Thereâ€™s a lot to be said about EA games. Some people find them excellent- they have all the real kits and players, presentation is always top-notch and they can be fun to play. Others find them a bore- they donâ€™t improve from the previous edition, the underlying flaws still exist and there is nothing to warrant a purchase. I picked this game up from my doormat last Friday and looked at it, hoping EA wouldnâ€™t disappoint me, as it was the first â€śEA Sports- Itâ€™s in the gameâ€ť game that I had played in years. And I hadnâ€™t played a hockey game since NHL 97 on the Megadrive, so the rules were not in my head. Did it disappoint? Keep reading.
As soon as you boot the game for the first time, thereâ€™s a nice little cut scene explaining the brand new control system, then you begin a shootout (the same thing that features in the demo). The idea is for you to get used to the controls. Unfortunately, I didnâ€™t win, nor did I score, but I thought Iâ€™d got to grip with the controls. After you lose, it takes you to the main menu, which features â€śPlay Nowâ€ť that gets you into a game quick, â€śDynasty Modeâ€ť, which is the career part of the game, or â€śGame Modesâ€ť, where you can play international tournaments or just have a shootout. I plumped for â€śPlay Nowâ€ť; after all, I wanted to get used to the controls and whoop beat comfortably the CPU. With the teams chosen, you select the difficulty out of four options. I opted for â€śProâ€ť, as that was above â€śRookieâ€ť but below â€śAll-Starâ€ť and â€śSuperstarâ€ť. The game starts. I feel lost in a foreign world. Every time I make a break, I get whistled for offside. I touch the puck; Iâ€™m whistled for â€śIcingâ€ť. This is madness, nothing makes sense. Suffice to say I lost the game a solid 5-0. Confused, I took a break and went to the internet for some answers.
Armed with the rules now (offside is when a player goes over the blue line before the puck does), I head back in the ring, still on Pro difficulty. Within minutes Iâ€™m 3-0 down, and again Iâ€™m pissed off. The third period arrives, and I go on the attack and I score! Itâ€™s a great feeling, because I knew Iâ€™d earnt it. I lost 4-1 though.
I soon discovered this was going to take me a lot more time to get used to than Iâ€™d anticipated. I realised I was going to have to spend some quality time with it, and just get used to the surprisingly non-arcadey feel that the game had. I say surprising, because most EA Sport games normally are arcadey. I knocked down the skill level, and I eventually started banging them in left, right and eventually centre. Looks like Iâ€™m a rookie then.
Controlling the stick
A lot was said about the use of the right analogue stick being used to control the, er, stick. It is revolutionary, but does it work? The simple answer is yes. Unfortunately though, it isnâ€™t immediately obvious.
It sounds simple: move the analogue stick left and right, and you will â€śdekeâ€ť over the puck (i.e. you flick your stick to the left and right of the puck that is under your control). Push the stick up for a quick shot, or pull it down then up for a much more powerful one. But getting used to this is no easy challenge. It really does take time to get used to it. The game is by no means pick up and play, you have to explain the controls properly to someone. Other controls are well mapped out on the pad. RT passes the puck, and when on Defence, use the right stick to body check (read: flatten) an opponent in an attempt to win back the puck. But if you hold RB and use the stick, you go for a poke-check. Basically, the guy you control uses the stick to try and push the puck away. After a while, it works brilliantly, but again, it takes time to get used to. And yes, fights can be initiated, with the use of Y. Itâ€™s fun for a bit, but both players are sidelined for five minutes, so there isnâ€™t much to gain from it. The last control to mention is the vision control. I actually have no idea what this does. Use the LT to initiate it, but it doesnâ€™t seem to do anything. Bear in mind I spent a whole week trying to do this, so Iâ€™m not slacking. Please someone tell me what it does, it doesnâ€™t even feature in the manual!
Presentation on the Ice
The game itself is incredibly fluid, and really does look the business. Playerâ€™s faces are incredibly lifelike, and the game really relies on teamwork. It is incredibly hard to take the puck from the back line all the way to the goal without making a pass; the computer AI is very intelligent. The reflections are second to none. When there is a cut scene, the playersâ€™ helmets reflect everything the way it should. The puck has EA emblazoned all over it, but again it looks excellent. The ice too is brilliant. As the players skid all over it, it leaves lines where the players have come from, meaning the surface gets scratched. Unfortunately it doesnâ€™t stay and disappears after a short time, but nonetheless it adds to it. The referees too are brilliant. If they are in the way along the side wall, they hop up and get themselves out the way. Itâ€™s only a little touch, but again really adds to the overall feel that it is realistic.
Commentary is entertaining for the first few times, but after that it begins to annoy. They generally say the same thing, and the co-commentator is exceptionally annoying, as he comes out with ridiculous phrases such as â€śâ€ť that no-one would ever actually say on live TV. The crowd sound is fantastic, however. They boo whenever the away team scores, and if you are losing by a lot, they shout things such as â€śPick it up already!â€ť in that special way that only Americans could get away with. And if you ever hit the post, the little â€śPING!â€ť noise it makes is brilliant. Itâ€™s the sound it actually makes in real-life, so I was very happy when I heard that! Other nice touches are the hooters that go off if you score, end the period and end the game. Again, as I keep saying, a small touch, but it all adds up.
The main problem I had though was the collision detection. If you are called up for tripping and watch the replay, the guy that falls over seems to pass through the stick before falling over, which is a bit of a shame. The same goes for hooking (wrapping your stick around a guys head); heâ€™s through the stick before he goes down. Another slight problem that I had was with the passing. You do have to aim where you pass, but rather than feeling as if the puck is a separate object, it seems to be attached to the stick, and the pass attracts like a magnet to the other player. I have to admit though, that the puck does have itâ€™s own physics, because it bounces off keepers and players very realistically, often resulting in goals. That always looks impressive in the replays. Overall, I was really pleased with just how good the game looked. Typical EA if Iâ€™m honest, but it is a pleasure to see in High Definition, and a pleasure to hear with Surround Sound beauty.
The Skaters Career
So after having a few more goes on the â€śPlay Nowâ€ť option, I decide to take to the ice for real, and start up a team. There are some confusing options for those that donâ€™t follow hockey, such as all the salary limits and so on, with other options popping up everywhere. When you begin to play, players get offered to you, you say youâ€™ll take him but then it tries to put him in the minors. I gave up on that, I didnâ€™t want to waste time. Unbeknown to me at the start, one season can consist of 82 games. You have to be really into hockey to enjoy this mode, because unless you are, itâ€™s not all that exciting, and knowing thereâ€™s still another 81 games is not always a nice thought. And when you are as bad as I was, it gets a bit boring keep losing all the time, and getting no better. I literally could not win a game, and eventually I gave up and simulated the whole season. *Bing*, â€śAchievement Unlockedâ€ť. Oh dear.
Why is it EA never try for their achievements? Most are insanely easy to get, one way or another. There are achievements for Dynasty Mode, Play Now and the tournament part. Two easy achievements are a) the one Iâ€™ve mentioned and b) â€śPlay ten seasons of Dynasty Modeâ€ť. You can simulate all ten seasons and get the achievement. Great, no challenge there then. Unfortunately, most of the achievements can be earned in an underhand manner. Want to score a goal, get a shut-out (donâ€™t concede), get a hat-trick, get someone to score five times and win a game, all in Superstar mode? Itâ€™s easy, because for some reason EA have included this crazy little feature where you can remove goal â€śdefendersâ€ť (I think the mean keepers) and have an extra man on the ice. Therefore, an empty net is now a reality. Start the game up with a second player, pull the away goalkeeper and punch the goals in from everywhere. Once you have a comfortable lead, go and make a cup of tea, let the clock run down in the third period to make sure no-one scores against you, then at the very last second, switch controller 2 to neutral so you are â€śVs. CPUâ€ť and you get all the achievements. Crazy. And yes I admit I did do this on Superstar for the sake of this review, just so you all know.
The one challenging achievement is getting the perfect shootout. Basically, get 2-0 on a shootout so you donâ€™t need the third attempt. Itâ€™s insanely difficult to score once, let alone twice, and as yet, I have not discovered a way round it, which makes a nice change. I was disappointed with this discovery, because EA games are always easy Gamerscore points. I thought this might be different.
Multiplayer Goodness and Badness
To test any multiplayer that can be played on the same 360, I always use my sister (to be known as The Sister Factor â„˘ from now). Sheâ€™s actually pretty good at games, and itâ€™s normally a good measure as to whether it is good and fun or not. After one simple game, I won 3-2. I was devastated she actually managed to score on her first attempt when I couldnâ€™t. So was I just really bad at the game? No, she got lucky, I thumped her 5-1 next time. But, as I had, she got better really quickly after some practice. She finally beat me in Overtime after a tense 3-3 draw in normal time. I scored in the last few seconds to equalise, but she deserved the win.
After all that excitement, I went online. It felt completely different. The fluidity is gone, and in itâ€™s place is a laggy multiplayer experience. The lag isnâ€™t obvious though. There is no stuttering, and it flows, but not properly. But when you try and change character, there is a good one and a half secondâ€™s delay before the change occurs. This applies right through the controls; shooting, poke checking and passing are all affected. Itâ€™s playable, but it isnâ€™t as fun as it was with my sister.
The NHL 2k7 Factor
(I will admit right away that my comparison is based on the demo of NHL 2k7, so decide for yourselves if itâ€™s valid.)
The graphics are considerably worse than that of EAâ€™s game. It doesnâ€™t look as smooth or as crisp. The controls, in comparison to the frankly excellent right analogue control, are quite annoying. You donâ€™t feel you have the same level of control over your player. Shooting also doesnâ€™t feel like youâ€™ve done it. You just hit a button and hope it goes in. Once again, the level of control is missing. It was also a lot easier for me to score, and I strangely didnâ€™t find it as rewarding. The game is certainly the uglier, more arcadey version, but all the correct players do feature, which is a bonus.
The top is 2k7; does it look as good to you?
The first question you should always ask is do I need this game? Iâ€™m going to split it into three categories.
If you are a big follower of hockey, then yes, this is the game for you. It has a damn long career mode, with all the transfers and the winning of trophies and so on. Thereâ€™s a lot to get into here.
For the rest of us, it depends how much money you have. If you donâ€™t need to save for the next big game, go out and get this. Itâ€™s a rewarding experience once you finish grappling with the controls. You feel that every action has come directly from you, and team work is great when you pull it off. I promise you, the first time you score, you will jump for joy. Multiplayer is there too; get a mate round for a bash and you will love it.
For those that budget, who want something rewarding for their money almost instantly, Iâ€™d be inclined to say â€śnoâ€ť. There are not a lot of options, other than having a quick bash or a career (which you will likely get bored with). Itâ€™s missing something that will make it more approachable to those not familiar with hockey. Things like mini-games would have been a nice addition just to have a bit of fun. Itâ€™s also not a pick up and play game, you need to spend time with it, and that time probably could be spent better elsewhere.
Personally, I fall into category 2. I really enjoy playing this game, mainly in short bursts because the Dynasty Mode bores me a little, since I donâ€™t follow hockey in the same way I do football. But the gameplay is superb, the stick control intuitive, and the multiplayer excellent (offline). Yes, the commentary grates a little, and the passing has a magnet affect, but it doesnâ€™t detract from the enjoyment, so long as you are prepared to take your time and get used to all the new controls.
Final Score- 8 out of 10 (How do we rate games?)