REVIEW OF NHL 07

by Adam Hill

 

I want to make one thing perfectly clear – as I said in my last Puckin’ Around article, I am not, I repeat, not about to shell out $500 to buy an Xbox 360 and another $75 for NHL 07 to go along with it.  I have a PC which is worth well over $2000 in original parts and upgrades, and it will do just fine Microsoft, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, EA Sports seems to think we’ll all rush out and buy this game and if we don’t already have one (I don’t), a Xbox 360.  The fact of the matter is, the only real enhancements to our favorite sports game on the planet exist on this platform.  Sorry EA, in the great immortal words of Dana Carvey, “I’m not gonna to do it, wouldn’t be pretty”.  At least they released the game on a DVD this year.  It’s about time.

For those of you Xbox fanatics who are looking to find out if this game is worth it, go out and rent it or read your favorite Xbox publication.  If the demo station at Best Buy is any indication, people like this game.  For my intents and purposes, I am sticking with PC and Playstation 2 for this review, and making no excuses about it.  I’d like to see Xbox Live allow users to download mods for the game – I can’t imagine how it would work.

The only real reason to go out and buy this game is if you like to play the Dynasty mode.  This is for all intents and purposes the only real enhancement to an otherwise identical game to last year.  Yes, my friends, the salary cap is now in the game, and probably should have been last year, but EA can be forgiven if the new CBA wasn’t ratified in time to make their deadline.  Once again you get to play the role of GM of your favorite team, either one of the 30 NHL teams or your own creation (no New Orleans Hurricanes for me this year.  The karma of 2 simulated Stanley Cups seems to have rubbed off on the NHL’s real Hurricanes, and at the expense of my favorite team no less!).  Not only do you get to be GM, you get to choose your profile and style of managing.  There is much more interaction with the owner and coaching staff, and more pressure from players than ever before.  Building team chemistry was never so difficult, but nothing the seasoned player from years past can’t handle.  Just remember, the owner wants a winner!

If you like to play one of the overseas Elite leagues, or if you’re situated overseas, the Czech Elite league is in the game this time around.  The all new European Dynasty mode will allow you to take your favorite non-NHL team through the rigors of an Elite League schedule and playoffs as the Swedish, Finnish and Swiss leagues make their return.

EA seems to have taken note of the PC mod community, as they’ve employed a few of the ice textures which could have been downloaded last year – and as luck should have it, I tried a few of my saved Goalie mods from last year and they work – which means Dwayne Roloson can have his new Edmonton mask and not some creation EA thought would look good.  The folks at doubleminor.net seem to be using similar tools to release their roster updates, and some of the glass and net enhancements from last year have been re-released.  I guess at the end of the day, EA’s thought was why bother with improving the graphics of the game when the die hard PC Gamers will do it for themselves.  Anaheim and Buffalo both have changed their uniforms this year, which means new ice, logos and jerseys – there’s already a new Buffalo Logo add on available, but nobody has released a jersey yet – most likely somebody is working on it.  The only thing we don’t see is broken composite sticks.

I would have thought if little effort was going to be put into graphics which were already pretty good, then at the very least the audio would be better right?  Wrong.  The commentary has been redone on Xbox with all new voices.  On PC and PS2 it’s the same old Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson monologue.  Come on EA!  Craig Simpson is an NHL coach, and has been for some time now!  In some instances the commentary is just out and out wrong.  “Welcome to Edmonton, Alberta, home of the Eastern Conference Champion Edmonton Oilers.”  What’s wrong with this picture?  And another minor detail which just gets to me, the visiting team starts first in a shootout, not the home team.  If it’s in the game, it’s supposed to be in the game.  Although small, there are examples like this scattered throughout the game.  Believe me, I noticed!

The rosters are partly up to date, but it doesn’t elude me much as I can get updates online.  Somebody over at EA headquarters must know Dominik Hasek and Martin Havlat don’t play in Ottawa anymore.

The controls are easily mapped again, either to EA’s Open Ice controls or to traditional Playstation controls, which I’ve used since 1998 – don’t mess with a good thing.  If you’re using a controller with analog sticks, you can use them to control every aspect of the game, but it’s a little tricky to master.  I like the analog control for skating, but so far I lose the puck every time I try a fancy deke or drop pass to a late man.  One timers are harder to do, and you’ll find not every player can do it based on the fact not every player has a hard shot.  Another thing you’ll need to get used to is throwing your weight around – if you don’t build up some speed by skating a few strides, a well placed body check in past editions of the game won’t be so here.  Also, I’ve noticed not every defenseman can skate backwards, which is a skill not all defensemen have mastered in the real game.  So at least they’ve worked on this aspect of the game – the playability is unreal when you get used to it.  Difficulty levels seem kosher with last year, but somehow the game seems easier to play – but then again I’ve had a year to practice.  I’m sure there will be a few forum complaints about the well placed point shots going in the net, but it’s fun to watch when it’s you shooting the puck.  The NHL wants more scoring, well you have it here, that’s for sure!

“Win Every Battle” is the new slogan of NHL 07 – with new phenom Alexander Ovechkin donning the cover, EA appears to be in some sort of transition phase – while they rebuilt the game from the ground up for the Xbox 360 version, they seem to have left the rest of us in the dark with more or less the same game from last year.  At least the Dynasty mode is improved and at least the price is reasonable.  To put a bit of a Microsoft Windows spin on it – think of NHL 07 as NHL 06 Service Pack 1.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but how hard could it really be to translate the Xbox 360 version to PC when you consider most PCs nowadays have virtually identical hardware?  It almost seems like EA is waiting for Windows Vista and the next incarnation of Direct X.  My argument is with video cards now pushing 512 MB, flat screen monitors, 7.1 surround sound cards, and the ability to use virtually any console controller you want, I can’t imagine why they would need to even worry about it, but I’m no game programmer.  I did say I would be satisfied if they instituted the salary cap, and they have – so I guess I can’t really complain.  I’ll just have to wait and see what the mod community has in store for us, and hope for the best next year.  I guess I should be happy I don’t have to play around with 3 CDs anymore.  

Gameplay: 9/10 – the flow of the game and the playability is a bit more fluid than last year – or at least it seems that way.

Graphics: 6/10 – only because they are more or less the same as last year – which for last year were pretty damn good, and even better with downloaded mods.

Audio/Commentary: 5/10 – no improvement here as mentioned above

Replay value: 8/10 – I’ll still play the game – but with commentary turned off as usual

Final verdict: It was hard to find fault with NHL 06, and while this is a suitable upgrade, I would have liked to have seen more out of EA this time around, all things considered – stop catering to the console gamers and don’t forget about the gamers who existed long before Xbox -  Rating: 7/10

 

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