Just like pretty much every European, I know little or nothing about the typical US sports like American football. Save perhaps for basketball. Still, every year I’m looking forward to the new entries in EA’s NHL and 2K Sports NHL 2k franchises, as the gameplay in both games is easy to pick up, but hard to master. This year, NHL 07 brought a significant innovation to play -the trick stick-, but it will take a lot more to defeat the king of icehockey games.
The biggest change in NHL 2k7 is its new match presentation, named ‘cinemotion’. As the name implies, this new style gives the matches a more cinematic and dramatic feel. The commentary is stripped and in stead you get an orchestral score that adjusts itself to what happens on the hockey rink. The new camera gives an excellent panoramic view of the action, which makes it a very welcome addition. Nevertheless, if you like the previous, more ESPN-like, presentation, you can also choose that one.
The gameplay itself hasn’t changed noticeably. Once again NHL 2k7 delivers an excellent game of hockey, with far more defensive and offensive options than its main competitor NHL 07. As far as gameplay is concerned, the new pressure system can prove to be quite a useful new feature. You can now let your teammates apply pressure to a single star player of the opposing team. Truth be told, though, I haven’t used it much. The AI can prove quite challenging, especially on harder difficulties and the learning curve for the game is quite steep. It’s a bit unfortunate 2K Sports hasn’t added a step-by-step tutorial for new players (and if there is one, it’s pretty well hidden). NHL 07 may not have 2k7′s depth, it’s definitely more beginner-friendly and has much slicker menus.
As always, there’s a wealth of things to do in this year’s edition. Party mode is filled with all kinds of minigames; Mini Rink and Pond Hockey are also fun versions of the classic game; Skybox lets you view your trophies, accomplishments, statistics and overall progress and also contains quite a few challenges. Still, the meat of the game is comprised of the Season and Franchise modes. Franchise lets you manage the ins and outs of a hockey team, which will undoubtedly satisfy the many fans. Personally, I’m more into the no-fuss approach of Season. More than last year, the focus is on your rivals. If you manage to beat a rival team, you’ll get a ton of positive feedback.
2K Sports chose to make the next-gen Xbox 360 version the main game and it clearly shows. The animations are lifelike, which is very important for a sports game. I suppose the star players also resemble their real-life counterparts, but don’t quote me on that. I’m European, remember? The ice has a very nice reflection to it, but it’s still sad the audience is as ugly as ever. In my opinion though, NHL 07 still looks better overall, but the difference is way smaller than last year. To get the best possible experience, you’ll want a HDTV, but the SD version isn’t too far behind. As said, there is dramatic music when playing the game in cinemotion. Though that’s a nice touch, it can be annoying at times. The themes you get to hear after winning or losing a match are a bit over-the-top. The commentators do a decent job (if your turn them on, that is), but I especially liked the crowd’s reactions.
NHL 2k7 is great fun with a friend (or friends) on the same couch, but the game also has a decent Xbox Live mode for those interested. You can play matches with up to 8 players, the minigames are also playable online, but the online leagues are definitely the most important part. There are also tons of statistics you can track and I encountered no lag at all during online play. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many Europeans online, but I guess that was to be expected.
NHL 2k7 has successfully defended its title as the reigning king of hockey games. However, NHL 07 has made a big leap forwards with the trick stick mechanism, while NHL 2k7 didn’t improve the basic gameplay considerably. 2K Sports can’t afford to just sit back next year. Despite that, NHL 2k7 is by all means an excellent hockey game, with enough content to keep you busy for months.