almost as a hockey/RPG
hybrid, and that certainly fits the bill. Its season mode contains
many enhancements and ideas over other hockey games. For
instance, you get special points after winning games that let
you heal players more quickly, hire and fire four different
coaches, and more. The season mode also features a scores
ticker that can be programmed to come onto the screen at
certain intervals during the game. Also, there are text highlights
(i.e., the bottom line about who scored and other important stats)
for each completed game that you can read. Unfortunately, this
comprehensive season mode might be wasted if the game isn't
fun or exciting enough to play. And while NHL Breakaway '98
certainly isn't the worst hockey game ever, it's not exactly up
to the standards set by EA Sports' NHL 98.
The biggest problem with NHL Breakaway '98 is that it just
doesn't capture the excitement of the "coolest game on Earth."
The game runs either too slow or too fast (there needs to be a setting
between "normal" and "faster"); checks, which are a big part of
hockey, lack the "oomph" found in other hockey games; and the
super-tinny sound doesn't create a hockey atmosphere at all.
The default control scheme, however, is good and feels responsive
(though maybe slightly too loose), and most of the hockey moves
you would want are in here. There are a ton of options that can be
toggled, too, which is always a good thing. One big problem I have
with the game, though, is the swaying camera. Unlike EA's NHL
games that stay at a steady, horizontal position, the camera in
NHL Breakaway '98 will rotate a little bit to the left or right if
the pucks goes in the corner or is against the board. Although
this is a good idea in theory, it's too disorientating to play with.
Graphically, NHL Breakaway '98 is solid, but I was still
disappointed in it. There is a ton of cool animation for certain
situations (goalie saves, players losing their sticks, etc.), but
the actual run-of-the-mill on-ice animation was lacking; it
wasn't super smooth or very detailed. On the other hand, the
player models look more realistic and more clean up-close
than in NHL 98. It's also the second game to run in the N64's
medium resolution mode (512 x 240), but the results aren't
stunning like in FIFA: Road to World Cup 98.
Sound-wise, NHL Breakaway '98 is not good at all. First of all,
the atmospheric sounds don't hold a candle to NHL 98. Second,
Acclaim continues to insist on wasting memory on useless voice
samples. For example, after a penalty, the time of the period it
happened is mentioned. You just can't waste space like that on
the cartridge format. Third, I'm happy to report that there is some
decent organ music, but I also must mention that NHL 98 kind
of changed our notion of what hockey games should be like with
rockin' music. Fourth, the sound effects aren't anything special.
There are some nice post clanks and skating sounds, but the game
has no special emphasis for checks, even up against a board.
As it stands, NHL Breakaway '98 is a decent first try for Acclaim
and is at least much better than the PlayStation version. But it
has a long, long way to go to approach the quality, realism, and
excitement set by EA's NHL 98. If the gameplay is tightened up,
if the intelligence is improved, if the sound gets a massive
makeover, if more animation is added, and if some camera problems
are fixed, then we might actually have something that could
compete with Sony and EA's hockey games. Right now, though,
NHL Breakaway '98 is a questionable purchase even for
hockey-starved N64 fans.
Graphics: 3.8 out of 5
Sound: 2.6 out of 5
Control: 3.7 out of 5
Gameplay: 3.2 out of 5
Lastability: 3.5 out of 5
Overall: 3.4 out of 5