Finally, there is hockey again on the PC! The last major title that isn’t a management sim was EA’s NHL 09. Yes, it has been a while. V7 Entertainment have stepped up and brought everyone hockey, but not just any kind of hockey, Old Time Hockey. While I’m not Toe Blake, Dit Clapper or Eddie Shore, those guys were the greats, I have played darn near every hockey game that’s ever been out. From the Atari Ice Hockey to Blades of Steel, along with every iteration of the EA NHL series starting with NHLPA Hockey and everything from everyone in between. So, I think it’s safe to say I may have a little experience playing hockey video games. That long gap in PC hockey titles can lead to some hefty expectations from some, however, so let’s see how Old Time Hockey stacks up.
Following the trend in recent sports games, Old Time Hockey features a story mode. This is especially important, as completing the story mode is required to unlock the advanced controls in the game; it also unlocks the ability to play the season as a different team. Now, most hockey fans probably would have quickly connected the name Old Time Hockey with the reference to the movie Slap Shot. If that somehow slipped through your 5 hole, then the story mode goes top shelf with the uncanny resemblance to Slap Shot. If that resemblance goes unnoticed, then I can only assume that you haven’t ever actually seen Slap Shot.
Of course, the storyline isn’t a 100% carbon copy, that’s asking for a lawsuit, but there are some strong parallels between the two. This story features the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, a losing team in danger of losing its sponsorship, who happen to along the way replace some injured players with 3 goons. As one might imagine, the games tend to get a lot more violent as the story mode goes on. This is far more “Old Time Hockey” that is thought about in reference to the movie than the actual old time hockey they were talking about, but that’s a different discussion. But let’s get back on topic, the story mode also doubles as a tutorial mode as well.
In the first game the controls are extremely limited. As you play through more games, new skills will unlock. Prepare to lose some games. There really isn’t much avoiding it, plus, it is part of the story. This may be hard for some to swallow at first, I hate losing virtual hockey games myself, but I take solace in the fact I did actually win 1 or 2 of those games that I actually shouldn’t have. Which I get reminded of at the beginning of each game where the scripted story announcer announces the team’s current win streak, although incorrectly because of winning a game I wasn’t supposed to.
While everything starts on a very basic level, with just passing, switching players and wrist shots, eventually there is a full repertoire of moves at one’s disposal. Oh, and of course, there’s lots of fighting. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this approach, to be honest. On one hand, it does a great job of teaching a few things at a time and then making sure the player has them down before moving on. On the other hand, it may be a bit frustrating to those well versed in video game hockey mechanics and possibly a bit confusing to some wondering why the controls say press this button to hook, yet doing so, before completing that part of the tutorial, does not let you hook.
Of course, if unlocking it through the story mode doesn’t do it for you, there is an alternative way if you don’t mind not being on the UP and UP. But only venture DOWN, DOWN that rabbit hole if you want to march LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT straight into Being A lazy cheat. Please tell me you got that there, folks.
Anyway, each game has set goals that need to be passed to move on, regardless of the final score. Some of these can be relatively easy, others can be maddeningly hard. One particular goal that comes to mind is holding another team under 12 shots for the entire game. Luckily, this was not part of a tutorial game, those goals never change, but the games in between can have different goals. If any of the goals are failed in those games, pressing rematch will restart with the same goals, but exiting out and then restarting will usually provide some different goals. Of course, some of the difficulty here might be of my own doing, as I did immediately choose the hardest setting available.
Let’s move on from the story, no need to spoil it completely for anyone by going into full details on every bit of it. How does Old Time Hockey do in the control department? While there are some super simple control options, I did opt for the hardest available. Almost everything works great and is pretty much what one might expect from a newer NHL title. The only thing I found to be a bit on the frustrating side was the player switching. Sometimes while hitting the button to switch, nothing seemed to happen, or there would be some slight delay in the actual switch. So occasionally, that part was a bit up in the air at times, but nothing too major as I played it very much like old time video game hockey, à la NHL ’93. Long after that series added more advanced controls, I was still an ardent user of the old control scheme; however, I finally bucked up and found that, overall, I enjoy those “newfangled” controls.
Of course, what hockey game would be complete without a kicking soundtrack? Hurray for songs I actually know! Just like those other guys. Okay, they may not all be universally known by everyone, but I would imagine that most puck-heads are familiar with most, if not all, of the tracks. Plus, while I’m on the subject, bonus points for The Pogues being included in the soundtrack.
Darn, the Zamboni driver is getting ready, and I haven’t even gotten to the actual hockey part yet! The gameplay is quite smooth. It’s actually quite impressive, to be honest. It feels like a really good mix of older hockey games in terms of style; again, think early 90s EA titles here and the fluid movements found in today’s games. Finding room on the ice in the offensive zone can be hard but not impossible, of course. The 70s Bush League style is a lot like that aforementioned movie with lots of fighting involved. Of course, the 70s also featured some real life teams that were known for their goon-ish ways. While the fights can be fun, at a certain point they do seem to feature more and more prominently. It can bog things down a bit.
Although bogging things down is part of the point. Players who get pummeled without putting up a fight or on multiple occasions can get injured. There’s just no getting up from a tomahawk chop to the head with a stick. This, of course, can be done enough so the opposing team no longer has enough healthy players and has to forfeit. So, no game is completely a lost cause despite the score. I do wish that there would be more moments of clean, actual old time hockey. Once the fighting starts, however, it’s a safe bet it won’t stop till the game ends.
There is one last note, however, for fans of multiplayer. As of right now, the current multiplayer is 2 player, local only. So, gather up a buddy on the couch and have a go at each other. I know this might rankle some fans of online multiplayer. V7 did say that it’s right up near the top of the to do list, but unfortunately, costs were a bit too much to implement beforehand. While it isn’t here now, depending on how well things go, it may indeed get added in the future.
I often try my best not to anticipate new games, but honestly, I was very much looking forward to Old Time Hockey. Sometimes that anticipation can lead to some rather undue expectations, but thankfully, Old Time Hockey puts the biscuit in the basket. I forgot really how much fun these types of hockey games could be. Heck, I even got finger pain the first night from playing so much, just like back in the Sega Genesis days. It might not be 100% perfect, but it’s still really good and lots of fun to play.
Developer: V7 Entertainment
Publisher: V7 Entertainment
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Ps4, Switch
Release Date: 28th March 2017