To many, hockey is just a bunch of goons erupting into bloody fistfights at the slightest provocation. What the hockey purist knows, though, is that under this rough veneer is a fluid, fast-moving, positional sport equal to soccer, football, or basketball in its finesse and complexity. These purists will be thrilled to know that Virgin Interactive succeeded in creating a hockey title that perfectly captures the sport of hockey in all of its nuances. That's right - a smart hockey game.
What makes NHL Powerplay ‘96 remarkable is its terrific computer artificial intelligence, both in your teammates and in your opponents. Whether filling in the wing on the break or holding on at the blue line to avoid going offsides, the computer-controlled players perform just as real hockey players would. When you throw in excellent player control on one-timers, drop passes, and spin moves, you can put together some of the nicest passing and scoring combinations that I have ever seen in a hockey title.
In fact, if Powerplay ‘96 falls short anywhere, it's in the actual rough part of the game. While you can check the opponents, you don't actually get the hard contact and explosive sound of a good, hard shot - you either slide off the check or kind of trip the player to the ice. In fact, the sound effects in general could use a little beefing up. When I've been checked, I want to know I've been checked. When a goal is scored, I want to hear the horn go off and the crowd erupt. Powerplay ‘96 has all of this - it just seems slightly muted.
Don't let this subtlety fool you, though. With its motion-captured animations, clear graphics, and nail-biting gameplay, NHL Powerplay ‘96 may well be the smoothest, most realistic and most entertaining hockey title available today.