A hockey game on the PC has been unheard of since the dark ages of 2009, when EA released their last NHL game for Windows computers. Since then, you either had to pony up for a console or cross your fingers and wait. Fast forward to 2017, where the puck shaped voids in our hearts are only growing larger as we wait for a hero to answer the call, and what do you know? An independent studio has decided enough was enough! It was time to pull the jersey over the heads of those “triple A” studio chumps and give ‘em what for! Ladies and gentleman, I give you Old Time Hockey!
Old Time Hockey is inspired both by classic NHL games like NHL ‘94, as well as hockey movies like Slapshot. The game brings back the glory days of the late 70’s, when helmets were optional (let’s be honest, no one wore them) and concussions were just excuses for wimps to get off the ice. With such inspiration, you might think that Old Time Hockey would be strictly arcade-like, with limited controls and game modes. Well, yes and no.
During a game you control all five skaters much like you would any hockey game, switching between whichever player will accomplish the task, whether that be hitting someone off the puck or ripping a slapper for the top shelf. The controls feel very comfortable, you can use the simple two-button approach or go for the advanced scheme. If you are familiar with the control scheme of EA’s NHL franchise, the advanced controls will feel right at home. Skating with the left thumbstick feels right, with the physics a little more on the heavy side and things like momentum and weight make an impact here, but you’re still able to skate accurately once you’ve had some experience.
The same story applies for shooting with the right stick, although it was a little hard to get used to in the two button scheme. In either case, you can aim your wristers and slappers, making it feel as if you are actually getting scoring chances instead of just pushing a button and pelting the goalie until the game decides you can score now. No matter which control scheme you choose, there is a slight delay between button press and action on screen. This will most likely lead to double pressing buttons or just mashing the button until your player does what you want him to, often times too late for that sick pass or sweet scoring opportunity. Because of this, it’s nearly impossible, as far as I can tell, to set up one-timers. Personally I would recommend playing with the advanced controls, since some new options open up to you on both the defensive and offensive side of the ice. Poke checks, dumping the puck, and protecting the puck all require you to use advanced controls, and you can bet a bag of pucks the opposition will be using these moves against you.
Speaking of opposition, let’s talk AI, starting with the opposing teams. Each team has a rating for offense, defense, and fighting, but as far as I can tell, these numbers don’t necissarily mean much out on the ice. When you play against the computer the other team will have no problem using poke checks, hooks and hits to get the puck from you, and the refs tend to fall on the side of “Let ‘em play!” but since this is the ‘70s era, it’s to be expected. It’s not odd to find only one or two penalties called per game, and some games will go by without even one! Just don’t lay the lumber on too much and you should be able to fend off the attempts for the puck.
As for your own team, I did notice a few things that I personally would have liked to see out of my team. Since you can’t control things like aggressiveness on the forecheck or your team breakout from your zone, you’re playing with your team as opposed to leading it. However, sometimes this means pulling a player out of position to pick up the puck in front of your net, frantically switching players until you get the one closest to the puck, player position be damned, or trying to set up a 2 on 1 only to have your teammate come to a dead stop at the blue line. It can be frustrating at times, but you’ll end up adapting your strategies and learn when you can and can’t pull certain plays off after logging enough time with Old Time Hockey. In fact, you will have to if you want to unlock the advanced controls. More on that in a moment.
It wouldn’t be a sports game without game modes, but if you’re looking for a general manager’s mode or even a season mode, the closest you’ll get is story mode. Story mode sees you playing as the epicly bad Schuylkill (skool-kill) Hinto Brews, the game’s version of the Chiefs, as you pull the team out of the dregs of amatuer hour in the Bush Hockey League. Starting with a cool zero stars in each of the three stats for overall team performance, it’s your job to turn the ship around and start winning and improving the team. However, you won’t do this by making trades or running practice drills, instead, you’ll play games in the scheduled season and learn how to play Old Time Hockey with mandatory tutorial objectives spread across mutiple games. So in your first game you might learn the basics of hitting and shooting, then three games down the road you’ll learn about dumping the puck and hip-checks.
Until you complete the entire tutorial, you will not have access to the full repitoire of moves in exhibition mode. Thankfully, as you unlock moves you will be allowed to use them in story mode, which is nice considering your rivals will be using moves against you that you might not be able employ at the time. It’s an odd choice considering many people who will be turned on to this game will already understand the basics of these skills and, like me I’m sure, will be frustrated that you cannot use them from the very first puck drop. Other than story and exhibition modes, there’s not much else to see or do in Old Time Hockey. As of yet online multiplayer is absent, the only multiplayer being local exhibition mode with up to four players.
The game looks and sounds unique, to put it nicely. Player models look about the quality of a Nintendo 64 game, albiet in HD. Jerseys are colorful though, and an outline effect over each player makes the action easily readible on screen. Fluid animation and a smooth 60 FPS also contribute to how clearly it’s all presented. The sound all works, skates cut the ice as you’d expect, shots ring off the crossbar, and players even yell at the refs, just like you’ll be doing when they don’t call a penalty! The music is licensed, and while I doubt you’ll be adding most of the songs to your playlist any time soon, there are a few that stand out. I’m just thanking the hockey gods that there doesn’t seem to be any generic, royalty-free stock music. You know what I’m talking about, the kind of stuff you hear on free mobile games. Old Time Hockey is presented in a package that actually conveys a sense of time (the 70’s) and gives you a bit more to bite off than “it’s a hockey game, press start to play hockey”.
When the final buzzer blares and the ice is cleared, Old Time Hockey is a good sports game, standing at the precipice of greatness and is extra special for those PC and Nintendo gamers, who’ve really got the high stick when it comes to hockey games on their favorite platform. It’s not without it’s faults, but with as much potential that exists here for future updates, such as adding features like a team creator, player creator, logo and jersey creator, online multiplayer, season mode, stuff like that, this game could really build a following, depending on how much support the game is given after release. It’s not beholden to the whims of the NHL or some large corporate entity that decides whether or not next year’s iteration will be just another roster update. However, I can’t judge a game by what it could be, only by what it is today. The decision to lock the advanced controls is probably the biggest drawback I can think of right now.That said, Old Time Hockey is a good ol’ hockey game that bridges the gap between simulation and arcade sports title. It’s meant to be played for the fun of the game. I mean, it has a beer control mode so you can drink beer and play the game at the same time, for Gordie’s sake! If that’s not sports game innovation, I don’t know what is.
Old Time Hockey is available March 28th on Steam and Playstation 4 and is coming soon to Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Old Time Hockey was reviewed using a Steam code provided by the publisher. You can read additional information about PSVG’s review policy on our disclaimer page here.