When the Xbox 360 was released last year most of the sports titles available were just spruced-up versions of their previous console counterparts. In the realm of hockey games last year was an easy choice for Xbox 360 owners, simply because there was only one choice. 2K Games was the only company to bring a title to the table last year and to most fans it was a bit of a disappointment. Now with an entire year to learn the ins and outs of the 360 2K has really stepped up their game and delivered a truly next-gen hockey experience.
The biggest focus for this year’s iteration of this franchise has definitely been presentation. 2K Games has introduced a brand new feature this year dubbed Cinemotion, which takes the on-ice action and play it out more like a movie with background music and dynamic camera angles to coincide with the action. This new feature is actually quite intriguing as face-offs will now pan directly into the player’s faces right before the puck is dropped and the music will change tempo and rhythm depending on factors such as how much time is left on the clock and the score. While it may not be leaps and bounds above the competition, it certainly adds a new layer to the overall game.
The developers have also thrown in other audio touches that will immerse the player even further into the action. Teammates and coaches will now shout out line changes and formations during the game. If you listen really closely you can even hear open teammates calling for the puck. While these subtle nuances may seem trivial to most gamers, fans of sports games in general will really appreciate the immersion it can create, making you feel more and more like you are really on the ice playing the game.
Another big change from last year’s game is the game play mechanics. Players now feel like they actually have weight to them on the ice, which is noticeable especially when making quick turns. Players accustomed to last year’s game will certainly have to adjust to the slower, more realistically paced game play of 2K7. There are also some new additions to the Pro Control scheme which allows players to control the goalie and icon pass; in addition to the standard features Kush has also thrown in the ability to perform drop passing, which is immediately noticeable to vets of the franchise.
Probably the biggest reason that I enjoyed 2K7 as opposed to EA’s outing this year though is the simple fact that it is a lot more accessible and fun to play. Developer Kush Games has added an extensive list of new animations and physics that really deliver a fun experience for players of all skill levels. 2K7 is one of those titles that can be enjoyed in small doses and does not require the player to invest countless hours to learn the ins and outs to make the game enjoyable. Now don’t get me wrong though there is plenty to keep the hardcores coming back for more. With a great franchise mode and tons of new options in the Skybox there is certainly enough to keep gamers busy until next year’s game rolls around, not to mention the achievements for Xbox 360 owners which are leaps and bounds above last year’s sad list.
If all of that isn’t enough 2K has extended their online experience ten-fold this year adding tournaments and other features that further enhance the multi-player experience. The games we played online were relatively smooth with little to no lag and aside from a few matches the players all seemed to be enjoying the game for what it was as opposed to simply trying to boost their stats. I have to admit that this is one of the more pleasant online experiences I have had with a game in a while.
Now as you all know very few games can get away without some minor bumps and roadblocks and NHL 2K7 is certainly no exception. My biggest gripe has to be the visuals; while certainly not atrocious the character models do seem a bit archaic when compared to EA’s latest offering. The frame rate is solid and the animations are great, but almost all of the cut-scenes are painful to watch, and who the heck is that robot spouting things to me before the game because he certainly doesn’t resemble any of the coaches I have ever seen in the NHL! Like I mentioned earlier the audio is great, even when Cinemotion is disabled. The color commentary by Bob Cole and Harry Neale is spot on and the crowd noise is certainly passable, but when you hear some of the songs picked for the soundtrack you will undoubtedly go, “Who the hell is this?!?”. While I may know who Mudhoney is, I can guarantee you half of America does not.
While hockey may not be the de-facto of sports titles in the US the games are certainly worth checking out. 2K Games has done an excellent job of creating a title that is easy to pick up and play while retaining a solid fun-factor that can be enjoyed by anyone. While some may argue that it doesn’t feature the same depth of the EA title I found myself enjoying 2K’s offering much more. If you are on the fence about either title be sure to hop onto Xbox Live Marketplace and check out the demo, I guarantee you will a good time with NHL 2K7. Definitely recommended for fans of the series and here is to hoping they clean up the visuals for 2K8!