'Shall we play a game?'
It’s officially hockey season, people. How do I know this? Easy. Because the NHL video games, NHL08 and NHL2K8 have been released. The season has officially begun!
So while the real NHL players may be getting their feet wet at training camps throughout North America, civilians like us have already been on the ice. After playing the newly released NHL08 on both the X-Box in the office and my trusty PlayStation2 at home, I can tell you people that you need to believe the hype. This year’s hockey video games are, indeed, the best versions ever made.
That’s coming from someone who until this fall considered the legendary NHL94, that groundbreaking endeavor in which the one-timer was introduced to the hockey gaming community for the first time, the best video game ever. That game was so good it should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for its role in “Swingers.”
Well, everybody, there is a new big boy on the block after this year’s editions hit stands in early September. And it’s so good, it might make your head bleed.
While the PlayStation2 version of NHL08 might not have a lot of the bells and whistles its Xbox and PlayStation3 cousins have been outfitted with — if you’ve ever played one of those super systems on an HD television, you already know how awesome the gaming experience is — it’s still the best version EA Sports has ever come out with. For a traditionalist like myself, there are still the old standby controller layouts and the classic camera angles. But if you want to take a walk on the wild side, there are some interesting new “hybrid” controller settings that may take some time to master.
The game play is so much more fluid this time around. Checks are more realistic, the physics of the game are closer to the real thing than ever before, and of course, there are the new unlockable RbK Edge uniform systems. My personal favorite aspect of the game each year is the addition of the rookies each season, and without even downloading the first roster updates (usually available after training camps have broken), guys like Jack Johnson are already there. And by the way, for you Kings fans out there, Johnson is a monster at both ends.
While the PlayStation2 version is definitely a worthwhile video hockey experience, the real fun is on the Xbox and PS3 editions of the game. I had never played Xbox before, but after taking a spin with NHL08 on the console in the office, which is hooked up to a diesel high-definition TV, I might have to upgrade to a more modern system at home.
Without exaggerating or floating some hollow company line, I can honestly say that I was blown away by the Xbox edition. Aside from the all-too-real game play — in this year’s version, you can nudge the puck past defenders and checks don’t always knock you off your skates, just to name a couple of realistic game features — the real fun is in creating your own player. I don’t know about you, but no dynasty mode is complete without creating my own likeness on the ice.
In this year’s edition of NHL08, I was floored when given the many different glove options you can outfit your player with, all the new stick labels included this time around (the popular Warrior sticks are now in the game), and details as minute as the type of skate blade your player wears are insanely detailed. This time around, you can put so much more than a broken nose or a shiner on your created player.
But wait! There’s more! The centerpiece of this year’s NHL video games is in the realistic artificial intelligence that reads the way you play and adapts to combat your style when playing against the computer. Think “War Games” with Matthew Broderick and you know what I’m taking about. Teammates react to how you handle the puck also, making for the most unique gaming experience ever. Say adios to the days of the works-every-time breakaway move from NHL94. This year, the goalie isn’t going to bite on the backhand-forehand move that used to work every time. He’s not going to give up the post as easily on your second attempt.
If all that wasn’t enough to get you to the store for your own copy, this year’s NHL games are so realistic that players in the game actually tuck in their sweaters just like they do in real life. They also sport the same style socks they sport in reality. Crazy!
And then of course, there are the popular fantasy draft modes, season and dynasty play, shootout practice and online modes to choose from. In my first test of the PS2 dynasty fantasy draft, I somehow came away with a team that has Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash on the top line, Johnson and Dion Phaneuf as the top defense pair, Jordan Staal as the penalty kill ace, and Rick DiPietro in net. Yeah, I know, I got drafting skills.
But while my Jedi-grade proficiency at video hockey may be impressive, this season’s hockey video games are simply ridiculous. So what are you waiting for?
Get out there and get your own copy. And maybe we’ll cross paths on the ice in the online mode.
As if any of you has the slightest chance of taking me down.Two-handers:
* According to media reports, some cities around the United States are cracking down on the fashion craze of low-slung pants, worn mostly by kids in school. New legislation would make it a crime to wear your pants so low your boxers hang out — with an actual fashion police force handing out fines as high as $500. In some cases, low-riding teens could actually face jail time. No word yet on if there will be a law to crack down on the number of hockey players wearing ripped hockey pants.
* Authorities in Australia were up in arms this week over a 12-year-old model fronting a popular fashion show in that country, according to reports, because they feel she’s too young for the job. Perhaps there wouldn’t be such an uproar if the fashion show took place in Pittsburgh, where there seems to be no minimum age to do important things like, say, winning an NHL scoring title.