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NHL 2K6 Review

NHL 2K6 pack shot
Publisher:Take Two
Genre:Ice Hockey
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.2ksports.com/games/nhl2k6/360.php
Release Date:April 28, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Stevie Smith
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

As with EA and Konami where FIFA and ISS are concerned, the on-ice battle has raged between EA and Take Two's 2K Games label for a number of years in the hockey arena. Results, as with the football, have been largely one-sided, with the 2K series generally emerging as the better pick in all applicable departments. And, with EA's NHL 06 exhibiting some worrying style over substance tendencies and drowning in dizzying content, the slot looks decidedly clear for the latest 2K offering to one-time a shot over the goalie's stick and score the game-winning goal…again.

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Annual sports editions generally change very little, noticeable only by detailed increments. So, for those who care to know, the new additions to this year's 2K offering are as follows: The newly implemented NHL alterations laid down for this season, which are the removal of the two-line pass rule, and the removal of goalies playing the puck freely behind their own red goal line are both in attendance. Naturally, of these two changes, the removal of the two-line pass rule makes for considerably more fluidity in every game, and a marked increase in odd-man rushes and direct scoring chances. There's also a new ProControl icon player selection system that creates instant selection and execution for precise passing, and sparks much more snappy and continual delivery when in the offensive zone during powerplays. The other additions are On-The-Fly coaching, which means quickly selecting different tactics during actual gameplay via the controller's D-pad, such as screening the opposition goalie before taking a shot on net, or dispatching a winger to better prepare for an outlet pass from centre; and then there's Crease Control, which gives direct goalie control for those heart pounding yet suicidal moments when you think you can do better than the AI.

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Those are the most noteworthy changes to NHL 2K6, but do they actually add anything tangible to the series? The official rule alterations certainly open events in actual play, and the removal of the two-line pass ruling is a definite plus-though opting to remove it from the set-up menu has been available in other series iterations, as is re-instating it in 2K6. The goalie rule change is negligible, and perhaps only hardcore hockey fans will garner any real gameplay differences from its addition. ProControl, while intriguing in concept, is a little clunky and awkward to grasp (much like FIFA's dreaded 'Off the Ball' system). Clicking in the right analogue stick initiates ProControl and a representative face-button icon subsequently appears above each on-ice line member of your team. Then a simple press of the appropriate button will dispatch a pass in that direction. Again, great in principle-and certainly helpful when pulling around defensive lines while setting up for a powerplay goal attempt yet almost pointless in terms of execution. The analogue stick itself acts as a directional command system to swiftly find a player of choice with the puck (there are only 5 linemen on the ice at any one time, picking out an accurate and desired pass is rarely difficult and doesn't create arcade-like pop-up icons above the players either). The On-The-Fly coaching options are a plus point for authenticity, and a quick tap on the directional pad instigates a set coaching change on the ice. Yet it fails to make considerable impact because its execution is reliant on first crossing the centre line and then repositioning the left thumb (usually on the left analogue stick for skating direction) across to the D-pad for selection. Obviously fluid skating through this motion wasn't a major concern at Take Two, especially considering the brawny defensemen intent on breaking down bones as well as attacking moves. And finally, those souls brave (or foolish) enough to actually think they can successfully step into the skates of an NHL goaltender and stop the burning biscuit during Crease Control, well…just try it and see what happens.

Yet, regardless of the above additions-and there are a few more on offer such as in-game Enforcers and the subsequent intimidation they cause to opposing players-it's the staple standards of 2K6 which emerge as most noticeable in terms of change. Graphically, NHL 2K6 on the Xbox 360 hasn't progressed that far from its 'current' generation stable mates, the Xbox and PS2, and in many ways it feels only semi-next generation thanks to a lack of genuine progression where a dollop of polish and a quick stint of applied elbow grease has obviously been preferred. This detraction is perhaps most evident during crowd scenes, where attending fans look decidedly worse for wear and are hit heavily in the polygon count. The 2K series has always boasted genuinely visceral gameplay fluidity through its slickly implemented graphics, yet everything on show in 2K6 seems oddly underplayed and lacking in the pizzazz that normally fires the series well past its competition. Specific player models are adequate; though again they don't exude any tangible progression. Moreover, those consumers intent on spending their hard-earned cash to play an Xbox 360 ice hockey game may well be disappointed to note that the Xbox and PS2 versions are eminently better value and virtually identical in every way.

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The lack of ESPN's licensing on the presentation side of things (a first for the NHL 2K series) also causes worrying dents in the overall package. Of course, the injection of ESPN throughout the game's aesthetics had no real bearing on actual gameplay, but the removal of the license certainly detracts from the overall experience. Again, where once 2K sported easily achieved and carefully maintained levels of immersion, now nothing but by-the-numbers menus and game modes remain. It's shocking how much impact is created by the lack of ESPN's professionally deft touch-especially the game's commentary, which, while acceptable, is nowhere near as good as in previous incarnations.

Thankfully, a damaging aspect of NHL 2K6 on the Xbox and PS2 has been rectified here on the 360 version, as the team rosters have all been upgraded to include the latest possible league trades. This was something missing on the current generation of European releases, despite their spring 2006 retail schedules, which would have proven plenty of time to see the trade histories included. While the more casual gamer probably won't even notice the roster updates, hardened fans of the sport will certainly be happy to play with the most current line ups of their favourite team(s) rather than expending countless hours manually editing via trade after trade.

EA's NHL 06 was heavily ramped for arcade lovers, and the usual array of simulation details in its gameplay were abandoned in favour of insanely inflated score lines and non-stop action. It duly failed to inspire. While NHL 2K6 is still a better game in terms of justly portraying the hockey experience, and certain (token) elements have been added, the series is starting to betray signs of stagnancy. The current generation of consoles may have seen the last of their great ice hockey games, and the Xbox 360 version, while supplying a decent enough experience, fails to achieve true next-generation status and offers virtually the exact ice hockey package for a markedly larger price tag.

The bottom line
7.0 / 10

Good stuff

  • Up to date rosters included, which were missing on Xbox and PS2
  • Gameplay is as fluid as ever
  • Plenty of new features to play with
  • Difficulty sliders mean constant challenge

Not so good stuff

  • Not a true next-generation title, especially in terms of graphics
  • ProControl and On-The-Fly tactics are fiddly
  • Lack of ESPN licence hurts overall presentation
  • Nothing new to set it apart from the current generation
  • Higher price point for the same material