|NHL 07 (2006)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC
Ah, hockey. How the world loves you. You’re a sport that almost the whole world can get behind. Yes, even our European neighbors, who can’t understand why we love our American football so much, love you with much aplomb. What is it about you? Is it the low scoring games where every goal seems to take forever and therefore feels like a relief when one is made? Is it the full contact aspect of the game where players are checked into the boards and the threat of a fist fight could break out at any moment? Oh, it’s undoubtedly all this and then some, especially for those fans who revel in their quiet homes thrilling to video game simulations of the sport.
Ever since “Blades of Steel” successfully brought hockey home on the NES (previous attempts were lame – need we remember Activision’s “Ice Hockey” for the Atari 2600?), countless wannabe rink rats have spent their years behind their game controllers in search of the Stanley Cup. In this day and age, gamers’ choices are pretty much between Sega’s “NHL 2K” series and Electronic Arts’ yearly updates of their own video game hockey. And so, this year the big change in EA’s “NHL 07” is that both analog sticks are used in the game. One for controlling your player, the other for handling the stick.
It doesn’t take as much getting used to as you might think (and if you want, you can set the controls up in a classic style so shots and passes are made with the buttons). It does take a little more finesse, but within a couple games it all feels natural. Slap shots are made by pulling the right stick back and then pushing forward quickly, while the lighter shots are variations on a simple push forward or sweeping the stick around either left or right and then pushing forward. I’m not really sure how revolutionary this whole setup is, but it definitely gives the franchise a little something new to play around with.
The graphics are a must-see, as they usually are with this game. Sega absolutely dropped the ball with last years “NHL 2K6” on the 360 with graphics that looked no better than something on the original Xbox or PS2. Jagged textures were rampant and player models looked all alike. “NHL 07” goes the distance with lifelike player models and textures, and of course the arenas themselves are a delight to see. The game runs pretty well with minimal clipping. Someday they’ll eliminate that issue altogether.
One big omission that fans may not like is the absence of the turbo button this year. However, past entries in this franchise have often literally required the player to go in and set the normal skating speed so high that it felt “normal” to begin with without even hitting the turbo button. This has been remedied this year all around, and again, after a couple games, players will probably not miss holding down that familiar button while crashing the net. If anything, it definitely cuts down on the old one-timer standby play that is all too dominating in video game hockey.
But that also boils down to passing in the game, which can be a bit of a chore. It definitely takes some getting used to this year, as players will undoubtedly find themselves in an icing situation more times than not due to a missed pass. If there’s one solidly aggravating thing about this title this year, it’s the passing. A lot of times it can feel clumsy, making even the seasoned vet want to weep openly. But the rest of the game is solid enough to keep things fun as usual.
Play options include the usual quick game mode, a Dynasty mode (which is basically your season mode with the challenge to create a hockey dynasty), and of course there’s the good old online mode. Fans of Xbox Live will have a lot to enjoy here as the online games are a lot of fun and certainly break up the doldrums of playing the computer all the time. It is good, though, to hook up with someone of your own skill level, lest you want to be decimated quickly and in a seriously humiliating way.
All in all, “NHL 07” is another as-expected fine entry into video game hockey. It’s hard to seriously get excited about some of these sports franchise games, as they often boil down to nothing more but an updated roster and prettier graphics year after year, but EA has taken a few steps to change the feel of the game around if not the entire game itself. That’s worth a little something. Basically, if you like this game, you’re still going to dig it. If you’re new to the whole experience, well, there’s always “NHL 2K7” out there, too.