Developer – Visual Concepts/ Kush Games
Publisher - 2K Sports
1-4 players offline
The NHL2K series has been the undisputed king of the rink since before it given the 2K moniker. Although EA's hockey offerings were always the sports gamers choice in the mid and late 90's it was towards the new millennium that they started getting stale, offering little improvement from year to year and even becoming somewhat arcade-like. This opened the door for Sega, and eventually Visual Concepts, to show what they could do. Enter the now well known 2KSports and they have since captured the lion’s share of the hockey market. That being said the 2K series has some competition and many say that the tables may be turning back in EA’s favour as they deliver an innovative new control system and revamped graphics. Is NHL2K7 up to the new challenge? And more importantly does the game add anything different over the Xbox 360 version before it?
Although NHL2K7 game looks virtually the same as the Xbox 360 version, it is still one of the best-looking sports titles out there. I say still because for a number of years now the 2K guys (Kush Games) have really put together a very solid looking and playing title. Gamers will notice that all the arenas are recreations of actual hockey rinks from all around the league, and although the advertising maybe different the markings and paint schemes are pretty much bang on. The only fault I found with NHL2K7 was the actual players. The uniforms are all done with flawless detail, but the player’s faces are for the most part pudggy. I even noticed that some players don’t even look like the player that they are supposed to be. I had hoped that maybe they would fix the PS3 version but it seems that this latest release for Sony’s new console is pretty much a direct port over with very minimal if any graphical changes. Anyone would be very hard pressed to see any noticeable differences in each of the hockey titles; in fact they are identical in everyway except for a few things I happened to catch. I found the frame rate in the PS3 version to a times a bit inconsistent. In graphic heavy situations the game would pull a hiccup, not every time but enough to think about it. This really doesn’t detract from overall look of the title but it is frustrating. Unfortunately the frame rate also suffers considerably when online and is nowhere near as fluid as the 360 version’s online experience. I am not sure why a direct port of a title to such a powerful machine should present this problem, but I can’t help but wonder if it is due to Sony’s online network. On a higher note the ice surface is defiantly one of the best-looking surfaces ever caught in a videogame as the deep cuts of skates are clearly present as skaters fly up and down the ice and the spray of snow from sudden stops and starts really add to the realism of the game. Overall this is a pretty good looking game but critics will no doubt be disappointed there is no improvement over the 360 version.
The soundtrack this year is provided by indie-rock label Sub Pop, so if you've heard of Hot Hot Heat and Sleater-Kinney you're in for a bit of a treat. If not, well there's always the orchestral Cinemotion stuff, which is supposed to add a sense of dramatic emotion during gameplay. I’m not a fan of the songs chosen for this game, but they do work well in a hockey environment. If it’s not to your liking the game has the option for you to load up your own soundtrack off the hardrive. Canadians will immediately recognize Bob Cole and Harry Neale calling the play on the ice, but gamers on the southern half of the 49th may not. This duo makes their return in NHL2K7 with very little if anything added to the script. The pair has done a great job in the past, but the repetitive play calling and anecdotes have become almost boring and somewhat stale. I would estimate that they are repeating 80-90% of last year’s commentary which I found somewhat lame. To make things worse last year’s version taken from the 2K5 version when ESPN commentators had the job. Don’t get me wrong, overall the commentary sounds pretty good, it’s the content that has me a bit jaded as I have been playing this series for around 6 years or so. The rest of the in-game sound effects are better than ever. In Dolby Digital 5.1 sound the gamer will feel like they are actually at the arena. I could clearly hear each skate and slapshot from ice level and even noticed the dull but loud thud of a puck hitting the goalie pads. Well-done boys!
The NHL2K series has always had great gameplay, and 2K7 won’t disappoint you. Aside from some gimmie goals the gameplay can be adjusted to suit your own personal style. The gamer can adjust sliders in so many areas. These adjustments can make your game an over the top arcade action game to a hardcore sim, which I prefer. They are a ton of things to adjust from penalties, injuries, human and computer players, friction of the puck on the ice and so on. Take the time to play with them and you’ll be rewarded a great hockey experience.
Equal to the task is the incredibly deep franchise mode. While you can't set the price of peanuts from the arena vendors, you do get to handpick every member of the coaching staff, then either rely on their recommendations for recruiting and strategy or do it yourself (you get to pay them as well). The game has a seemingly endless pool of talent (some sections deeper than others) hidden in the minor leagues or in foreign countries waiting to be found. I’m in the midst of my second season now (on the identical 360 version) and trying to keep up with the game on the ice is just as tough as the management duties. It is by far the most robust mode I’ve ever seen.
Online play is also very deep and unmatched by any other title. There's standard console vs. console online play, supporting up to eight players if you can get four on each. But, more importantly, 2K7's comprehensive online tournament play returns giving this title nearly endless depth for games who want to get serious online. The main concern is the aforementioned choppiness that rears its head during online play. Offline the game has a lot to offer too, including the requisite unlockable All Star teams, wacky arenas, and even parlor games like shuffleboard and air hockey. There are also dozens of party-style mini-games which are almost universally ignorable along with a pond hockey mode that lets you play a more relaxed style of hockey if you wish. Although I am not a fan of these party games, they don’t take away from all the greatness of the gameplay that NHL2K7 offers.
This series hasn't made its name thanks to relaxed hockey and it's still the best when it comes to hardcore realism. Wingers feel light and fast and they move like you'd expect a human being to while defensive players are a bit weightier. This allows NHL2K7 to continue to be the leader when it comes to actually feeling like hockey. With one line you can sit back and play the passing game and watch the CPU defense react, then on the next you can go for breakaways and watch as the CPU team responds in kind to this. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the puck reacts to everything realistically, rebounding quickly from a direct strike against the post or fluttering unpredictably off of the goalie's pads.
Sony has flaunted the new motion sensing Sixaxis controller. It seems to be integrated fairly reasonably, but it's not much more useful than any other gimmicky controller might be. You can actually push the controller toward a certain player and hit him in various strengths. Push faster and harder for a blistering body check. I found this somewhat amusing, as it is a kind of hit and miss affair. The mechanism is just not implemented well and has the markings of being tacked on written all over it. Using your regular button set is far more satisfying as well as more precise. You can also use the Sixaxis to take control of your goalkeeper during Crease Control. Essentially a gimmicky mini-game to begin with, moving the goalkeeper with the Sixaxis feels like a very under realized feature tacked onto a pointless feature. The goalkeepers might have needed your help a few years ago; but now the goalkeeper AI is much more capable, unless of course you are one who uses the gimmie goal moves that plague most hockey titles. The now famous swoop move has been somewhat eliminated, but only to be replaced a plethora of easy to score at will goals. The goaltenders can block most shots, and will do so even against a human opponent, but those one-timers are going to get through way more often than not. A more balanced shooting game would be reflected by more balanced, capable goaltenders, but ultimately, Crease Control doesn't help this aspect.
Even though the PS3 is short on supply, and killer launch seem to be far and few between, Sony’s new system manages to get a very good hockey title in NHL2K7. Although this is by default as 2K7 is the only hockey to be had on the new system, fans of the series will love the positive changes made from 2K6. Some complain the gameplay is the same, but it’s been good through the years, so why fix something that is not broken. Although some shortcomings are evident, such as boring commentary, an under whelming use of the Sixaxis controller and some framerate issues the game is still great. Overall I am still a big fan of the series and this instalment is the best so far. I think with bit more tweaking the 2K series can withstand the upcoming pressure EA’s revamped product. The core of the 2K series lies in gameplay and 2K7 really excels in this department. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell any gamer to take it for a skate.