Kush Games
2K Sports
Sports
1-4 (2-8)
09.12.06

NHL 2K7 (Xbox 360)


Generally, the rule for sports games in the video game universe is: One Game per Year for each sport. This is NEVER the case with hockey. Since the days of Nintendo, there were always two or more developers making hockey games at the same time. Fast forward to the present. EA Sports releases NHL 07 at the same time 2K Sports releases NHL 2K7 for the Xbox 360.

2K Sports has had a history of providing deep, engaging gameplay, but fitting the demands of a next-gen console and going up against the well-established EA at the same time threatened to put NHL 2K on the injured list.

Gameplay

NHL 2K7 makes a solid showing on the Xbox 360 with its impressive list of intense in-game features. Crease control, enforcer, and “on the fly” play calling all return along with a new addition to the team; a pressure control system that allows you to “make space” on the rink for your puck-handling. With the left bumper and right thumbstick, you can order your teammates to put “pressure” (which entails everything from a light block to a blatant check) on an opposing player who may be in the way. The pressure control system adds a new element to the defensive strategy of the hockey gaming experience, where competing developers are content giving you a “check button” and a “poke check” button and letting you make up a “defense” from there.

It should be noted that while the defense has been beefed up, 2K7 does little to offer improvements in the offense or goal-scoring areas of the game, and hopefully these areas will be addressed in future titles. Despite this, 2K7 deserves credit for putting emphasis in the right area. Where its rival NHL 07 thought to focus on its new state-of-the-art controls, NHL 2K7 starts off by inventing new ways to implement the pre-existing controls, and getting you into the game.

The Franchise Mode of NHL 2K7 bears a lot of similarities to NHL 07’s Dynasty Mode, although both emphasize different things. NHL 2K7 doesn’t bother with the two-way contract system; if a player on your roster isn’t carrying his weight, you send him to the minors or cut him. Although you can’t bring him back once he’s gone, you can keep track of his progress; the minor league season can be looked up as your season progresses, so you can get a preemptive feel for some of your future players. A solid rookie scouting interface and easy-to-use free agent database allows you to keep an eye out and a hand in all new developments. With all these options, there’s no excuse for having a crummy starting lineup; the game practically begs you to replace anyone not worth the Gatorade he’s sucking down.

The game is a little overzealous in its trading; you will be constantly assaulted with trade offers. This is normal during the trade deadline (we’re talking in real life) but throughout the season, you will get more trade offers than you’ll know what to do with. As annoying as they may be on the surface, keep an eye peeled; the injuries system in Franchise Mode can be ludicrous, keeping players sidelined for months for a simple broken hand. You may want to capitalize on the game’s zealotry to replace an incapacitated player.

2K7 also emphasizes on team rivalries, a rather “human” element to hockey rarely explored in video games. The way your team plays in games against rival teams will have consequences on your players. Along with the rivalries, you as the coach and your players are often subjected to fate. During the season, opportunity will “knock” on occasion. Answering it is always a gamble. Sometimes, it’s news that one of your players just got an endorsement deal, and will be playing extra chipper in the game. Sometimes, one of your players’ attributes will be taken down a notch. It’s unpredictable and sometimes inconvenient, but it’s a new feature to the game that adds some more of the “real-life element” to the game. If it’s not your cup of tea, just don’t answer your cell phone when the owner calls…just like you in real life when your boss calls you to see if you can come in on your day off.

2K7 brings back the loveable bunch of mini-games. Mini-rink and pond hockey, although overly humorous, provide a good diversion. Online play allows for two to eight players to play online (four to an Xbox 360). Tournament and season play (with 30 playable teams) is available for online play, which will easily sap you of hours of your life. Hopefully 2K sports will make advancements in online play in future titles; there is still no free agent pool or fantasy draft. Given that, the online play is easily one of the game’s most attractive features, offering a replay value unprecedented in previous hockey titles.

Graphics

Fluid player models and detailed jerseys…recycled from last year’s game. With the exception of an additional camera angle, 2K7 doesn’t do much in the way of improving the graphics of its predecessors. In its defense, the need for graphics in hockey games is overrated; deep down, it’s a game of men with sticks colliding into each other. Though not awe-inspiring, the graphics are functional and hardcore hockey fans will appreciate its authenticity.

Sound

The commentary from Bob Cole and Harry Neale is insightful and entertaining, but as is the case with every sports game with commentary EVER, it becomes monotonous and predictable after a few games. Thankfully, the commentary is easily outshone by the amazing ice sound effects the game offers, and an indie-heavy rock soundtrack that blows away all previous soundtracks. The sounds of game are captured in precise reverie, and although an awkward sensation at first, The Postal Service at a hockey game isn’t detestable.

Replay Value

The Online Season and Tournament play pays for itself. When the Dynasty Mode gets too heavy, or you have buddies over who are burnt out on playing full games, the mini-games offer for a surprisingly high level of stress-relieving, humorous replay. Even the Dynasty Mode itself, while not groundbreaking, offers a lot of obstacles for an aspiring “head coach” and presents itself as a foe worth going against at least twice before putting the game away.

Bottom Line:

Hands down, NHL 2K7 is the best hockey game available for Xbox 360. Sacrificing fancy control work for its hard-hitting, defensive gameplay, 2K7 is engaging and addictive. Top-notch Online play, and one of the best season modes in the sports game genre. Not only beats NHL 07, it takes off its jersey, punches it in the mouth, and does a victory lap.

Related Links:

Official Website for NHL 2K7

-Jimi Robertson




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