2K Laces Up For Another Season
When it comes to hockey titles, only one has ruled the ice for quite some time in the battle between 2K’s and EA’s NHL experience. While the 2K series hasn’t been as popular amongst NHL fans in years, it has developed a solid following amongst those seeking an alternative to the EA series.
This year’s installment concentrates on easier to grasp gameplay for those new to the series, while continuing with a more exaggerated, arcade approach to the game. 2K9 is definitely less of a simulation, offering something slightly different from its competitor NHL 09. The question is; does 2K’s less-realistic take on hockey work well?
NHL 2K9 definitely has an arcade feel to it, as turbo is turned up a notch and players whip around the ice like a swarm of bees. It is unrealistically fast, but not so much that it makes the game too un-hockey-like. Heck, I often love boosting up the speed on the other hockey title to make things a little more interesting at times. The problem with this style, though, is it becomes less about setting up plays and perfect passes and more about getting breakaways and shooting one-timers. It is very easy to fire a shot at the goalie by zipping in front of the net or simply blasting a howitzer within range, especially after deking your way to a breakaway. Playing against the A.I. is incredibly simple, and with players who move so fast on the ice, it is definitely not hard to put yourself into scoring situations. It’s also noticeable that the goalies let in some very stupid shots at times, and it’s evident that the A.I. definitely needs some work.
On the plus side, the game’s speed allows for great hits. While some may not like the fact that every hit is exaggerated and the sound of someone getting checked is a thunderous crunch, keep in mind this is definitely not a realistic simulation of the sport. It is, however, a fun one. Over-the-top animations of players getting rattled and sent to the ice are fun to watch, and it’s satisfying to slam opponents into the boards, albeit just as frustrating to be on the receiving end. Though things are turned up a notch in 2K9, the game still manages to keep a level of realism. Great character models look impressive up close and from a distance, and overhead shots of bright-lit stadiums make you feel as though you’re watching a live broadcast.
One of the biggest disappointments is the half-asleep commentary from Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda, who often sound as though they’re calling a baseball game rather than a hockey match. However, the game is equipped with a great, energetic and ballsy soundtrack featuring artists such as Operation Ivy, Pennywise, NoFX, and metal noisemakers Mastodon. 2K9 gets you into the hockey spirit right from the opening menus, sure to make you wreak havoc on the ice.
Where gamers have seen problems with the series in the past are in its controversial controls. This time around it seems they’ve tried to make everyone happy by offering three different control schemes. Basic is the original control setup for the series, which involves using the face buttons to shoot and pull off stunts. Pro Stick Evolution makes a return, allowing full puck control with the Right Analog and full player control with the Left, though how well the system actually works is up for debate. Hybrid is new to the series and combines both Basic and Pro Stick controls for people who aren’t really satisfied by either. While it’s nice to have the option of choosing between three different controller setups, it seems 2K still hasn’t nipped the original problem in the bud and correcting the thing many gamers didn’t like about the Pro Stick to begin with. Simply, it’s an inaccurate way to shoot that will have you firing the puck in any direction in the hopes of putting it on net.
One of the most fun aspects of 2K9 is its cool fighting animations, and though the NHL has tried to limit its televised fighting, it seems developers at Visual Concepts know what fans love to see. They’ve obviously worked hard to create more in-depth fighting controls and much more realistic animations.
Their new fighting engine requires you to tap the two shoulder buttons to retain your strength as you swing your fists with the analog. The system looks better than it actually works, as onscreen animations give a unique perspective of video game hockey fights and look pretty incredible on a large screen. Though I still find EA’s system to work better, I like the concentration placed on the fighting element and appreciate 2K’s efforts to make the mechanic much deeper.
Along with the standard Franchise and other modes you would expect, the game features a three-person pond hockey shootout, making for fun multiplayer variety. The new Zamboni driving mini-game is a tacked-on addition that isn’t much fun at all, as you are required to clear the ice in under three minutes. 2K also promotes the new beard-growing feature during playoffs, in which players sprout more facial hair from game-to-game. As dumb as it seems, it is actually a cool little addition to the game. There’s also something pretty unique about winning a Stanley Cup, and this is the first game ever to try it. As hard as a player must work to actually win a Cup, depending on which mode you play a final game in, you are rewarded better than any other game I’ve seen, NHL 2K9 allows you to be in control of your onscreen Stanley Cup celebrations that allow you to party the way you want.
Details such as these are creative and welcome additions to a sports game; 2K has done some outside of the box thinking to make their NHL title unique. It may be exactly what they need to distinguish themselves from their competitor, though, at this point, it probably won’t be enough to be the top choice amongst hockey fans. EA Sports still has the best hockey game on the market.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The game features excellent stadium designs and character models, though they rarely look much like their real-life counterparts. 2.6 Control
Nice mix of controller options, though even with all three, 2K’s hockey mechanics still aren’t up to par with the competition. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great soundtrack and stadium ambience create the hockey spirit. Uninteresting, dull commentary becomes repetitive with time. 2.5 Play Value
If you can stand the controls, 2K makes a decent outing, though hockey fans should definitely spend their time and money on EA’s simulation for a superior hockey experience. 2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.