Sept 14, 2007
We sports gamers live to complain. If the latest version of our favorite annual title isn't significantly different than last year's - except, of course, for every little existing detail that we already know and love - then we all moan that the developers are lazy and resting on their laurels. However, when the makers move forward with innovations to jar a mature series out of the doldrums, we writhe in loud agony on message boards around the world.
To that end, NHL 2K8 may be the most divisive sports game in years. There's no doubt that this season was the right time to shake up the series, as a simple update to last year's smooth but not-quite-next-generation effort wouldn't have cut it. And shake it up they did, by implementing a completely new set of controls that use - gasp! - bumpers to handle passing and shooting. There's a method to this madness, though, as moving the fundamentals off of the face buttons and triggers actually opens up a huge amount of gameplay variety that will (eventually) allow you to leave flatfooted defensemen on their backsides in a Gretzkian wake.
Being the angry old gamers that we are, we couldn't stand these controls at first. After basically tripping over our own two skates for the first few matches, we were about ready to switch to the "classic" control scheme, a welcome option. But then a funny thing happened - we got used to the new way of doing things, and actually fell in love with them. It wasn't too long before wicked slapshots and twisted wristers were flying all over the ice in the directions we actually intended.
Gone are the days of sprinting down the wing and flicking the puck in front for a simple one-timer for a near-guaranteed score. The goaltenders step it up big time this year which, coupled with more realistic puck behavior off the stick, will have you working harder than ever to develop a consistent way to set up scoring chances. The defense is particularly gritty and hitting is ferocious, which will have fists flying in no time.
Away from the ice, the franchise mode shines, even allowing you to replace existing teams with historic ones from days gone by. We got positively giddy reestablishing the Winnipeg Jets, complete with legit jerseys and logo, and bringing Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen back home to win a Stanley Cup. Kicking the Phoenix Coyotes out of the NHL to make room made our old-school revenge even sweeter.
In reality, NHL 2K8's biggest problem is that it's not NHL 08, which has put it all together this year like few sports games we've ever seen. However, serious puckheads won't have many complaints with 2K8 once they get over the learning curve of the new controls. Between the sharper visuals, better-than-ever franchise mode, and top-notch online options, it's exactly what the series needed.