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Review: NHL 07

There’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 don’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 wouldn’t disappoint me, as it was the first “EA Sports- It’s in the game” game that I had played in years. And I hadn’t played a hockey game since NHL 97 on the Megadrive, so the rules were not in my head. Did it disappoint? Keep reading.

Pucking Hell

As soon as you boot the game for the first time, there’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 didn’t win, nor did I score, but I thought I’d got to grip with the controls. After you lose, it takes you to the main menu, which features “Play Now” that gets you into a game quick, “Dynasty Mode”, which is the career part of the game, or “Game Modes”, where you can play international tournaments or just have a shootout. I plumped for “Play Now”; 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 “Pro”, as that was above “Rookie” but below “All-Star” and “Superstar”. 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; I’m whistled for “Icing”. 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 I’m 3-0 down, and again I’m pissed off. The third period arrives, and I go on the attack and I score! It’s a great feeling, because I knew I’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 I’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 I’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 isn’t immediately obvious.

It sounds simple: move the analogue stick left and right, and you will “deke” 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. It’s fun for a bit, but both players are sidelined for five minutes, so there isn’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 doesn’t seem to do anything. Bear in mind I spent a whole week trying to do this, so I’m not slacking. Please someone tell me what it does, it doesn’t even feature in the manual!

Presentation on the Ice

The game itself is incredibly fluid, and really does look the business. Player’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 players’ 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 doesn’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. It’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 “” 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 “Pick it up already!” in that special way that only Americans could get away with. And if you ever hit the post, the little “PING!” noise it makes is brilliant. It’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); he’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 it’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 I’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 “Play Now” option, I decide to take to the ice for real, and start up a team. There are some confusing options for those that don’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 you’ll take him but then it tries to put him in the minors. I gave up on that, I didn’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, it’s not all that exciting, and knowing there’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*, “Achievement Unlocked”. Oh dear.

“Achieve”ment

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 I’ve mentioned and b) “Play ten seasons of Dynasty Mode”. 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 (don’t concede), get a hat-trick, get someone to score five times and win a game, all in Superstar mode? It’s easy, because for some reason EA have included this crazy little feature where you can remove goal “defenders” (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 “Vs. CPU” 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 don’t need the third attempt. It’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 ™ from now). She’s actually pretty good at games, and it’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 couldn’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 it’s place is a laggy multiplayer experience. The lag isn’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 second’s delay before the change occurs. This applies right through the controls; shooting, poke checking and passing are all affected. It’s playable, but it isn’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 it’s valid.)

The graphics are considerably worse than that of EA’s game. It doesn’t look as smooth or as crisp. The controls, in comparison to the frankly excellent right analogue control, are quite annoying. You don’t feel you have the same level of control over your player. Shooting also doesn’t feel like you’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 didn’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?

Conclusion

The first question you should always ask is do I need this game? I’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. There’s a lot to get into here.

For the rest of us, it depends how much money you have. If you don’t need to save for the next big game, go out and get this. It’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, I’d be inclined to say “no”. There are not a lot of options, other than having a quick bash or a career (which you will likely get bored with). It’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. It’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 don’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 doesn’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?)

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14 comments on 'Review: NHL 07'

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Comment by spark on 2006-10-08 18:42:49 | Reply

WHOO.. thats a big review

Comment by Chris Benoit23 on 2006-10-08 18:48:46 | Reply

Just to let you know, when doing the achievements with 2P, you can leave it set to 2P and still get em.

Also, for the shootout, go to the menu and select manual “goal defender”.

Comment by David on 2006-10-08 22:55:34 | Reply

I aplogise, you are indeed right. I followed a link from Google, didn’t check that, so thankyou.

However I object to the comment “live inside EA’s ass”. i certainly do not, and I thought that was clear from the intro, since I haven’t bought an EA Sport game for ten years. I’m the first to criticise EA, but when they do a good job on something, as I believe they have done with NHl, then you have to give them credit. I still think 2k7 looks worse in comparison to 07, that’s my opinion.

You have to remember that a review is a very personal thing. Don’t take it as absolute fact; others may loathe this game and didn’t get what I do out of it. I wrote the review to guide people who may not be sure whether or not to get the game. You have your opinion, that’s fine, and I have mine.

Comment by Tr1gg3R on 2006-10-09 00:49:19 | Reply

Even is you’re right, you still don’t have to be an ass about it.

It is not what you say but how you say it. :-)

I’m no fan of EA games but I might pick this one up just because I liked the last Ice Hockey match I saw in Helsinki :D (and otherwise it’s allways good for some multiplayer fun)

Comment by Dirty Duck on 2006-10-09 13:10:10 | Reply

Good review i own the game (only cos my mate works for EA) and i actually do like it!!!

Comment by billy on 2006-10-09 16:28:34 | Reply

Sorry but 2k7 is better. Nothing else needs to be said.

Comment by tim on 2006-10-12 05:25:59 | Reply

i looked at the 2k7 for xbox 360 and its WAY WAY WAY WAY WORSE than ea 07 for xbox 360 the Graphics are completely differnt the gameplay of 07 is better the only cool thing about 2k7 is the skybox i think

Comment by billy on 2006-10-12 16:09:18 | Reply

The graphics are practically the same, online leagues!, skybox, mini games, more indepth franchise mode, online tournaments, more gameplay options, and more realistic with the correct settings. (IE: one timers to hard, and set to hall of famer) I’m sorry but 2k7 is better, I used to be a die hard EA NHL guy, but switched for a reason, and it’s because 2k7’s series of hockey is better.

Comment by tim on 2006-10-14 00:18:39 | Reply

hmm the graphics on 07 looks better the glove for 07 looks like a glove on 2k7 it looks like a waffle

Both look kinda cheesy.

Comment by Levesque on 2006-10-18 17:25:05 | Reply

You should not review games if you know nothign about the actual sport. Unlike “football” you actually are allowed to pull your goalie to get an extra attacker to try and tie the game or on delayed penalties.

“It’s easy, because for some reason EA have included this crazy little feature where you can remove goal “defenders” (I think the mean keepers) and have an extra man on the ice. Therefore, an empty net is now a reality. ”

Dumbest quote I have ever heard. Next time get someone who knows something about hockey to review the game, mmmmkay?

I know you can do it in real life too, but to include it in a game just seems stupid, becuase it will obviously be open to abuse. In a real match obviously there will be more tactics involved, but in a game, where running up the ice is pretty easy, it just seems silly to add it, that’s all I meant.

And I’m sure, if you wanted to, you could pull a keeper in football. They run up for corners, so it’s the same thing.

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