|System: PS3, X360, PS2, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Canada||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA Sports||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 11, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-6||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Cole Smith
Okay hockey fans, forget your helmet, shoulder pads, and jock cup, because you're really going to need extra padding on you backside when EA's NHL 08 kicks your butt.
EA's hockey games can sometimes leave fans confused as to what to expect. Some are more arcade oriented, while others venture in the sim neighborhood. I'm sure you and your friends have your favorite hockey titles, but before you get too comfortable and cocky with your choice, you've got to try NHL 08 out. You might just find a new contender for best hockey game.
This is one challenging game. It rises to the occasion. It's not difficult for the sake of being difficult, if you know what I mean. The gameplay is always in reach, regardless of your skill level, but you've got to learn to be adaptable and change your style of play on the fly. The A.I. is almost sentient. It adapts to your strategies continually. If you maintain the same style of play, you're going to lose. It's that simple. NHL 08 is like playing against a very formidable single-player, a good player that is always trying to get a line on you. I've played against a lot of humans that were not even close to being this smart. I'm not talking skilled, I'm talking smart.
I complain that a lot of sports games don't see yearly improvements. In a lot of cases you wind up with the same game year after year with nothing more than an updated roster and the addition of a new mode or two. NHL 08 is the exception. This is the year to buy a new hockey game.
NHL 08 not only looks great, but it plays well. It's like driving a Ferrari. A new skating engine is partly responsible for the upgrade. It's really smooth and has a natural feel. The controls are similar to last year's scheme, but they have been made to be more responsive. Speed and direction commands come courtesy of the analog sticks. Press one down for a speed increase, or ease up to gracefully glide atop the ice surface. The physics is remarkable. You'll feel the weight of your player as well as his inertia. If you just let him coast, he will eventually come to a stop at an area consistent with his speed and momentum. This allows you the ability to more accurately predict where players will wind up on the ice when you switch to another one. The fact that this is accomplished with such a natural sense of feel lets you play a more strategic game. And if you want to win, you're going to have to play more strategically.
A nice touch is the implementation of the skill stick move. It requires the use of both the left and right stick to strafe, or deke, the opponent. Used in conjunction with a face button, this move requires some dexterity to pull off. You have to have both sticks working in tandem with each other. One stick dictates your player's position, while the other determines what direction the puck will be facing. It takes some time to get used to but it's a worthwhile system to learn. It will definitely give you the edge, more so against another human opponent. The A.I. gets pretty wise to your moves and counteracts with, at times, almost unnatural accuracy.
Strategy plays a huge role in the gameplay. You'll have to play a more simulated version of hockey. There are times when you can barrel down the middle of the ice and score a goal like a determined bully, but this is the exception not the rule. Passing is the key to winning. The more unpredictable your patterns are, the less likely the A.I. is to anticipate your next move. You'll find yourself more focused on the immediacy of the gameplay since you'll always be looking for those momentary clearings where you can make a successful pass. Nothing stays open long so you have to take advantage of these pockets of opportunity, just like a real game. The A.I. will make the occasional mistake, but it doesn't give you gifts.