The game of hockey is explosive, unpredictable action combined with the graceful finesse of highly skilled players flying up and down the ice at breakneck speed. Throughout its history, the sport has undergone a shift in how teams play. While the past was a far more open and free-flowing affair, the modern day game is more structured with systems in place for both offense and defense. For the past several years, hockey's depiction in video games has revolved entirely around this new style, mainly due to EA's NHL series being the lone representation of the sport to return annually. That in itself is why V7 Entertainment's new take, Old Time Hockey, is a welcome newcomer to a genre that badly needed a fresh look. With that said, the game does miss the net in quite a few areas.
While one of the control schemes is similar to EA's series, that is where the similarities both begin and end. Instead of mirroring the current style of play realistically, Old Time Hockey takes players back in time to a forgotten era of the game and does so with an over-the-top arcade direction. Rather than approach the sport from a serious point of view, the game aims for comedic relief and hits that target squarely. If there's one thing the game nails in particular, it's the overall atmosphere. Between the eccentric players and coaches, the rundown looking arenas with dwindling attendance, and tunes like "Old Time Hockey" and "Good Old Hockey Game" playing over the menu screens, the entire experience feels like a direct spin-off of favorite hockey films like "Slap Shot."
Putting pucks in the back of the net is, of course, the key to winning any hockey game, but here it takes a back seat in a sense to the rough and tough style of hacking away at your opponents. Hooks, slashes, and body checks are highly encouraged, but it's the devastating hip-check that sends players flying all over the ice. To put it simply, it's really addicting to hammer an opponent over and over again with ease. It's also beneficial to do as much hitting as possible, since connecting on a hit three times in a row "sets your team on fire" with momentum, making your hits more severe and shots more accurate. The rules are far more lackadaisical here as well, meaning that you can target players without the puck and rarely face any consequence. Even the officials are fair game and sending them to the ice can, at times, wipe away an upcoming penalty.
True to its name, one of the biggest components of Old Time Hockey's gameplay is fighting. When an opponent becomes frustrated enough through being hit or scored on, they'll eventually pick a fight with one of your players; if enough want to fight, you can trigger a bench-clearing brawl. The fighting system isn't as deep as it seems it should have been, though. Every fight is just a simple timed button-mash and after three punches connect, you win the bout. Winning fights does provide advantages, such as fatiguing opponents for the rest of the game, or actually knocking them out through a perfect fight. Fighting, though, is simply too repetitive and you eventually reach the point of purposely trying to avoid it.
When you do choose to actually go on the offensive, the controls are very much a pick-up-and-play style of simplicity that ensures just about everyone can find the back of the net. Passes are highly accurate and most shots launch off the stick like a rocket. Unfortunately, Old Time Hockey also lacks a lot of the finesse and precision that's needed to pull off prettier scoring plays. There's a noticeable input lag that hinders the ability to score on cross-crease passes, which is especially frustrating when it happens multiple times per game. The AI also lacks at times, with your teammates choosing bad timing for line shifts that often sends the opponent in on breakaways. Goalies also never freeze the puck, which is good in a sense to keep the game going, but also bad as they only send the puck into the corner no matter what the current situation is.
There are two modes to play in the game - Exhibition Mode and Story Mode. While Exhibition offers your standard four-player one-off games, it's Story Mode that offers the most content. The narrative follows the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, a last-placed team in a fictional minor league that is struggling to get back into playoff contention. Throughout the season, newspaper headlines keep track of what's happening with the league and the team itself. Fitting the ridiculousness of the rest of the game, many times these headlines will discuss stories like the owner trading away his personal gun collection for a goon forward, or how the team's rookies didn't show up to practice because they were at the disco the night before. It's a great way to progress through a sports season that also continues to mesh with the game's targeted era.
Story Mode is most hampered, however, by some very questionable decisions. Each game gives the player either a tutorial or a set of primary and secondary objectives to complete. Not completing these will result in the season not progressing onward and forces the player to replay the previous game. It becomes frustrating to put together a great game and have it all be for nothing because you simply didn't complete a goal.
You're also not able to perform certain basic skills, like a stick check or slap shot, until you complete the related tutorial. Not only does it not make much sense that a hockey player wouldn't be able to perform very simple actions, but it also hampers your ability to compete for quite a few games. Completing these objectives improves the team's offense, defense, and physicality, so it would have made more sense to simply make it all a secondary bonus to try and achieve while playing normally. Story Mode does provide a sense of replay value, though, as once the season is complete, you then have the ability to start up a new season with your choice of any team in the league. There is no online matchmaking, so couch co-op with your friends is the only means here of playing multiplayer.
The in-game graphics are dated and lack a depth of detail, but in a way it almost seems to fit the overall image and never detracts from the gameplay. The commentary, on the other hand, does significantly detract from the experience. Due to perhaps not a lot of lines being recorded, it often becomes very dull and repetitive, sticking to nothing but the play and not elaborating into any story lines surrounding the players or teams. More often than not, the commentary also runs behind what is actually happening on the ice.
Many trophies in the game revolve around achieving the story goals and collecting the hockey cards that feature players on the teams. Completing some of these secondary objectives will also be necessary if you're looking to obtain the Platinum trophy. Appropriately there are also trophies tied to both fighting and hitting. The most creative one involves having a friend instigate a fight with the goalie to clear the way for you to score.
SummaryOld Time Hockey is a welcome change of pace for the sport's representation in video games, but it's one with a fair number of issues. While the gameplay is simplistic enough that anyone can pick it up and play, it's also marred by problems like input lag that leads to occasional frustration. The game's Story Mode is a great idea to further enhance the 70s atmosphere but is held back by strange decisions with tutorials and challenges. Old Time Hockey is very much a case of great ideas not matched with the execution to see them realized.
- Great 70s era atmosphere
- Fun pick up and play arcade style hockey
- Story Mode is a nice take on progressing through a sports season
- Enjoyable couch co-op with friends
- Gameplay input lag interrupts scoring opportunities
- Commentary is dull and repetitive
- Story Mode is hindered by mandatory tutorials and challenges
- No online matchmaking
The reviewer spent 12 hours fighting in line brawls and blasting slap shots on net. 10 of the game's 23 trophies were unlocked along the way. A Playstation 4 copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
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