Not quite ready to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup
In the ever changing climate of video games, developers have to take risks in order to try and ascend to the next level. In that regard, NHL 2K8 is no different. It is a very ambitious title, and for the most part the new style pays off. Hockey purists will find a lot to like on this frozen pond, but for those looking for a game they can just pick up and play this might not be the game of puck they are looking for. That is not to say that this is not a great title, but for the first few games it can be a labor of love.
What’s new? This time around quite a bit, and at first it can be a bit jarring. NHL 2K8 implements one of the more bizarre controls schemes in any sports title; shooting and passing with the left and right bumper just doesn’t feel quite right. Then you factor in the not so subtle rip off of NHL 2007’s total stick control with the right analog, and you quickly discover that what 2007 did so right 2K8 did so wrong. Where the stick in 2007 and NHL 2008 for that matter is smooth, 2K8’s feels clunky at times, almost like you are stick handling in water. Offensively, it is best to avoid the pro-stick altogether. On defense, it serves multiple purposes giving the player free control to clog passing lanes, poke check a rushing attacker, or even lay the twig flat on the ice to prevent crossing passes. The good news is it will not take long to adjust to the controls (it helps that they provide you with a detailed interactive tutorial for all the new features), and in time you will appreciate how deep the developers made this game.
I will admit that the first 5-6 games or so, I was not in a good mood. Holding multiple buttons just to take a slap shot, what the…hold on, breath, just feel it out for a second. Patience is required to master the multitude of options they lay in your hands, and for everything they didn’t get quite right this year, there is even more that they did.
The sprint feature is awesome, and it really separates the stars from the fourth line goons. Sprint is like an enhanced turbo, which is still in the game, only you push the puck in front of you and go full steam ahead. You are not able to deke during this, but it allows you to bust by a slow defensemen in hopes of getting a break away. The all-star moves are also a cool addition, by simply holding the left trigger and hitting a simple button combo, you can have Sidney Crosby busting a sweet backhand top shelf. The game plays fast, and big hits are always there for the taking. Although 2K8 came out of the gates slow, the presentation and graphics are the heart of the experience.
If any of you have never watched a hockey game, and judging by the ratings most of you have not, then it might be hard to appreciate all the little things 2K added to make this an even prettier game. Everything down to the equipment is dead on, and all of the players look exactly like their real life counterparts. It is hard to imagine that videogame Evgeni Malkin could possibly look as goofy as he does in real life, but I am happy to report that he may even surpass real Malkin on the goofy scale. The animations are smooth, and the way the players move and react, especially the goalies, is very lifelike. This game has the look and feel of real hockey; the sounds of the crowds, the sweat dripping down players’ faces while they are on the bench. It gets you jacked up. Game details aside, the interface is extremely easy to use, which is nice considering the loads of options that are at your disposal. Of course there is the Skybox, a 2K sports staple, as well as mini-games, practice, challenges, online play, and one of the deepest franchise modes I have ever seen.
In this latest installment, 2K takes the franchise option to a whole new level providing a deep and engaging bit of front office chicanery. There are really no limits to the depth of the system. This feature, along with the new controls, is no doubt what 2K felt would take their title to the top, and here they did not misstep. With two-way player contracts, restricted/unrestricted free agents, telephone calls from the owner concerning the team, and the chemistry of your squad always hanging in the balance, there is a lot for you to do. Keeping your team composed plays a huge role, and often you can see the difference in play when you shape a line that wants to play together. Organizing a scrimmage before a big game to boost the chemistry of your big three can help, but it can also come at a price as fatigue plays a factor. Do not work your all star goalie too hard during the regular season, or he may need some time off during the grind of the playoffs. The insane amount of options here just compliments the great graphics perfectly. It feels just as real off the ice as on. As for online play, fans will not be disappointed. Nothing revolutionary has been done, but there are still online leagues available, and the game flowed pretty well. Not too much slow down or lag to contend with. The 2K online network has been the best for years, and it remains a bright spot of this title.
2K8 would certainly make the playoffs as a solid contender, but the Stanley Cup seems to be just out of reach. The advanced controls still need about a year to really nail the feel of the game, but the franchise mode lived up to the hype. Fans willing to give the controls a chance will not be disappointed and the prospects of next years offering are already exciting.