|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4|
|Release Date||March 28, 2017|
Review code provided
Old Time Hockey is an arcade ice hockey game, aiming to take us back to the old days of hockey, when the game was as much about violence as it was about scoring goals. Smashing your opposition to bits is just as important as skating around them to score in the Bush League. The game also aims to emulate the EA Sports games of the 90’s, such as the classic NHL ’97 on Sega Mega Drive, with simpler controls and a retro aesthetic.
It’s a novel approach. This is far removed from the modern day NHL, where players are elite athletes able to perform incredible feats of skill in front of tens of thousands of fans. The players in Old Time Hockey are mostly goons, probably drunk and more adept at crashing other players than putting a puck into the net. In theory Old Time Hockey has all the to be an entertaining arcade title.
It has some great touches. The cel-shaded, low resolution graphics fit the retro-inspired style the game is going for. Sure, it doesn’t look graphically great, but it makes the game look classic. The soundtrack is similarly excellent – filled with a good variety of organ tracks and a smattering of licensed music that fits the Bush League attitude like a glove. The game even has a beer mode, allowing you to play the game one-handed while you hold a beer in the other.
Stepping out onto the ice, however, is where a series of serious issues become apparent. There are two modes in Old Time Hockey – Exhibition and Story. The former is essentially useless until you’ve completed the latter. Story mode sees you take control of the struggling Schuylkill Hinto Brews. It’s Christmas and they’re in dead last. Your objective – turn their season around and get them into the playoffs.
For some reason, Old Time Hockey thinks it’s a great idea to lock most of its controls behind tutorials dished out throughout Story mode. Not advanced maneuvers, but the basics of ice hockey. You won’t be able to take slap shots, checks, slashes, pokes, hooks, dekes, fight or basically do much of anything until you’ve hit the relevant tutorial. You basically have to grind through Old Time Hockey’s story mode to unlock what should be basic parts of the game’s moveset, playing with the ice severely tilted in the favour of your opposition.
Tutorials are dished out intermittently through the season, rather than something you can choose to play through yourself, taking the form of objectives you’ll receive before every game. Some of these objectives are secondary, unlocking improvements to your team or collectable trading cards of the game’s fictitious players. Some are mandatory, however, and it’s hear where the game gets infuriating.
Mandatory objectives must be completed. Some are simple – make 20 slap shots, throw a few hits, slash a few players. Some are maddening, such as trying to hit specific players when it’s almost impossible to tell them apart or goading an opposition goalie into a fight. If you fail a mandatory objective you have to replay the match again, regardless of whether you won or not.
Smoke the opposition team? Doesn’t matter because you didn’t hit Generic McHockeyguy five times. Back to the beginning and try again. This gauntlet of tutorials isn’t helped by the fact that the game isn’t teaching you how to play, as these “tutorials” don’t actually show you the controls or how to do the things it wants you to do, merely attempt to force you to do new things.
This tutorial/objective system quickly robs Old Time Hockey of any fun you might be having, but this is before even diving into the myriad of gameplay issues that make the game incredibly unsatisfying. Regardless of what moves you have or have not learned, it’s not a very satisfying experience to try and negotiate the ice with your players, who all control about as well as drunk bears. Changing direction is next to impossible, with your players gliding across the ice in sometimes random directions.
Even the violence first approach fails to deliver thanks to spotty, inconsistent controls. When you’ve managed to maneuver your player towards someone on the opposite team, it’s 50/50 whether pushing the button to hit them will actually result in a hit. You might check them or might simply rub up against them awkwardly as they carry the puck towards your completely useless goalie. This is just one example amongst many.
The puck doesn’t behave as if it’s actually on ice – attempting to dump and run or even make mid-range passes sees the puck stop dead long before reaching the intended target. Teammates won’t follow you into the opposition zone, content merely to hang out in centre ice as the rest of the opposition collapses upon you with a fury and precision that you can’t hope to achieve. When your linemates do eventually catch up any pass you make towards them will probably go either behind them or not reach them at all.
I get that this is the Bush League. The Schuylkill Hinto Brews aren’t the Chicago Blackhawks and the whole gimmick of the game is that these players kind of suck. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the game fun. There are so many problems with the core gameplay that no one element feels like it functions as intended. Sometimes the game feels fantastic, you’ll score a great goal or utterly demolish someone with a ferocious hip check, but these moments are far too rare and usually come about after you’ve spent the previous 20 minutes wrestling with the controls.
Old Time Hockey is a great concept poorly executed. It’s marred by some dodgy controls and a series of baffling design decisions. What could have been a neat throwback to old fashioned hockey is instead a massively missed opportunity. Locking basic hockey moves behind tutorial objectives, and then making some of those objectives mandatory, is a huge mistake that makes actually playing the game feel superfluous.
On the ice the game doesn’t fare much better, being an absolute bother to control with a myriad of problems and issues that mean the game simply isn’t fun to play. As a hockey fan I really wanted to like this game. And while V7 have nailed the aesthetic, soundtrack and attitude of classic hockey, the game underneath leaves a lot to be desired.
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