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NHL Breakaway '98

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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

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