NHL 2K6 PS2 Review
It cannot be said that Ice Hockey is a highly popular sport over on this side of pond. Only a few thousand people follow the league and even less know a significant amount about the teams/players. Couple this with the fact that not many channels choose to air anything but a few small highlights to inform us of the goings leaves the fan base for the sport rather waning in Europe. Nevertheless the NHL version of the 2K series has been on the run now for many years starting of with 2K2. When it first began it was a nice breath of fresh air standing from EA’s efforts in the sporting genre as it took a slightly different spin on things. For the past few years many improvements have been added to the game with the edition of ESPN licensing in 2K4. This year is no different as the game has gone though hundreds of changes; some major (removed of ESPN licensing due to EA) and some small almost unnoticeable tweaks. The big question is, “what do all of the changes add up to?” Is the 2K series of titles sill on the up and up?
So What Else Is New?
Continuing with the theme of change, many other changes have been made other than just the big difference in presentation. The most noticeable being the game now plays much slower than before. While this may sound disappointing, it is far from it. The slower speed the game runs at now leaves the door open for much more skill in the game (think Pro Evolution Soccer vs. Fifa). In terms of offence, the passing game now plays a bigger part in game and it is much easier to pass the puck around the other rival players. Even when you are surrounded, the action is bordering on being frenzied. Rebounds are also helped by the slowdown and overall the whole feel of attacking feels a lot less random than it did before as you no longer feel like you are in direct control for your onscreen actions. As you would expect, the slower speed also helps your defensive game as well. Now it’s easier to position your character to block a shot – more skilful players will be able to intercept a pass with ease once they are able to anticipate what the opponent is building up to. The slower speed also curbs games with high scores and makes the overall experience feel more realistic.
It’s not only the speed of the game that has changed though as a lot of the core gameplay mechanics have been given the turnaround to offer a more authentic feel to the game. It’s now much easier to accurately pass the puck. Now you simply click on the right stick bringing up a section of icons. Upon pressing the corresponding button, the pass will be made. This may sound like it would make the game really easy, but the rival AI has now been given a significant boost and overall seems much more aggressive. If you do manage to string together a selection of good passes which amount in a goal, the overall experience is much more satisfying than before.
On-the-fly play-calling is another big change should you choose to mess around with the option as it gives you direct control over your team mates. This option is utilized via the d-pad and lets you perform a multitude of options such as screening the goalie and crashing into the net. Both the attack and defence on-the-fly calls can be extremely effective when used correctly. It does not end there though as yet more changes come in the form of the new enforcer system. While playing, the game places an “E” over the enforcer on your team and it is his job to imitate the other team as much as he bloody well can. If he does his job, an “I” will appear over the player that is shaking in his boots and as a result it will be much easier to play the puck by this player as his stats will haven been lowered. Speaking of enforcers, you are automatically going to think of fights and yes fights are included in NHL 2K6, but the fighting mechanics are still flawed meaning you are still not going to have a lot of fun punching your rival’s head in. One more great innovation is the implementation of backwards skating both on offence and defence which adds indefinitely to gameplay options.
What’cha Gonna Do?
All these new gameplay mechanics are great, but you are going to need some cool modes to play around with to keep the game fun. Gladly 2K6 does not disappoint in this department. The first point of attention when you put in the game is undoubtedly going to be franchise mode which is implemented even better than it was in previous years. It now feels like a full season of the game is happening around you as trades are happening all over the place and it seems that they are actually smart trades with no teams stupidly offering you big name players. The same goes for free agents and you won’t be seeing any teams let a big name go and there is always a race to get that player that could help bring big changes to the season of what every team get him. The handling of rookies and retirements are also expertly achieved. When not taking part in a never-ending franchise mode, there are still plenty of other options to mess about with. Party mode has 18 mini-games (more than last year) to play around with. Dream team ladder is also available. Then there is online mode which seems to have not got many upgrades from previous years, but there is not much wrong with that as it always seems to work well
Lacking in PrESPNtation?
Graphically the game is respectable. Not many changes have been made since last year’s efforts, but as there was nothing wrong with the previous year’s graphics this shouldn’t be considered a weakness. The player models are still very detailed – almost lifelike at times. The animation is also of a high quality and everyone moves very lifelike without any glitches to ruin the sense of realism. As I said before, the ESPN license has now gone to EA so some changes in the menus had to be made, but after an hour of play you shouldn’t miss them as you would expect to beforehand. The commentary teams of Bill Clement and Gary Thorne have been replaced by Bob Cole and Harry Neale and it has to be said that this is very noticeable and is once of the few disappointing aspects of the game. The sound effects are as good as they always have been with all the whooshes, whacks and clangs you would expect. Finally the soundtrack choices are ok, but not spectacular. It has a few interesting tunes, but overall it is forgettable and most tracks will soon fade into the background as you concentrate on playing the game.
Well that’s that then. Some interesting changes have been made, most of which propel the game forward from last year’s efforts. The lack of an ESPN license does not hurt the title at all and in my opinion the presentation is actually improved because of it. NHL 2K6 is easily the best Ice Hockey title on shelves at the moment and should entertain everyone that plays even if they only have a passing interest in the sport.
8.7 out of 10