Let's just say that I was less than impressed with Electronic Arts when it came to hockey. For a company that was supposed to put everything "In the game," they sure did not put any speed or excitement into their NHL series. Hockey is fast and furious, possibly the fastest game on earth. And with sluggish gameplay and choppy animation all that the game had going for it was a wealth of realistic options. Well, this years installment has kept all of those options and added faster gameplay and more player animations for a more enjoyable ride on the ice. But is all this enough to save it from its lousy reputation?
Let's just say that EA had one person in mind when they created this game, and that is someone who is really good at video games as well as being really knowledgeable about hockey. The game controls are pretty complicated with more to learn on the controller than in previous years. The controller is packed with different moves on both offense and defense. You use every single button on the controller for something. It takes quick fingers and a mind for strategy to move the puck along. Without learning how to deke properly you will get taken down.
Even with this complicated control, it does seem like they made the game a little bit more fun than in previous years. The play is much faster and smoother. Picking up and getting started was not really a problem even though it was tough to do very well. The game is definitely much more physical that last year's. One interesting addition is that of the big hit which is a move that propels your player ahead in a football tackling motion to take out the guy in front of him. There are a lot more fights and crushing moves that really do not happen all that often in real hockey. However, all of this can be changed with penalty and fighting level options. But with fighting on max and penalties at a minimum the game will turn into an all out brawl... perfect for anyone who wants to play an arcade-like no-rules game.
The reason that I say that you must be a hockey expert is that the game involves so much strategy and know-how only real hockey buffs will be able to really understand it all and be able to manipulate the lines and make an approach on goal. Forget about skating up and scoring; the goalies are really good and make it really difficult to get the puck in the net. However, that is very realistic since most goalies block over 90% of the shots on goal anyway. Plus the AI in the game is pretty sweet. EA is known for intelligent programming and this year's is one of the best. The players don't bunch up around the puck, but instead position themselves very well, perfect for the big shot.
Graphically the game has taken a step up as well. Though it still does not offer enough player animations and great camera movement featured in Faceoff there are a lot of improvements. The characters do not move from one place to another in such a jerky fashion. They actually have animations to carry them from one point to the next and it does not cause any slow down in the game. The characters do still look rough around the edges (a Playstation curse) but at least they move nice.
The one thing that I got to hand to EA is their options and customization of the game. You can do just about everything to set the game up just the way you like it. Change lines, customize control, create your own playoffs, and customize your team. When the season ends, check out what players are retiring and draft a rookie. You can even see what players are currently "hot". The depth of the game is truly what will appeal to the hockey fan for it is immense. If all this is too much thinking for you, relax and try a shootout.
I have to say that I was very impressed with the improvement in EAís new hockey. With the faster gameplay and the special moves, it seems that they are taking a step towards the gameplay of their competition and making the games a lot less of a simulation and more arcade-like. For those of you who prefer the straight simulation you are going to be a bit disappointed with the game. Although it has everything that hockey fans love from the customization to the strategy, the big-hit button and super-power shots will quickly take you out of reality and make you realize that it is a video game. Still I think all of these options add a level of fun to the game that was absent previously. Now if there was only a button to pull the shirt over your opponents head in a fight.
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