SummaryBasic hockey game with breakthrough graphics.
The GoodFace Off! has good, fluent gameplay. It is a rather traditional hockey game, somewhat reminiscent of Blades of Steel, Konami's better known hockey game for the NES. However there are several things that make Face Off! stand out. For starters the game's production values are excellent for a game from 1989. Face Off! has good VGA graphics (check out the messed-up goalie on the title screen), smooth player animation and nice Adlib organ tunes (those organ tunes seem to be mandatory for hockey games).
As mentioned above, the gameplay is pretty standard but the addition of the Shot Cam View and fighting sequences a la Street Fighter (not that good of course) help to keep things interesting. Being the goalie in the Shot Cam mode requires fast reflexes but I enjoyed it. This perspective is more immersive than the side or top-down views used in other hockey games from that era (including EA's early NHL games). Another nice touch is face off mini-game which takes place in a small window near the top of the screen. Every time the match is resumed you get to battle for possession of the puck.
The fights are pretty simple but somehow there's just something very satisfactory about knocking someone out of the game. After you've knocked your opponent unconscious you can decide to jump on him and punch him in the face till the ref takes him from the ice, pretty brutal. Especially when you're the one who started the fight in the first place cause you made a nasty body check but your victim has to spend some time in the penalty box for "losing the fight".
When you play the game two players you can decide to play against each other (and beat each other up) or play on the same team against the computer (and still beat each other up). Anyway this game is a lot of fun with two players. It is also a game with a low learning curve. The controls are very simple. You basically just use the directional keys and a pass & shoot button, on defense the pass button let's you steal the puck while the shoot button performs a body check.
The BadThe weakest aspect of Face Off! is the A.I., it really is rather stupid. Your teammates are not much of a help and computer opponents are easily fooled. Even on the highest difficulty level I could easily get rid of my defenders. Only the A.I. of the goalies is decent. In fact on the veteran & all-star difficulty levels it's pretty hard to beat a computer goalie unless you shoot from very close range. Because of the bad A.I. it's not that hard to win the tournament.
You can design your own plays in the playbook but because of bad A.I. it is a waste of time. In practice you'll just pick up the puck on one side of the field, skate to the other side (while dodging some opponents) and try to score. Because you keep on controlling the same player till the next face off, it doesn't pay off to pass the puck around a lot. You just can't be sure that your teammates will do something good with it. It would have been better if you always controlled the player with the puck. You also have the option of making trades with other teams, but all the players are similar. Since there are no player statistics, trading feels rather pointless (although some players skate a bit faster than others). I never really made a lot of use of the GM & coaching options.
I know the developers didn't have the NHL license and thus couldn't use real jerseys, but it still is a bit disappointing that every team wears the same green & red jerseys. Mindspan could have designed some fictional jerseys for the various teams.
The Bottom LineAn enjoyable hockey game with fluent animation and better graphics than other hockey games of its time. As the artificial intelligence is rather weak it's a lot more fun to play Face Off! against another player than against the computer. BTW the game does work under Windows, but doesn't run as smooth as under pure DOS.