It has been six months since the last time this editor has reviewed a title, please forgive me if I’m a bit rusty.
NHL 2K8 is out for the Xbox 360 and it’s pretty darn close to being one of the best NHL titles I’ve played in a while. Coming in at a smooth 60 fps, you’ll find all of the NHL hockey love that previous versions of the game contained, plus a lot more. Is it perfect? Not exactly. There are some AI issues that bring this game down from the pedestal that it deserves, but it’s much better than what’s out there right now.
After playing EA’s ’08 of their NHL series, I dreaded what NHL 2K had in store for me. In recent years, I’ve had fears that maybe the videogame industry was taking things a bit too far. Should a gamer really worry about drafts? Should they have an option to manage a team? Do you really need to put together a player of your own? What happened to the days of “Here’s the game! Here are the players! Go play!” I was very afraid if things get too complicated than maybe the love of the series or of the videogame sport itself, maybe get watered down a bit. EA’s game did this, just trying to do too much and not feeling much like a game. Thankfully, NHL 2K8 certainly brought the game first, with add-ons later.
The best I can compare this game to is NHL 96 (EA) which is probably one of the most well-known hockey games of epic proportion. Truly, it defined what an NHL game should be like when you’re just looking for a game to play. True to this formula, NHL 2K8 is just a helluva lot of fun. It brings the ease of use controllers into the equation where you’ll only have to worry about bringing the puck up the ice, passing it to your teammates, shooting and more importantly slamming a ‘sucka’ up against the boards with authority. This had to be the focus of the developers and it shows. Nothing fancy, just something simple. EA suffered from bad control issues which directly affected the above control uses. I can’t express to you how much of a difference this makes in the long run. Sure, when you look through the manual for NHL 2K8, your jaw is sure to drop, but it’s likely that you’re going to naturally use
The add-ons, which make the game a tad bit more unique from the rest, hit heavy and hard. The franchise mode goes through the motions, the drafting of players, the off-season negotiations and the general who-ha that comes with cultivating and developing a ready to go hockey team. Like I stated before, it’s okay for a game to have these, but it’s never okay to have them overstated. When Madden started to have these features, they were subtle. Now they’re really imbedded into the gameplay. For a gamer like myself, I just want to get into the game. I don’t want to practice, I don’t want to earn points to make a team that should be better already, even better. I just want to start. I want the option to go back and enjoy these features, but I don’t want to be force-fed them. 2K has the depth here, but it doesn’t make you suffer through them, only if you want to. Which is glorious.
As for the look of the game, it’s so very nice. While it’s above and beyond the NHL 96 that we all have come to love and know, it certainly is quite sharp. The reflections from the glass, the booming audience (which is noisy and alive – though not as sharply animated) and all the way to the ice itself, this game is gorgeous. Have there been better character models? Yes, I think EA has the advantage when it comes to this, but after a while does it matter? No, not really. You’ll be playing so much and playing so quickly that you probably won’t have time to sit back and enjoy the graphics. Not the best, but real good. Of course, the 2K dev team has always been known for great visuals since they started developing for the Dreamcast back in the day, no surprises there.
All is not well
For a game that has the depth, it has the controls, it’s got the looks, what could make this less than perfect? As most games suffer from this, I’m not particularly impressed with the AI. I think that it’s easy to score on them, as soon as you figure out how, and you can do it often. My experience with 2K games is that the AI has never been harder than if you set the game to ‘normal’. I don’t mean to knock the dev team, but honestly it does’t take long to figure out the quirks of the CPU player and then constantly repeat the motions. Even the great NHL ’96 suffered from this, so it’s not particularly new. But if I have a great breakaway and I can catch the goalie in a unique position, then it’s a score, almost every time. And I’m sure that the folks at 2K are going to question my sanity when they are very proud of their AI. I still don’t think it’s great, I think it’s average-to-good, but definitely not great. In comparison to earlier versions of the title, I think it’s a definite improvement, but it certainly could be better.
Of course when you’re playing online or you’re playing two-player, that changes. Multiplayer is drag free, and the two-player mode is phenomenal. I’m definitely not going to complain about that. Of course, it still doesn’t make up for the AI.
Compared to EA’s ’08 NHL game, NHL 2K8 blows it off the ice. Mostly due to it’s great controls and just overall fun. There’s so much to the game, yet there are enough choices to allow you to make it simple, which is invaluable for sports games these days. With great graphics, with excellent depth, you’ll be able to forgive the AI, which suffers, but certainly doesn’t go flat line. There’s enough here to warrant a $59.99 price and to warrant a purchase. NHL 2K8 excels from last year’s version and will put a smile on all hockey fan’s faces. Check it out, better yet just check the puck.