October 2, 2007

No other genre of game appeals to a more broad audience than a sports title. With the release of NHL 2K8, 2K Sports has brought their A game Am I out of the loop because I don’t know what “A game” means? I mean, I can tell, but I don’t know. and shown that they mean business.

NHL 2K8 features a bevy of new features that are sure to make any hockey enthusiast salivate. From ProStick handling to a revised face-off system to new superstar moves, 2K did everything they could to rework their game and make it outdo the competition. The feature list is exhaustive, but I’ll touch on a few of the high points. ProStick is 2Ks new puck handling system that gives you full control of your players stick. It enables you to have full 360 degree analog control of your players stick placement. ProStick’s concept bled over into a totally revamped face-off system that departs from the old system of one team or the other ending up with the puck. Now, you have total control over where the puck goes and there is an almost limitless number of outcomes for each face-off depending on the actions of the players in the face-off. Superstar moves are breathtaking maneuvers that let you replicate some of the more memorable actions of real NHL players. 2K rounded out things with a super deep franchise mode and a soundtrack featuring the likes of Korn and Quiet Riot.

NHL 2K8 is packed to the brim with features, but how well these features were pulled off matters much more than their mere presence. Upon starting the game, you will want to run through as many of the training exercises as you can stand. With an essentially totally new gameplay you’ll need to know how a few things work if you plan to take full advantage of things like ProStick and the Superstar moves. After you get the basic controls down, it’s time for some real hockey action. 2K8 sports the usual game modes like Quick Game, Franchise, Season, and Tourney. All are very self explanatory so we won’t dwell on the details. 2K also included a few Extra game modes like Battle Mode, Pond Hockey, or Mini Rink. The manual doesn’t mention the specifics of the extra modes, but Pond Hockey is merely a standard game with an outdoor pond for the rink. Mini Rink is literally played on a small rink with a lower number of players on each team to prevent crowding of the ice. Battle Mode is akin to a set of party style mini-games.

If you are like me, you will probably spend most of your time playing quick games. I like hockey quite a bit, but I’m not a hardcore hockey fan nor am I a hockey purist. NHL 2K8 was made for hardcore fans and it shows. The franchise mode, while not for me per se, is deep. So deep in fact that I didn’t understand much of what was available to me. 2K saw fit to include nearly every CBA feature available, a totally revamped off-season mode, an improved draft, and many more. Rest assured that if you are not deep into hockey you can simulate (sim) the portions of the game that you aren’t interested in and stick to playing through the regular and post season. 2K8 lets you sim a day, week, or full season at a time. For those looking for a realistic franchise experience, you can make trades, negotiate, and wheel and deal. The depth of this game is overwhelming.

NHL 2K8 does support local multiplayer with up to 4 players and up to 8 players for play over Xbox Live. Updated rosters will also be delivered via Live. The first bit of DLC that 2K has made available is the 2K Reelmaker, which allows players to make their own custom highlight films viewable on Xbox Live. This is a first for any hockey game and is a feature that 2K has been promoting heavily. Unfortunately Reelmaker will set you back a few bucks as 2K is so proud of this feature that they felt it was worth an additional cost above and beyond the game itself. Many people, myself included, do not find this to be acceptable.

With an overwhelming list of features, 2K8 is hockey fan’s dream. The game looks great and has a stellar soundtrack. From a playability standpoint, ProStick makes a huge difference in making you feel like you are controlling your player and not just some rigid animation. The face-off system absolutely rocks and works just like you think it should. Everything about the gameplay experience is spot on with one notable omission; fighting. I shouldn’t say omission, because fights do occur, but 2K shifted the focus back to hockey and away from fights. In the numerous games that I played I didn’t manage to get into a single brawl. This is amazing because I had more than a few cheap shots that would have spurred a different kind of face-off in real life. After getting over my initial disappointment that it was very hard to instigate fights, I realized that 2K8 didn’t need fighting to be a stellar game.

From a casual fan’s perspective, 2K8 is almost too much to handle. The new gameplay features like ProStick and the face-off system were executed perfectly by 2K. A deep franchise mode will thrill the hardcore while also serving to frighten away the casual hockey fan. Luckily other modes like quick game are there to pick up where franchise leaves off. I can safely say that NHL 2K8 is the best hockey game I’ve ever played and I don’t have a problem recommending it to hockey fans. Casual gamers or people that may not be all that into hockey may have a hard time swallowing the $60 price tag so for them this would have to be a bargain bin purchase. I’ll split the difference and give this year’s 2K hockey title a niche rating.

Score: 4/5

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