The NHL season may be on ice, but hockey fans won't have to go entirely without, since Wayne Gretzky himself is starring in a new title for the PS2. Designed by 989 Sports, Gretzky NHL 2005 allows players to step in the famous player's shoes in a variety of modes. Featuring smooth, intuitive controls, dozens of deep management modes and more, the title does an excellent job in recreating the feel of professional hockey. There's also extensive online support that allows you to compete against other players, join leagues and other options. While there won't be real hockey to enjoy this winter, Gretzky NHL 2005 should make an acceptable virtual substitute.
Taking a different approach from many other sports titles on the market, 989 Sports' Gretzky NHL 2005 lets players relive the career of one of pro hockey's greatest players. While the game still offers players the opportunity to play on other teams as other players, the real secret of the game comes in an innovative mode that lets you follow in Gretzky's footsteps. This is probably Gretzky 2005's most interesting aspect. This is especially true when players find themselves going against the legend and attempt to beat his records. This is actually one of the more ingenious features we've seen in a sports title in some time. However, there's also a pretty decent hockey game included as well. It offers all the features you've come to expect. Players can choose from the usual single and multiplayer modes including Quick Start mode, practice games, NHL Playoff and World Cup tournaments plus an extensive player management mode that allows you to track each member of your team and see who's skills are improving and which players need more work.
In addition to these standard features, Gretzky 2005 also includes a comprehensive franchise mode. This allows you to create a new franchise from scratch, creating customized uniforms, trade, acquire and draft players and more. You can manage your team over a single season or play through multiple years, changing your roster during the season and trying to improve your team's lineup in the off-season by signing free-agents, acquiring players in the amateur draft and more. You can also negotiate contracts with players, manage the team's money and check on player development stats to see how they're progressing. This management mode is quite engrossing, and makes for an interesting sidelight to the main action. While these standard modes are routine for sports titles, Gretzky 2005's coolest addition is the new Rivalry mode, where players can select two teams and play a hundred games, comparing stats along the way. It's definitely a deeper and more engrossing experience than you'd expect it to be. The statistics are deep and let you track a single player or the entire team's progress through the season, or even over several years. This allows you to see which players to keep an eye on, which you might want to trade and whether or not it might be time for a veteran to retire.
One of the coolest aspects of Gretzky 2005 is the player creation mode, which allows you to create a customized player from scratch, with their own unique playing style and abilities. This definitely makes for a deeper experience, with a lot more depth than you'd expect. Players can even scan in their own images using the EyeToy controller, and play as themselves. It seems like a gimmick, but it's quite a cool feature nonetheless. You can also change a number of in-game options including setting the length of a season, and choose to use the icing, two-lane passing and offsides rules. Players can also choose their goalie's position, choose how long each period lasts, change the frequency of penalties, fights and, injuries and set the overtime rules. You can also select other options such as the game speed, camera angles, crowd noise and more. While not as deep as some competing hockey titles, Gretzky 2005 still offers plenty of features with a comprehensive set of options that allows players to create a customized experience.
After you've selected your game modes, set the rules and managed your players, it's time to hit the ice. While Gretzky 2005's simplified controls don't offer the depth of some other hockey games, the developers have still done a decent job of recreating the feel of the sport. Passing and shooting are somewhat easy to master, and it's easy to keep track of the puck thanks to an on-screen indicator that helps to set it apart from the action. Gretzky 2005's controls are fairly easy to pick up and understand, allowing even novice players to have fun without too much effort. You shouldn't have much problem playing through a few rounds. You can also set up the team's playbook or lines before each match, giving your team a strategic formation during the match which you can also change between periods if it isn't working or to keep the other team off-guard. The gameplay is fairly decent and each game moves along at a decent pace throughout. Running, checking opponents and making shots on goal is fairly simple. The teams' abilities seem to mirror their real-world counterparts effectively, and the opponents' AI seems authentic. Obviously, the teams you choose determine a large part of how the games go, but the AI is decent enough, with some of the tougher teams putting up a surprising amount of resistance. This makes for some intense hockey match-ups that can be quite exciting depending on your skill level.
Gretzky 2005's solo experience is quite good, but the real fun in the game comes in competing against other players. You can choose to play against another player in real-time using the game's extensive online mode, which supports both dialup and broadband connections. In addition, players can join leagues, download rosters, and join ongoing tournaments. There are also message boards which allow you to talk to other players and join in the community if you so desire. As you'd expect, the game plays smoothly during the online mode with little lag and makes good use of this feature to create a more immersive experience. From a visual standpoint, Gretzky NHL 2005 looks solid with decent player models that look a little chunky but still give the game a realistic appearance. A series of impressive cut-scenes highlight great moves, scores, fights and player introductions that give things a more realistic feel. In addition to the standard top-down viewpoints, players can choose from several camera angles during each match and can choose to see the players names and pass zones during each match. You can also choose whether or not you want to view the passing icons as well. While not as polished as other hockey titles on the market, Gretzky NHL 2005's graphics engine effectively captures the speed and intensity of hockey with an excellent frame rate that keeps the action smoothly.
989 Sports deserves a lot of credit for taking some risks with this hockey title. There are some interesting play modes that allow you to recreate some of Gretzky's greatest moments. You can also allowing you to track his career, playing with different teams. The game's management and franchise modes are also surprisingly deep, making for a more involved experience than you'd expect. Gretzky 2005's simple controls and interface are easy to understand, but this simplicity will probably annoy hardcore hockey fans looking for more nuanced control. The action on the ice is fast and challenging, with the computer AI making a tough opponent. From a visual standpoint, the graphics engine is decent and does a good job of recreating the feel of professional NHL Hockey. While Gretzky NHL 2005 isn't the most comprehensive hockey title on the market, it's easy to learn, intuitive controls and enjoyable gameplay make it a fun game that should please the casual sports fan.