Also On: PC
Publisher: V7 Entertainment
Developer: V7 Entertainment
I don't think there's any question that the makers of Old Time Hockey have a deep appreciation for history — in more ways than one. After all, not only is their game a throwback to the days when we had more just just officially licensed sports games rounding out console line-ups, it's also a love letter to the weird and wacky world of '70s sports, when renegade leagues like the World Hockey Association sprang up to rival older, more traditional leagues like the NHL.
From that perspective, I appreciate Old Time Hockey. It's rare to see a game with such a distinctive vision these days, and even rarer when the game in question is a sports game. Aesthetically, it hits all the right notes, from the flowing locks and missing teeth of the players, to the retro-sounding arena anthems (Stompin' Tom represent!), to the fashion choices of the fans scattered throughout the tiny arenas. The game embraces a defiantly old-school vision of hockey, too, with its love of blood and frequent fights, to say nothing of the generally sloppy play on the ice. And, of course, it's hard to imagine a modern-day NHL game including storylines that frequently feature bar-room brawls.
Unfortunately, while the vision is there, the execution leaves something to be desired. Too frequently, the players just seem to be barely mobile blobs floating around the rink. As much as that probably reflects the skill level Old Time Hockey's creators were going for (after all, we're talking about a pre-European influx '70s hockey league), it doesn't make for thrilling play. Even on the easiest levels, the goalies are basically sieves, prone to giving up goals on everything but shots directly at them. Bodychecks are little better; while you can occasionally square up and level guys (opponents and teammates alike), more frequently you harmlessly bounce off your intended target. Passing comes off as more a general suggestion than a specific action, goalies dump the puck behind their own nets at an alarming frequency, and generally, the game has all the crispness you'd associate with, say, mediocre midget or peewee leagues.
I get the sense that Old Time Hockey's creators recognize the deficiencies too, if only because in the week-plus since the game was released, there have been nine separate updates and patches. The good news: things have improved substantially, to the point that my final grade for the game has improved by an entire letter.
But there's still a vast chasm between "better" and "worth playing." Old Time Hockey has all kinds of great ideas, and with a few more updates it might even get to a place where it lives up to what its creators intended to do. Right now, however, you're better off finding a way (legally or otherwise) of booting up Blades of Steel or NHL '94.