Playing on thin ice.
I nearly had a heart attack when I booted up NHL 07: the first thing that came up was a demonstration video explaining how to skate, deke and shoot using the analog sticks. This happened right after my crash course in the current #1 NHL series, a trial of ill instruction and complex features. I could hardly believe a game would actually try to teach me the basics of playing video hockey. Was it a mistake to start with NHL 2K7?
EA’s offering welcomes gamers with a user-friendly approach and a lot of style. The UI is modest and economical, and the menus describe rules and options in clear detail; the action on the ice features clean graphics and smooth animations as players glide and trip around the rink. Everything in NHL 07 seems to either be connected to the gameplay or otherwise condensed for the sake of getting to the gameplay, the whole experience plays out as a very tight and enjoyable package.
[image1]The game looks great and feels great, but weigh your investment carefully. If you’ve played through NHL 06, you’ve ultimately played through NHL 07. Sixty dollars gets your 360 an exhibition mode, a Dynasty season mode and a shootout game - you have some straight-up hockey here and that’s about it. As with NHL 2K7, you should definitely consider whether it’s worth paying thirty dollars more for the 360 version, keeping in mind that NHL 07 has no special HDMI support.
falls apart a little when game time comes around. The players handle the puck worse than last weekend's San Jose Sharks
. Expect to lose the puck as soon as it comes within range of another stick, whether you’re deking or shooting or whatever. You have to constantly try and get rid of the puck, but shots and passes are aimed on the same stick you’re using to steer around. In short: you are about to send many a puck into outer space.
EA’s obsession with the dual analog sticks continues to develop in NHL 07: you get the feeling that EA is on to something but the layout isn’t quite perfect yet. The control scheme maps most of the maneuvering onto your right stick. Shooting and passing are a quick tilt in the direction of your target, as is poking in faceoffs and tackling opponents. It’s amusing to see the Fight Night controls return for brawling in NHL 07, but expect a few accidents like those reported in Madden 07, where it’s too easy to launch a puck after winning a showdown.
This year’s installment trades in the Superstar mechanic for multiple player classes. Instead of having one or two show-off players, your whole roster is made up of Danglers, Grinders and Defensive Defensemen. You can still create your own 8-foot-tall player from scratch and follow him through the post-season playoffs, or you can change jersey numbers and trade around the existing teams until the league is totally unrecognizable. The Dynasty Mode lets you shuffle your roster around the minor league and maintain your home stadium, but setting the price of hot dogs doesn’t compensate for the kingdom of customization featured in NHL 2K7, but missing in NHL 07.
[image2]A sleek documentary feel brings the graphics in NHL 07 to a new level: the speedy cut scenes simulate shaky handheld cameras, with quick cuts and fades and plenty of nontraditional camera angles. I know plenty of people get irritated by this trendy choreography, but it’s great to see some bold visual techniques used in a video game. There’s substance here too: the quicker cut scenes bring more realism to the animation, and they also give players a chance to select a new team strategy. It knocks 2K sports’ heavy-handed cinematic approach clean off its feet.
ESPN commentators Gary Thorne and Bill Clement have recorded a number of lines designed to build drama and rivalry between the player and the opposing teams, though the game commentary gets a little repetitive (especially during a single shootout). The music is a fair mix of indie rock and classic stadium organ, cutting in only during menus and in between plays. The quality is of course very crisp and well-suited to the flow of the game.
The good news is this game is accessible and tight enough to mix it up with the competition. Standard multiplayer and online options mean everybody can lose the puck together, and the presentation is a joy to take in. Dollar for dollar, however, a year has passed and NHL 07 still can’t stand up to the number of modes and options packed into NHL 2K7. Between the two, EA may attract an audience by sheer ease of play but 2K Sports just gives players that much more to do. I was very close to loving NHL 07 but I think I’ll save my money for a year when I can hold onto the puck.