Reviewed: October 12, 2007
Released: September 11, 2007
I canít believe itís been a year already! Last year I lamented the day when NHL 07 and NHL 2K7 arrived for me to review. I was a bitter ex-hockey fan. I was a hard-core bitter ex-hockey fan. It was mostly due to the player/owner strike of 2005. Even two years after that was settled, I was still ticked off.
But much to my surprise, after playing the latest crop of hockey video games and attending an NHL game in North CarolinaÖ I was back. Make no mistake; I still harbor ill will toward the NHL. It will take a lot more than a good video game and nosebleed seats to win me back. But at least I do care about the sport and even seek out a game on TV when I have time.
So this year when EAís NHL 08 and 2K Sportsí NHL 2K8 arrived I was actually a little excited. Not only to see what improvements were made on already good games, but also to try out the HD graphics on my new PS3 and HDTV.
Last year I awarded NHL 2K7 the Game Chronicles Editorís Choice award, so read on to find out just how EA managed to tip the scales in their favor to steal the award from 2K Sports for this latest installment.
I loved playing 2K7 hockey last year. The graphics were not quite up to EAís game, but 2K had everything else.
First letís just get this out of the wayÖ most of the complaints Iíve heard are about the new control scheme. I did spend some time playing with it and once you get used to itÖ well it still sucks.
Why in the name of all that is Holy would you mess with an already good control scheme? Did someone complain about it? Did I miss some glaring problem last year? Somebody needs to be taken out behind the wood shed and whacked a few times with a hockey stick. That being said, you can pick from 4 other control schemes including mode from last year, but how many people do you know that will go to the trouble? Seriously! At any rate, if you do switch the controls to an old scheme (which I HIGHLY recommend), the game becomes more enjoyable.
The menu system is much improved. The menus now pull down from the top and are organized well. The big change is in the menu graphics which now have a team theme (you choose your favorite team). The team logo is on the ice while photos of the actual team players fly through some fog.
Much has been unchanged from last years editors choice winning game. The biggest gameplay improvement seems to be in the goalie animations. They are more accurate to the real NHL goalies Ė a lot more butterfly stance animations. The goalies seem to follow the puck a lot better and will challenge the shooter more than last year.
A few things in the general gameplay have improved as well. The A.I. has been tweaked so the computer controlled teams play a bit more accurate to real life. There are not as many one-timer shots and the play seems a lot more varied from team to team.
The 15 party mini-games are available for a quick competition and are the exact same games as last year. All the games help improve your skills. The games range from a Breakout type game to an FPS type Turf War where you battle to control on-ice token circles. About 1/3 of the games are really fun with the remainders being fairly boring. A lot depends on how you are playing. If you are by yourself, itís fun but it gets old quickly. But if you have some friends over, these mini-games are great competition. You can also play an elimination tournament in this mode.
A welcome upgrade is in the Franchise mode which has been drastically updated to include most of the new NHL collective bargaining agreement. So you now have to worry about the salary cap, contract negotiations, and all kinds of player management issues. Thereís even a new player development system. The franchise is a bit more robust than EAís NHL 08 and itís one of the few areas where I would rate 2K8 higher.
Another area thatís been improved is the fighting (which the NHL probably doesnít like, but who cares). You have to keep an eye on your stamina to make sure you donít get so tired you canít punch. Time your uppercut correctly and you can win the odd tussle.
One area where 2K still has the edge over EA is in the area of Online play. Overall this mode is fairly similar between the two games, but the big difference is 2K8 allows users to upload their game styles for others to use and vote on. 2K just has a more robust online mode, however EA certainly is making great strides.
The Skybox is where you get to start to have some old time hockey fun. In the Skybox you can look at your point challenge stats, view trophies, play trivia, air hockey, or shuffleboard, and play the challenges to win historic teams.
2K revamped the unlockables from last year. Now instead of accumulating experience points to purchase teams, jerseys, and logos, you have to achieve certain tasks. For example, to get the 1980 USA Olympic team, you have to beat the USSR í80 team and get 35 hits. So yes, you actually have to work pretty hard to get some of these teams! Last year was certainly much easier to get the teams I enjoy, but these challenges were kind of fun (and sometimes frustrating).
There are over 60 historic teams available for unlock by winning the challenges. Included are 45 classic NHL teams including the ďoriginal sixĒ, the í87 Oilers, and so many others. There are also various All-Star and All-Decade teams and 10 classic international teams including the 1980 USA and Russian Olympic teams, and the amazing 1987 Canada and Russian teams from the Canada Cup tournament.
As with other sports games, dealing with historical team rosters is a bit of an issue. Itís unfortunate, but contracts with the NHL and NHLPA are limited to current players. Thankfully, 2K Sports has again done a great job providing some tools to make fantastic teams. Basically you have to hunt down the actual rosters (or watch the user forum posts on 2ksports.com). Once you have the rosters you can edit each team.
Player names can be edited by typing in manually or selecting from a very long list of provided names. Using a compatible USB keyboard is a huge time saver. Once saved, the announcers will use the correct name. A word of warning: Wayne Gretzky is not included by name or number (he has a contract with another software company). So if you are editing any team Gretzky was on, youíll have to hand key it into the roster. All the names, numbers, and a long list of other attributes are completely customizable.
While the classic teams is certainly my favorite part of the 2K series, the teams are the exact same as last year. They could have easily added a handful of teams like í72 Canada or any number of NHL championship teams. Iíll keep wishing I guess. At least it is possible to make your own teams, but only a maximum of 5 are possible.
Last year this was the only area that 2K really was behind EA. Unfortunately, despite marked improvement, they still are behind EA.
The graphics have certainly improved, textures and facial maps have been upgraded, but there is something with the shading that just doesnít quite match up. Many of the pale face players look like theyíve been hiding out in the basement for a couple years. They just donít match the realism seen in EAís NHL 08.
There again is no sports ticker. People have come to expect that simple bit of realism in sports games now. I would think 2K would try to sign a contract with Fox, Yahoo, or some other outlet with sports scores.
The announcers for this season are once again Bob Cole and Harry Neale. While they do an admirable job, they cannot come close to Gary Thorne and Bill Clement in EAís game. In this area, 2K sounds more like an arcade game which goes along with the feel of the rest of the game.
Unfortunately one of the fun things that were cut from 2K8 was the ability to select custom songs to trigger for almost any game event. Last year you could have a specific sound or song play if you come back from a 2-goal deficit. It was even possible to customize for each individual stadium. Not in NHL 2K8.
Overall the sound is good, but not on the level of EA. 2K8 feels more like an arcade game and this is another realism area that they stumble.
I have to say that Iím pretty disappointed in NHL 2K8. Yes, there are improvements, some more welcome than others. But it seems like some project manager put up a dartboard and played a random game of Ďwhat features to mess withí.
I wish I could say that NHL 2K8 has better and more features than NHL 08, but instead all I can say is it has some different features. That is not a compliment. This will be remembered as the year 2K stumbled.
I created a comparison chart between NHL 08 and NHL 2K8. Once you see these two games in a side-by-side comparison it's easy to see the big difference is in making custom teams and players. 2K8 has a lot more options and we Americans love to have options. But most gamers just want a great game to play Ė awesome graphics and lots of teams, they donít care about tweaking the colors of the tape on a players sock.
If you cannot live without your classic teams, NHL 2K8 is the only hockey game with the í87 Oilers, 1980 USA, í87 Canada Cup teams, and a bunch of other classic teams. I will miss playing with the classic teams, but EA has the most realistic hockey game Iíve ever seen. EA added and improved enough things to win me over and NHL 08 will certainly be the hockey game of choice for my PS3 this winter.
If NHL 2K8 were the only hockey game on the market, I would be fairly content with it. But it isnít the only game. EA has superior gameplay and more teams. In the end it is about the gameplay and 2K lost the puck and the GCM editorís choice award. I guess now I can be considered a bitter ex-NHL 2K fan.