I must admit that I’m not the biggest fan of sports simulator games, being a glutton for punishment, I’d much rather spend my time actually playing the sport for real. You know, running around a mud soaked pitch on a freezing cold winters day, getting soaked to the bone in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt instead of sitting in the comfort of my own home, in the dry, with the heating on, in a comfy chair, with a nice hot cup of tea… wait a minute, what am I talking about? Bring on the simulators, bring on NHL2K6!
Having never played any games in the 2K series before (or any ice hockey game for that matter), I didn’t really know what to expect. Knowing that the only thing I had to compare NHL2K6 with was an ice hockey match I once saw on Cable, I was quite looking forward to seeing how the game looked and whether or not it would be enjoyable enough to keep a hockey novice like me playing into the wee hours of the morning.
The first thing that struck me about NHL2K6 in terms of gameplay is just how many different controls and options there are available to use. The first and possibly most user friendly being the ‘Pro Control’. This allows you to simply click the right thumb stick and in doing so, a small icon appears above each of your player’s heads corresponding to buttons on the control pad. A quick tap on the required button later and you’ll find the puck whizzing off incredibly accurately to a member of your team (just like the pro’s do) Using this control method, you are able to press a combination of buttons and quickly string together any number of passes around the opposing team, usually ending in a very handy ‘slap shot’ often resulting in a goal. The only down side to this control method is that every time you take a shot at goal, the pro control disables and you find yourself constantly re-selecting it.
Also while on the ice, you can use the D-Pad to quickly select your ‘On-the-Fly’ Play-calling. Now, if you’re like me and don’t know your Change up from your Blue line and thought that slashing was something that involved a urinal then you’ll probably not find this very useful. For those of you however that do know something about ice hockey you’ll be pleased to know that with a quick press of the D-Pad, you can make your team mates do things like screening the goalie, crashing the oppositions net or cleaning the front of your own net. (Among other things) The use of these ‘On-the-Fly’ controls brings another feature to the game for you to think about, but compared to the ‘Pro-Control’ aspect, I just didn’t find them that useful when actually playing.
Yet another control option for you to get to grips while on the ice is the ability to control the goalie. This control method in essence is very simple. Left dives left, right dives right, up to perform a ‘butterfly’ and down to dive on the puck. The only problem though is that when a tiny puck comes flying through the air towards you, it’s difficult to tell where exactly the puck is going to end up and you often find yourself diving out of the way. Also, if somebody has a shot at you from a fairly long way out, you can’t always be sure where your goalie is standing in front of the goal and a lot of puck avoidance may ensue.
Watch the puck, watch the puck…
The final point worth mentioning about the gameplay in 2K6 are the new ‘Enforcers’ denoted by the big red ‘E’ underneath certain characters. The enforcers make it their mission to harass and intimidate anybody silly enough to be in their path and they do so with little or no consequence from the referee. If you bully a specific player enough he becomes intimidated (a big blue ‘I’ appears underneath the character) after which he’ll be about as useful as a chocolate teapot, taking a blow to his statistics, most noticeably his speed. As a novice to the ice hockey world, I found this feature most enjoyable, so when the referee penalises one of your players for a rule you didn’t even know existed, you can always vent some anxiety by simply smashing into anything that moves with your enforcer. If all else fails, at least you’ve got the moral victory.
Now, once you’ve finally got your head around the control system and decided what settings and controls you do and don’t want, you’ll actually be able to get on and play the game. The graphics in NHL2K6 are good but they’re not anything special. The players look no better or worse than any other sports game out at the moment and didn’t leave me thinking that this game had anything more than any other on the market. On the flip side, I found that the movement of the characters and the ease at which you can guide them around the ice very good, the characters skate around smoothly both forwards and backwards (which is apparently a new feature) and you get a real sense of realism of how colliding with someone would actually feel when you crash head long into an opposing player, knocking them across the ice.
…and flap your wings like a chicken!
The AI in NHL2K6 is also pretty good, both offensively and defensively. It has a certain flexibility to it that keeps the game interesting. It prevents you from scoring in exactly the same way every time or taking it around your opponent’s entire team with a set method and in general, players are pretty good at being in the right position at the right time. AI also plays a role in the Franchise mode (this being the only real mode worth mentioning as every sports simulator game I’ve ever played has the same bog standard practice and training modes, the quick match mode or the cup mode that you can custom and put yourself straight into the final.) AI is used in the form of the players’ happiness on the team, and actually has an impact on their resigning cost. So giving your star player a lot of game time, with a line up he actually enjoys playing with will improve your team’s chemistry and gives you a much better chance of success. This clever little aspect of the game just about does enough to make you stop and think for a second, before sending your team out to do battle on the ice. (And I did say just about, because lets face it, going to war on the ice is really what the game’s all about.)
Skate-cam – I feel like humming the jaws music.
I’m sure that if you’re an Ice Hockey enthusiast, or if you enjoy the 2K series of games, you’ll no doubt be satisfied with NHL2K6. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the game and if I was a bigger fan and actually knew the rules for example, I’d probably be giving the game a big thumbs up and a safe 8 to 8 and a half rating. As it is, there’s not enough right with it to grab the interest of an ice hockey rookie like me. The graphics look a bit dated, the sound is ok, the controls are smooth, comfortable and as simple or as complex as you want to make them. I just didn’t find the game appealing enough to keep me playing for any long period of time.