In a Face-Off, NHL 08 Ices the Competition
EA Sports' NHL franchise has hit highs and lows through the years, facing off against stiff competition from 2K Sports. But this year, NHL 08 wins the virtual Stanley Cup hands down by offering the perfect blend of speed, finesse, customizing ability and pure simulation fun.
NHL 08 just feels more like real hockey, even if NHL 2K8 boasts better visuals. NHL 07, which featured Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin on the cover, took an innovative leap in hockey gaming by using the two analog sticks of the controller to maneuver the upper and lower body of the players. EA Sports has fine-tuned the controls this year and slowed the pace to a more realistic feel. Hockey is a fast sport, but the game's players skate, glide and even perform crossovers more like they do in real life. The controls open up a new world of finesse on both sides of the puck and bring hockey to life in a way that even non-puck-heads can enjoy.
Past hockey games have relied on breakaways and one-timers for reliable goals; in NHL 08, players are rewarded for smart cycling, and goal scoring is the result of hard work and hockey smarts. NHL 08 also allows gamers to easily create their own plays during practice and use them during a game. That becomes especially important during those seven-game playoff matchups because defenders will adapt to how you bring the puck up the ice.
EA has improved the game's dynasty mode, which was pretty bare-bones last year, although NHL 2K8 still has a more robust dynasty offering. NHL 08 opens up more online options, including ranked shootouts, team matches for as many as six players and online leagues for two to 32 teams. NHL 08 also aims to appeal to fans outside major NHL meccas: The game features every American Hockey League team and some international clubs.
This year, rather than moving forward with innovations, 2K Sports tried imitation, using the analog sticks to control the players with its Pro Stick feature. Unfortunately, NHL 2K8 still requires all of the controller buttons, including bumpers for shooting, which makes the learning curve quite difficult. It also lacks the intuitive feel of NHL 08. NHL 2K8 remains the fastest hockey game out there, but with two turbo buttons, it's more arcade and less simulation. In essence, it's too fast, but some players like that pace.
2K Sports still delivers an excellent online experience with online leagues and tournaments. The game's dynasty mode remains the best and deepest, including the ability to delve into individual player contract talks. The game offers classic NHL teams, as well as the 1980 Miracle on Ice team and its Russian counterpart. A new camera angle close to the ice really shows off the game's visuals, which are a notch above NHL 08's. NHL 2K8's atmosphere comes to life with Cinemotion, which cuts out the announcers (who can get annoying in any sports game) and allows you to soak up the arena sounds as if you were there. It's a shame that 2K Sports didn't stick with its old controls, which worked fine. EA definitely has the better controls and superior, more realistic artificial intelligence. Without intuitive controls and improved intelligence, all the gorgeous bells and whistles of NHL 2K8 go down the drain.
-- John Gaudiosi
NHL 08 Everyone 10+; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ($60); PC ($40); PlayStation 2 ($30) EA Sports NHL 2K8 Everyone 10+; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ($60); PlayStation 2 ($20)2K Sports NHL 08 Everyone 10+; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ($60); PC ($40); PlayStation 2 ($30) EA Sports