Ice hockey, on the surface, should be one of those gentle games where you skate about, happily knocking a little rubber disc from one end of the rink to the other, trying to score. Then off to the showers for a wash and a sing-song with your team. In real life however, it is one of the most brutal sports on the planet, second only to white-water bare-knuckle seal clubbing. So, when an ice-hockey commentator says there is a face-off in the corner, you can never tell whether he is referring to a standard one-to-one for the puck or the gooey mess that was once a player's face before he was pushed into the plastic walling by the opposing team.
It is endearing then, that Krisalis have tried to simulate what is possibly the most important ingredient of an ice hockey match: the violence. You see, in this game you can trip up the opposition, brain them a few times against the wall and even involve yourself in a mass ruck on the ice, with all the members of both sides joining in.
Such attention to detail in this simulation does not just stop at the punch-ups though. Here we have a thoughtful little sim which is easy enough to find your way around and to get into. But this is due to the fact that the game includes both management planning and match sections.
If all you want to do is collar your best mate, thrust a joystick rudely into his sweaty palm and give him a good hard trashing at hockey (like you do), then you can skip the management section and head straight for the rink. Game parameters can be set: having the sound on or off, turning the ice-marks (made by the players) off, setting the skill level or (best of all) getting rid of the referee, thus enabling you to engage in some particularly bloody ice carnage.
It is a game of four quarters
Up to four players can join in on the management section of the game. You can either have a completely hands-off approach, merely training the team or, if you wish, try participating in the games as well. The former just shows the score after the end of each period and then drops you back into the management screen.
Fixtures involving human players can be highlighted by clicking on the relevant icon. Clicking again on one of the highlighted games will result in that match taking place. The team statistics can be displayed showing each player's peculiar skills, a doctor can be called in (you will use this one a fair bit), the players can be treated to a night out; ranging from a mega-expensive nosh-up to a cheap-skate curry and rice for 14, or finally the players can be trained. This training option enables you to analyse each player's strengths and weaknesses and give them ice, weights or sticks training where appropriate.
The matches are a lot of fun. The team skates out onto the rink and the ref plonks the puck down in the middle of the ice, you then hit the fire-button as soon as the word 'GO' appears and you either win or lose possession of the puck. The idea of course is to get the puck into the other side's minimalist net, preferably with the same number of teeth you skated out onto the ice with.
Over here son, in my head
To pass the puck you simply hold down the fire-button in the appropriate direction and to shoot you quickly click the fire-button. To get the puck off another player you simply skate over him; your success depends entirely on the particular player's puck skills. If you cross check another player (tripping him up) then a fight may or may not break out, which causes every player to congregate en masse and try to finish the game in a much more straightforward manner.
Face-Off is a pleasing simulation. A lot of attention has been paid to getting the feel of the game right, including the inertia of the ice. The icon screens are easy to use and not at all fiddly. The whole game has a professional feel to it, which is bound to appeal to strategists and face-smashers alike.