Never before have I jumped out of my seat and celebrated a goal in a video game…..scored by the computer. A shot from the point by Chris Pronger that was redirected down low by Todd Bertuzzi on goal sent my goalie scrambling for the loose rebound. Scott Neidermeyer comes flying in and absolutely nails the puck into the top shelf for the goal.
So I’ve played the demo about 20 times now, tried new things every game and have finally come to the conclusion that the true sequel to NHL 07 has fixed nearly every aspect of the game.
Here is my list of positives and negatives:
I’ll start with presentation:
+ 60 Frames per second in 1080i. Holy cow this game looks good. It’s smooth with zero choppiness.
+ A lot of new commentary from Gary Thorne and Bill Clemment. I hate Thorne, but it’s nice that everything didn’t get recycled from last season.
+ Replays have your exact controller movements on the screen as they happen. Don’t know how you did something? It will show you! Nice touch.
– Again the opening and ending of the game is lame. This could be just for the demo though.
+ The most important thing in a hockey game ever for me is passing. You can finally cycle the puck. Keeping the puck down low and continuing to play behind the net is such a treat when the CPU has someone there to receive it. Defensemen don’t leave the zone anymore so you can send it up high to them and utilize an intragal part of your offense.
+ Super Deke’s aren’t overdone. In fact, I have trouble succeeding with non-superstars. They aren’t over the top and work quite infrequently. Even when they work, you don’t gain a huge advantage.
+ Powerplays. Oh my goodness, talk about earning a powerplay goal…7 passes putting the defense out of position and a shot from the point with a perfect screen makes you feel pretty good.
+ Good looking goals. Not a huge improvement here, but the goalie are MUCH better mainly because there are few if any of those goals that trickle in after a few seconds. There have been a couple weak goals, but in many cases there was a screen. Besides, bad shots go in on occasion in real life right?
+ I use classic controls and they do EVERYTHING that regular controls do. The main difference is the shot button mapped to A instead of RT. But this year they added a saucer pass button to the RB. Excellent.
+/- Shootouts seem different. Perhaps it’s the high default game speed, but I seem to get to the goalie awfully quick when trying to deke. It seems like the use of the right thumbstick becomes noticably different in the shootout. I can’t pinpoint it. However, placing shots on wristers is much more effective this year. I’ve scored several goals, namely with Teemu Selanne where I reared back and put a shot above Emery’s glove.
– Players seem TOO good about staying onside. Sure it’s annoying when the CPU jumps offside, but it happen in real life wheras in never happens in this game. Could be attributed to the default settings.
– Passing might be too good. Again, this could be the easy difficulty, but I shouldn’t be able to make 30 tape to tape passes in a row with no problems. I tried it out and was able to hold the puck in the zone for nearly 10 game minutes.
– At the same time, why can I not pass the puck EXACTLY where I want it. I’ve tried to send it off the boards to get it back to the point, but it either shoots in straight into the boards back to me, or straight to the pointman. There is no inbetween. How about some sort of 2kish pass aim assist slider?
+++ This is where the new skating engine really shines. It should no longer take a novice to NHL 07/08 50 games to figure out how to survive defensively. You can now hold out your stick and move it around on the ice, similar to NHL 2k’s game. It’s not as effective as 2k, but it’s still good. Players now glide when you let up on the left thumbstick as well. Defensive placement is very important as well.
+ Hitting is way down. Again, a lot of this can be credited to the new skating engine. Lining up a body check is tough. If you don’t have the right speed and timing, you don’t hit your opponent or you bounce off of him. The NHL isn’t a 200 hits per game checkfest, so why have video games continued to make them that? Thank you EA for making this realistic. This is definitely one category that the sliders will be interesting to play around with.
+ Penalty Killing. The CPU is smart. They pass it around and look for the open man. If you have a player out of position, the CPU exploits it. I’d suggest icing the puck on the PK whenever possible. Not only does the clock now go at normal speed when it’s in the other end of the ice, but you can get a much needed line change. I can only imagine how hard you have to work on the PK on a harder difficulty setting. I’m getting excited just thinking about that.
+/- Quick whistles. I don’t know why, but sometimes the goalie will catch the puck, or grab it on the ice, and the whistle will blow immediately like it’s supposed to. There is no way to get rid of it. Other times, there will be no whistle for several seconds. In both situations I’ve had opposing skaters near me and far away. It seems random. Obviously I’d prefer the quick whistle because that’s much more realistic. I hate being tempted to drop the puck when there are two opposing players hovering over my netminder.
– What’s with the CPU making your player controlled skater go backwards automatically? Even at center ice? This is probably the biggest problem defensively. I’m trying to skate back to have a 3rd guy help out, and he’s turning to skate backwards? What? I thought that’s why the left trigger was there on defense!
– Protecting an empty net is near impossible now. All of a sudden when there is an empty net, everyone becomes freaking Gordie Howe from center ice. Last year it was tough to score an empty net unless you were in the zone. Now they don’t miss at all. If you don’t hack the puck handler when you have no goalie, you’re screwed.
Other parts of the game:
– Fighting. What the hell happened? Why did these rock em sock em robots replace the guys who were supposed to go at it? The fighting in 07 was pretty good and could’ve used a slight improvement, mainly in difficulty. The fighting in 08 turned into something a monkey can do. Why must these game companies make something good a significant downgrade???? NHL Hitz turned the best fighting engine ever into a button matching sequence mini game. Definitely a huge let down EA. Thankfully fighting is always optional and must be mutual.
+ Playing as the goalie was actually quite fun. Try it for a few games. The controls are pretty easy, but it could take awhile to master. I can see this being loads of fun online.
+ Sliders. Though they can’t be changed in the demo, there are a plethora of them, most of which are the same as last year. This game NEEDS to be slowed down to 0 first and foremost. I cannot wait to play around with these slider sets.
Remember that this is a demo, and a few things in the actual game may be slightly different. I think with the ridiculously fast game settings, combined with the fact that it plays great, we’ll be able to tweak the game to play a near perfect version of simulation hockey for the first time ever in the history of video games. What I need to see improved the most are the defensive A.I. being more aggressive and closing down the neutral zone. I’d also like to slow the game down yet maintain the ability for players to move around at a quick pace where necessary.
This is a video game so nothing is going to be perfect. Judging this demo, I’d say that EA officially nailed it this year.
Remember that there will be the three Elite leagues and the AHL in this game as well. I cannot wait to have a true minor league system with the actual jersey’s of AHL teams and their players. Now I can beat the Rockford Icehogs in the virtual world too!!!! YES!!!
EGM already gave this game scores of 9.5, 9.0 and 9.0. By the way, that’s better than Madden got.
I think this is the runaway sports game of the year.