After my shambolic NBA Live 08 review, I’m here tackling another US sport, this time in the form of ice-hockey in NHL 2K8. The only reason I’m having a second crack at a US sport is the fact that NHL doesn’t look half as soft as basketball does, as you can actually use physical force to take the puck off the opposition. But does NHL 2K8 put the puck in the back of the net, or does it fall face-first onto the ice?
First things first, let me crack on with the criticism straight away; why introduce a control system that, quite frankly, sucks? Admitedly, I didn’t have a manual to turn to, but the default button layout was quite peculiar. I would whinge about all the controls, but here’s a brief look at them: R Bumper is to shoot, Left Bumper is to pass and A is to run, well speed-skate. Those of you will know that those controls are a total pain in the backside, for me, R trigger to speed-skate, A to pass and either X or B to shoot. I’ve played NHL 2K8 for over 10 hours before writing this review, and to be honest, I’m still not used to the controls.
But, if you can get over the control hurdle, NHL 2K8 is an enjoyable game. Fast and fluid movements from the players make it an entertaining game, but I could not perfect scoring in one-on-one situations. The majority of my goals came from rebounds, but hey, they all count. The actual gameplay is enjoyable with the puck flying around the rink and players skating for it, and greatest joy I found was going in rough to get to the puck, hiting ‘em hard against the boundary.
What’s new in this years edition is the ‘ProStick’ control; using the right analog stick to control the puck. When attacking the opposition, you can simply use the right analog stick to knock the puck onto whichever side you want it to be on, left to right or right to left. Using ProStick on the defending end, you can swipe at the puck and cleanly take it from your opponent. NHL 2K8 also has Superstar moves which allows you to “execute breathtaking manoeuvres”. Holding down the L trigger and combining two buttons executes these moves, and although they’re sweet, actually doing them in-game is another thing as the pace of the game is relatively fast.
Sliding off the controls, although not entirely, it’s a shame the way the AI responds. I’m not talking about the opposition AI, but the players AI when the puck is free on the ice. Instead of the usual automatic select-the-player near the puck, you have to manually select the player, so you’re constantly tapping away, and it does get frustrating as sometimes you over-tap, resulting in a player further away being selected… again the controls, but not entirely the control systems fault. Now let’s skip along off the controls, finally!
The depth of the game is exceptional. You have your usual modes for tournaments and the like, but the Franchise mode is, well, huge. You practically control everything from contracts to salaries and so forth (damn the salary cap!). It’s huge! I’m not one to go into what has been added, so to put it in a nutshell: You’re the boss – the big boss – who gets so long on the ice, and who isn’t going to be in the squad this season.
NHL 2K8 visually looks very good. The frame-rate is solid, and I’ve not suffered any random slow down … yet. With the strong frame-rate, the player models and reactions from goaltenders in-game look extremely well done, and it’s good to see that the revamp has not failed to impress. Facial features of players look good too, and the menu is simple and easy to get the grips with, but why the long loading times stuck on a boring screen? It’s just plain silly and boring, and not having played EA’s NHL title this year, the FIFA and NBA games have some fun loading screens; practice and quizzes. It’s a shame that they never capitalised on that and did something similar.
Commentary in the game varies, sometimes they’re spot on, sometimes they say the wrong names of players, which to me isn’t that frustrating but to those of you who enjoy the sport, it will get on your nerves. Unfortunately the soundtrack in NHL 2K8 is not my cup of tea, and I really, really hate it. I generally like most genres of music, but the ‘head banging rock’ genre is the one I truly hate. From what I’ve heard, and bands I know, Korn and Bloc Party are featured, and those that I don’t know include Quiet Riot, Tokyo Police Club and Stellastar; if you like those bands or the genre of music, you’ll enjoy NHL 2K8 that little bit more; personally I had my laptop on playing anything and everything but ‘hardcore rock’.
NHL 2K8 is a very entertaining game, but the control system is a shambles. I know the majority of the review was based around the control system, but it’s an annoying problem that really made me want to throw the game out of the window. I still haven’t got used to the control scheme as I play my FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer titles, [You have both?! -Ed] but those who can easily adapt to the control system will have a ball (or puck). The Superstar moves are hard to pull off in a game, but go into the training mode and you can try all the moves you want – and they are classy. Given the depth of the Franchise mode, players can be expected to be pulled in for the long haul and be a manager and player, making those important deals. Unfortunately, NHL 2K8 is our number two title in the battle of the rink this year, with EA’s NHL 08 scoring a high 85% and NHL 2K8 falling 20% behind.