Missing more than teeth.
It’s been an exciting year for hockey games since the ESPN license went from 2K Sports to EA, and now the cross-town (or country) rivals are slugging away for fans and wallets. This year, though, 2K Sports doesn’t seem to have a stiff counter-punch, suffering from a convoluted control scheme, and the absence of ESPN. This hockey player has definitely seen better days.
In any case, I’m proud to make my Game Revolution debut taking on NHL 2K7
. Forgive me, a mere sports n00b
, as I jump into this review uninitiated; apparently I’m the first GR writer in a while who goes to both the office and the San Jose Shark Tank.
2K Sports’ NHL series is known for putting the whole team within a button’s reach. NHL 2K6
introduced Pro Control passing for queuing up rapid-fire passes and one-timers, and both Crease Control goaltending and On the Fly coaching persist into NHL 2K7
. This year swaps out the NHL 2K6
Momentum mechanic for Pressure Control, where tapping the left bumper orders teammates to rough up the lucky victim of your choice.
You would figure that after learning all these great tricks, I would be ready to score a few goals. Instead, I slammed into NHL 2K7’s mammoth learning curve. The price of these fancy systems is they feel like the only methods of scoring against the difficult defensive A.I. The road to mastering these features is filled with potholes as you juggle incoming defenders, set targets and wait for your A.I. teammates to get into position, all at once.
First-timers will generally wish for better coaching. The game takes every opportunity to cram advanced controls down your throat, but where are the tips for shooting? Deking with the right stick is dandy, but how about using the stick on defense? I’m still looking, and NHL 2K7 lost big points for being so inaccessible. The manual is an intimidating twelve pages of straight control listings followed by twenty pages detailing the option menus, illustrating a game that has spiraled out of control with features.
Movement and targeting are mapped onto the left thumbstick, and the results are messy at best. The Crease Control cursor slides up and down the edges of the goal box like a cruel joke, one of a handful of problems you will encounter all over the controller.
Nevertheless, I was impressed with all the options for tuning the game. You can set the frequency of any single penalty type, injury, AI style, and whether the goal is hitched to the ice or not is up to you. It’s all there. The options are also distilled into preset themes, so you can choose between realistic or arcade-style gameplay with just one button press.
NHL 2K7 boasts a wealth of bonus modes, including no-rules Pond Hockey and the Fusion Frenzy inspired mini-games. A long list of unlockable teams, arenas and more patiently waits for rescue, and a trophy room also houses the beloved air hockey and shuffleboard tables. If you’re lonely or pissed at your sucky friends, you can find quick matches online or join up to thirty players for a league tournament.
You can also spend hours and hours in the game’s Franchise mode, doing most of the same things you did last year. New are riveting additions such as the hard salary cap (Just what I always wanted!) and slightly more robust rivalry content. Your players will gain or lose attribute points depending on how well you fare against a rival. That’s probably exciting…if you’re Canadian.
No matter where you come from, you will love the two high-quality sound options. You can underscore your season with either the standard broadcast-style commentary or a sweeping musical score, and both are highly enjoyable. The music changes to match your team as you succeed or struggle, which really enhances the cinematic presentation, though you can of course swap in your own favorite hockey mixes. I’ve read a few user complaints about the commentators, but the sound bytes come through cleanly and crisply.
Graphically speaking, the game is a mess of ineffective visual storytelling. 2K Sports is compensating for the missing ESPN license by casting this series in a cinematic light: long, steady camera shots follow players into and out of the locker room or track through the crowds during cut scenes. This is a fine direction for a sports game, but this year’s efforts are generic and empty. Lengthy cut scenes don’t give players any extra information about the game, and they wear thin with every face-off and penalty set-up. The limited number of character models creep me out with their frozen, unblinking eyeballs; lazy close-ups into the stands reveal a tiny pack of clones. Don’t some 360 games occasionally simulate large crowds
? Anyway, the entire production is underwhelming.
The so-so visuals deal a hefty blow to the pricey 360 version; if you’re still set on NHL 2K7 in 1080i HD, at least the online support lets you play those highly customizable games over Xbox Live. You can even get seven players into an online game over the Xbox version’s four-player cap.
Strangely enough, I had the most fun playing NHL 2K7’s open matches. Pond Hockey and the Franchise Mode practice games let me in for quick and dirty play without getting bogged down in details, or the game’s messy control scheme. NHL 2K7 plays a solid game of hockey thanks to a frozen lake’s worth of content, but rough controls, unforgiving AI and no tutorial content are the equivalent of thin ice for beginners. If you don’t commonly say “Aboot” or “Eh”, heed our warning: This game is for experts only.