I love Slap Shot! It’s a gritty film that shows in a comical sense what it was like in the minor leagues during the ’60s and ’70s of hockey, and it includes the violence you’d often see and men talked garbage to each other a lot more than today just to pick fights and get players off the ice. You won’t see that in any Mighty Ducks films! Channeling that old-school behavior and sportsmanship, V7 Entertainment put together Old Time Hockey, which came out today for the PC and PS4. So we’re throwing on the pads, grabbing a stick and facing off with the game on both systems.
Old Time Hockey is set during the 1975-76 season of the Bush Hockey League, which is a fictional version of the AHL or ECHL. You can play as one of ten teams, totally original and not linked to any major franchise, like the Warroad Ice Anglers or the Moose Jaw Farmhands. Each team comes with their own speed, power, and fighting skills, which will help you on the ice as you try to score goals and win the game (which is harder than it sounds, but we’ll get to that in a moment). You can play exhibition mode against a friend or the PC, or you can try story mode which will have you playing as the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, one of the worst and longest running teams in the league. It becomes your job to bring the team back from the bottom of the league and onto a championship against teams that are all better than you.
The controls are pretty basic to start out with. You pass with A and shoot with B (or X and O on PS4), you’ll also be able to pull off a bunch of offensive and defensive moves as you learn the control and gain experience. One of the hardest hits in the game is the hip check, which basically sends your opponent to the ice hard and knocks them loopy. When the game starts telling you how to do new moves, you’ll soon become both team captain with leading goals and an enforcer at the same time. As you progress through the story, you’ll be given very specific objectives to achieve on top of winning the game, like deke out a goalie for a goal. These will earn you bonuses like collectible cards and advantages going into new games. The real bonus to the game is when you get into a fight. your primary button hits and your secondary button dodges, three hits wins you the round as your opponent is off the ice and you’re in the penalty box for two minutes.
The biggest issues I have with Old Time Hockey are the controls and the difficulty. First off, maneuvering is a pain in the ass, even when you’re the fastest team on the ice. Even switching between characters at play is pretty worthless because, by the time the game responds to who you want, the puck has already moved onto someone else. Both the PC and the PS4 versions suffer from this stigma and it truly doesn’t feel like you’re controlling a hockey player on the ice, you’re controlling a football player in full gear on the ice. As to the difficulty… Look, I don’t mind a challenge, I’m not claiming to be the greatest, but I’m no slouch. So when I’m getting my ass handed to me in a 0-6 game on the easiest setting in an exhibition when I chose the superior team and make my opponent the weakest… something’s off. And that difficulty follows you into story mode, where teams with a clear disadvantage can make it a close one. That gets really annoying, real quick.
The graphics aren’t the greatest, but that’s actually more of the style they were going for. It feels like a cartoon world because it kinda is a cartoon world. The players and the referees all look like they’re from the era, the fans react like old-school fans would, and the announcer even has a Canadian accent. The game offers some nice features to the style including the way the fight calendar is shaped up, league news and stories in the paper. There’s a rule book in the game that looks like a real book they’d hand out to players, which includes ’70s ads and a history of the league. There are unlockable trading cards that feature players in the game, and a complete soundtrack of songs you normally hear at hockey games as well as fight songs and anthems for the sport. At some point, you’ll want to pick a fight to the tune of The Pogues or Bad Manners or clap along with The Addams Family theme song.
Old Time Hockey has a lot going for it and I really wanted to love this game being a hockey fan myself, but it’s plagued with issues in the controls and difficulty that just sour the experience at crucial moments and frustrate the hell out of me. I still give the game major love for all the attention to detail they threw in here in making it a hockey game for hockey fans, to the point where I wish I could own one of the jerseys from the game. Hopefully, there will come an update to correct some of the issues. I still say get the game if you’re a hockey fan, or at least a hockey game fan, and see how it holds up in your eyes. But it pains me to say that average fans should hold back.
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