NHL 08 PC Review
It’s rather apt that the NHL season got underway just as this review was in the pipeline. With this new season comes new players and a new fight for the Stanley Cup. ‘New’ isn’t usually a word that can be applied to EA’s sports games though, at least not in the purest sense of the word. The fact that EA often has to emphasise the latest additions to its games in case you’ve missed them surely says more than enough about its less than stellar approach to developing new games.
NHL 08 is a prime example of this. While perfectly acceptable as a game in its own right, owners of previous iterations might want to think twice about investing again for what’s essentially more of the same. Let’s start with what has changed; the skill stick (or right analogue stick to the rest of us) has been improved, although it’s still not perfect. A new addition to the PC version of EA’s NHL series, it’s been a feature of the next-gen consoles since 07 hit the shelves. While snap shots (flicking the analogue stick up) work effectively, slap shots are a bit of a hit and miss affair. To execute one you need to pull back on the analogue stick and then flick it forward, but this doesn’t always get picked up and sometimes a great goal scoring opportunity is missed purely because the game doesn’t recognise that you’ve initiated the move. Moving the stick to the left or right dekes, but this feels awkward at best.
Another issue is that’s harder than it should be to retrieve the puck on defence without slamming your opponent into a wall and therefore let the puck go out into the open field. While you might want to just steal it and continue towards goal, more often than not you’ll body check your opposition and the puck will be left for someone else to steal. This is down to sub-par design rather than anything else though, and the controls aren’t at all bad. As long as you’re using a decent analogue controller, preferably with two sticks and two triggers (the 360 controller for Windows works a treat) it all becomes quite intuitive after a few games. Be prepared to dislocate some of your fingers if you want to play this with a keyboard; you’ve been warned.
Other new additions include a minigame (yes, one minigame) and some slight tweaks in the dynasty mode. And that’s it. Compared to the 360 and PS3 versions, PC gamers have certainly drawn the short straw here, with no real explanation for why. There’s no reason why the console versions couldn’t be ported to PC, and it’s a disappointment that it’s the case with NHL 08. Whereas other games such as FIFA 08 have all the same modes across PC and console iterations, NHL 08 is simply a different game on the PC, lacking the AI improvements and the improved skill stick control.
On a more positive note though, the game’s still a solid representation of the sport, and the best ice hockey game on the PC. It has all the modes you could want, with the usual dynasty mode, season, world tournament, online and exhibition match types. AHL teams have been added as well, and international teams are present and correct. The lack of commentary hurts the aesthetic side of the game, but in other areas such as on-ice sounds it does well, and the crowd chants go a good way to replacing the noticeable quietness due to the lack of play-by-play announcing. There’s very little in the way of adjusting the visual side of the game, with the resolution being the only change you can make. Consequently the game merely looks good rather than excellent, and one can’t help but feel that so much more could have been done here.
Somewhat tellingly, there isn’t much more to say about NHL 08 – it’s a very good game, but the genre’s moved on and once again PC gamers haven’t been given the chance to see how. If you want the definitive ice hockey game this season, go for the 360 or PS3 version. The usual rule applies when contemplating an EA sports game though; if you played last year’s game, don’t expect much in the way of new additions. NHL 08 is, sadly, a prime example of this.
Solid and enjoyable, but not the game it could and should have been.