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Hockey Video Game Roundup

image What a year for video game hockey! In the first full year for next generation game development we have two wonderful games to choose from. Both will bring you closer to the ice than ever before and have you developing strategies to raise the Stanley Cup.

For the last four years, NHL 2K7 has been the leader in video game simulation hockey.  Where other games had pre-scripted actions, the 2K series was the first to have real time puck physics allowing the player to create a realistic strategy and attack.  Deflection goals occurred often as pucks bounced off of sticks and players.  Goalies could be screened.  Most importantly, you couldn’t rely on the one timer.

The gameplay of NHL 2K7 remains as solid as ever.  The same elements that made this series a hit with puckheads since its initial release on the Dreamcast are here.  New to 2K7 is a revamp skating engine.  Momentum is a huge factor in controlling your players.  Players attributes effect the skating feel.  Derian Hatcher moves like an elephant on skates compared to the speed and pinpoint turning of Sergei Fedorov. 

AI in the 2K series gets better and better each year.  Hockey fans will be pleased to know that you need to use different attack strategies to score a goal.  If you try to carry the puck in every offensive chance you get, you will get stood up on the blue line as the computer adapts to your repetitiveness.  You will find that sometimes it takes a chip in or dumping the puck to get the job done.  You can choose from a variety of strategies to employ, such as cycling the puck, attacking the net or passing and shooting. 

The computer has the same tactical options, so you have to be responsible defensively.  New this year is the option to double team a particular player.  Do so at your own risk, as often the computer will be sure to get the puck to the unguarded man.

The graphics in NHL 2K7 are starting to show their age, especially in HD.  Jagged edges are evident.  2K sports hasn’t made a major graphical engine overhaul since the initial Dreamcast release. 

New this year is Cinemotion, a new take on hockey gameplay viewpoint.  Instead of the traditional overhead view, Cinemotion zooms and pans along with the action, giving you a better perspective of the action..  This is one of the most welcomed additions to the game that I would like to see become standard.  Cinemotion was developed to bring you closer to the game with movie aspects.  An inspirational touch is allowing you to sit into the pre-game pep talk by the coach in the locker room.

One of the first options in starting up NHL 2K7 for the first time is to choose between traditional commentary by Harry Neal and Bob Cole or a cinematic musical score.  In another attempt to bring you into the game, you can hear the player’s and coach’s comments after different situations in the game (ie excitement and praise after a goal or disappointment and blame after a loss or losing the lead)  Adding a voice to the refs to hear which penalty called was a nice touch.

The 2K series premiered online counsel play a few years ago with 2K3.  Each year they attempted to add more features only at the sacrifice of a reliable connection.  This year appears to be a step back in the right direction.  I didn’t experience any connection issues.  The online league play is as solid as ever with a beautiful internet interface allowing you to track stats and communicate in an online forum.

Back this year are the mini games introduced two years ago.  These games act as a party mode where you can compete with three of your best friends in a battle of relay games and obstacle courses on ice.  Also returning is pond hockey, a 4-on-4 no rules game that can be quite challenging to score.  The dynasty mode is quite similar to last year, noting nothing special.  The skybox returns as a place to store your gameplay achievements as recognized as trophys.  These achievements translate into points where you can unlock certain items like alternative jerseys and historic teams.

Overall, NHL 2K7 is a solid game containing the same simulation aspects that made the series so popular four years ago.  The problem is that it is too similar to the last four inceptions of the game.  If you have NHL 2K3-2K6, there is no reason to shell out $40-60 for update rosters.  The 2K series truly needs to take a page from EA and refresh the game with new ideas for the next generation game counsels.

NHL 07
EA sports used to be the end all in hockey video gaming.  For many years, they were the only video game company making a hockey game.  Due to lack of competition, they became lazy and released the same game year-in and year-out.  In the fall of 2002, Sega released NHL 2K3, a game with unique puck physics, intelligent goalies and simulation-style gameplay that easily overshadowed EA’s game.  Now, with the first full hockey / next-gen system season approaching, EA used the enhanced graphics and processing power available as an excuse to overhaul their game with mostly improved results.

The most noticeable change in NHL 07’s gameplay is the new control system that completely eliminates the need for using the face buttons: The left thumb stick controls where your player skates and the right thumb stick controls the player’s stick.  Push the right thumb stick to the left and the player dekes left.  Move it back and he winds up for a slap shot.  This new feature leaves virtually no limit to what you can have your players do and helps to make NHL 07 one of the most open-ended sports video games ever released.
Also revamped this year are the skating and puck physics.  Skating momentum has to be considered when on defense as pressing the left thumb stick too hard can cause you to overshoot a player and create a scoring chance.  The puck physics are on par with NHL 2K7 as deflections are commonplace.

If there is a downside to NHL 07, it is the AI, mainly the gameplay of your teammates.  Like NHL 2K7, you can pick and choose your strategies, though it is not as in depth: choose between defensive/offensive aggressiveness and three different offensive and defensive schemes.  Missed is a preference on how to enter the zone and neutral zone defense and often results in your teammates running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  My biggest complaint is the action of your defensemen as the offense enters the zone.  Rarely do they try to stand up the attacker and split immediately upon an attacker entering the zone.  The one computer bug to note is that they will always score on their opening shot if they win the faceoff and carry the puck into your zone.

The graphics in NHL 07 are nothing short than amazing.  From the player models to faces and arenas, this game was definitely designed with next generation and HDTVs in mind.  This is also the only hockey game to license the coach’s likenesses (sans Gretzky who has an exclusive license with Sony).

I never thought I would be happy to hear Gary Thorne and Bill Clement’s voices, but it was quite comforting and helps to make this game feel more like a realistic game.  This was true until the second game when I heard the same five comments over and over.  I found myself using the “on ice sounds” feature from that point further, which mutes the commentary and amps up the ice sound effects. 

The online functionality of NHL 07 is average, though no league functionality which should be standard in this day and age of video game sports.  It is important to note that a small number of online games had disastrous lag issues.

The dynasty mode is quite deep and redesigned for the post-salary cap NHL world.  Included are two-way contracts, the salary cap and team ticket and concession prices.  Of course, you can control your team as well, determining how you would like individual players to practice, significant areas for them to work on and changing their roles within the team (offensive defenseman, stay-at-home defenseman, dangler, grinder, power forward).  You will want to keep their attributes in mind when using this function.  If you assign Darren McCarty as a dangler, he will definitely fail in your system.

NHL 07 is the most impressive hockey video game I have ever seen.  I genuinely get excited each time I play the game.  The oversights are easy to overlook when comparing it to the open ended gameplay and endless goal scoring possibilities.  Note that most people will not be able to jump right into this game without practice.  What’s disappointing is that EA didn’t release much of an instructional booklet and the tutorial video included in the game only focuses on shooting and deking.  With enough practice, NHL 07 will be the closest thing to being on the ice without leaving your living room.

If you are looking for the most realistic experience or the best hockey game, purchase NHL 07.  If you do not have much time to learn a new game and are looking for a taste of hockey between Madden marathons, go with NHL 2K7.

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.

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