NHL 08 Review
Hockey is fun again. Not that I haven't had fun playing hockey videogames the past few years, but NHL 08 is the first one that's come close to generating the excitement I felt playing NHL on the SEGA Genesis a decade and a half ago. What makes NHL 08 so enjoyable is that it manages to be a hockey sim without feeling like one. It feels like a game of hockey more than a hockey game.
Part of what makes NHL 08 enjoyable is the realistic way that the players move on the ice. The animations are smooth and fluid - as they should be for athletes moving across a sheet of ice - and the feel of each players' momentum is natural and intuitive. The players themselves look realistic from the sheen of their helmets to the folds in their uniforms. When you add the natural looking ice of the rink and a lively crowd behind the glass, you've got a great next-gen realistic hockey experience.
The great graphics are backed up by some excellent audio. The sound of skates on ice, players hitting the boards, and the clink of a puck hitting the post all sound amazingly realistic. The in-game commentary is also excellent and really gives you the feel that you're listening to an actual hockey game broadcast. I wish that the team responsible for the audio in the game would be given the chance to overhaul Madden's embarrassing play-by-play.
On the ice the game's skill stick really adds to the experience. Shooting the puck by pulling down on the right stick and then pushing it forward seems far more natural than pressing a button to do so. The analog stick swing worked really well when it was first added to the Tiger Woods series and it's good to see that it has been brought into the NHL series. Now granted the skill stick did appear in last year's game, but it's been improved upon to be an even more versatile control. You'll now be able to use it get around a defender by tapping the puck in one direction and then skating around the defender in the other to pick it up again. It's not an easy move to pull off, but it's very cool when you do.
The game's AI has been greatly improved this year and has been given the ability to recognize your tendencies. If your entire gameplan is to fire off a one-timer as soon as you get into the opponent's zone, you'll find the other team quickly shutting you down before you have the opportunity to pull them off. In some really cool related additions, the announcer team will even provide commentary during the game about what is and what isn't working for you and after each period you'll get a game synopsis to further break it down for you. It adds a lot to the game when you actually have to think about your play rather than use a brute force method of running the same play over and again, which can certainly get boring after a while.
To give you more options when attacking the game includes a play creator. You can diagram out a play by placing each player in a starting position and then use arrows to show where each man should go on the attack. During a game if you get your player to the starting position of the play, the other players will do their part to try and execute the play.