Another year, another sports game, only this time with updated stats, minor improvements to graphics and flashy new licensing. What possibly could this new version make me warrant a purchase over last year’s title? And the year before that, and the year before that?
Well, not much to be honest. In fact, NHL 2K6 feels like more of a car fresh from an MOT test than a brand spanking new motor rolling off the production line. Running the game on HDTV, there’s a slight, if any, difference over the PS2 version in terms of graphics, and perhaps the gameplay is a little tighter than last time, but that’s it. Done and dusted, review finished, the verdict delivered to you in two lousy paragraphs.
Better pad it out a bit.
The new stuff in this year’s title is as follows; there’s a new pro control passing system, which now allows faster counter attacking. Simply pressing the right analogue stick brings up icons corresponding to the 4 buttons on the pad (A, B, X, Y) over players’ heads. Press the button, and you pass it to that player. Sort of. The defensive AI won’t just sit there and watch you pass, and will make it as tough as old boots to get right. Whilst improving on previous versions, where you had to tell the player where to pass by aiming beforehand, the way you’re forced to keep clicking the right stick to bring up the icons after each shot makes it quite a hindrance, because you’ll be so focused on trying to hit the correct button that you’ll forget all about what’s happening on the ice and lose the puck. That, I have gathered, isn’t good.
Another feature tacked on is strategies assigned to the D-Pad. Press, I don’t know, right, for example, and the team will pressurise the opponents’ goal by throwing bodies in there. Pressing another direction (depending on how you have it mapped out, of course) you can do the opposite and swarm your own net to protect a lead. All very well then, but when some of your players decide to take matters into their own hands by either sitting too deep in your own half on offence, then too high on defence, it kind of makes you wonder why you even bothered.
There’s a guy generally known as “The Enforcer”, (think Vinnie Jones or Roy Keane) whose sole job on the ice is to wind up the opposition or intimidate them. Ok, fair enough, but for some silly reason intimidated players slow down, as well as taking hits to other stats, making them fairly easy to chase and harass even more. Now, if I was on the ice, being press ganged by “The Enforcer”, there’s a good chance I’d chuck my stick at him and then run for the hills. That’s another thing, I’ve not yet seen a fight in this game (looking at screenshots, they are in there…somewhere) despite skating around barging into people, trying to kick “The Enforcer” in the nuts and even starting on the referee. It just isn’t happening.
Goalkeeping is bizarre. Maybe it’s my little European, football-football-football brain, but it’s just far too complicated. You have this guy, fully padded up to be as big as Rik Waller, standing in this tiny little goal. So tiny, in fact, that he has to crouch. When someone takes a shot at your goal, you can get the camera behind it, and move the keeper about to save it. Thing is, for some strange reason there’s a cone of vision in relation to you and the puck. If it’s green, you’re on the money. Red, and it’s going in big style. Then, as if this all isn’t enough already, you see a target for the puck, and you have to guide another target to meet it and stop it from hitting the net. Why the play just doesn’t go into slow motion, and have you guide a near-transparent keeper to cover the goal is anyone’s guess, but this take on goalkeeping is far too serious and complicated. Just stand there and take the hit, you big Jessie. And if that isn’t enough, you’ve got to try and get control of the keeper in the first place. Click around all the players until the goalie is selected, then move until the cone is green, move the little target thing over and swear as you miss it. We just need a damn button to press to access the keeper, but it isn’t there.
Away from the gameplay, then, and there’s tons of options and stats and mini games to choose from. Franchise mode is quite like a career, practise mode lets you try out this insane keeping malarkey and then there’s the bog standard play offs, leagues, exhibitions etc. There’s no point in explaining it, you’ve seen it all before. There’s a nice online feature which, after you’ve navigated through the terrible menu’s, is quite a blast, even for someone who doesn’t have a clue about ice hockey. Of course, that also translates to offline multiplayer, because when 4 half-sober, half-merry men are skating around a huge chunk of ice, trying to out-do the terrible commentary with even worse American accents and corny jokes, besides working out what the hell is going on is actually quite fun. We still can’t work out why they have a drop ball every time the keeper makes a save, though.