Sony's Face Off may be the best looking hockey title for the PlayStation, but it falls just shy of EA's NHL 98 in gameplay

Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony
Genre: Sports

In just two years, Sony has established itself as one of the premiere sports game developers. Its GameDay series is the uncontested leader in football, the MLB series is one of the better baseball titles for the PlayStation, and now the NHL Face Off series is good enough to compete with the best hockey titles around.

Last year, three hockey titles on the PlayStation stood shoulder to shoulder in terms of quality. This year, two have emerged as the best: EA Sports' NHL 98 and Sony's NHL Face Off stand out as the titles that best represent the winter sport on a videogame console.

What helps Face Off 98 take its place as a top title is its smooth graphics engine. More than any other PlayStation hockey title, this one features realistic players that move in a life-like fashion. The textures are also smoother than other games, giving the title a far more polished look than its competitors.

The directional control is the best yet for a next generation hockey title - the game really makes you feel like you're guiding a hockey player over ice.

The icon passing is an acquired taste that depends on the preferences of the player. For some, being able to choose where a pass is headed allows them to use more strategy during the game. For others, the easy interface takes away the high skill requirements that hockey passing requires. Whichever style players enjoy most will greatly effect how much they enjoy this title.

While Face Off is a very solid sports sim, when compared to the other top hockey title, EA's NHL 98, it comes up slightly short in several areas. The first discrepancy is Face Off's less than exciting sound effects. Good sound makes a world of difference in sports games, and is almost important as graphics to making the gameplay feel real. The sound in Face Off simply doesn't convey the action as well as its graphics, and when compared to the crisp, realistic sounds of NHL 98, it simply doesn't match up.

The second issue is intuitive button layout. While Sony?s has better directional control, the button layout is less intuitive than that of the NHL series. EA has had years longer to perfect its action controls, and the difference shows. Sony went with a more complicated layout, similar to its GameDay design, which works in football, but is a little too complex for the fast play of hockey.

Finally, while both titles have solid strategy elements, Face Off is missing the well designed in-game strategy menus that let players change offensive and defensive setups on the fly. This feature will only appeal to the hard-core fan, but nonetheless, it would have been a valuable addition.

Even though Face Off 98 has the best graphics for a PlayStation hockey title and it has great controls, it falls just short of NHL 98. It?s still an 8 title, though. Hockey fans, however will not be disappointed in any way by this title.