We’ve all had it happen to us – you fall in love with a band who rips out a searing first album chock full of timeless classics, then follows that up with a more mature yet still-solid set of tunes you also love. As time goes on, though, the band starts to “experiment” and along the way loses some of its identity and mojo. There are still flashes of brilliance, and you remain a fan, but after each new release you find yourself heading back to the classics for another listen.
That’s the story of NHL 2K9. For years this franchise was the clear-cut winner in hockey circles, and more than a few of its past titles remain all-time classics. However, starting with last season’s effort, the franchise has seemed to be trying to find itself, holding its own as a good enough puckfest yet feeling a little bit lost (especially when compared with the suddenly awesome NHL series from EA).
The best decision the development team made was scrapping last year’s (too?) complicated control scheme for a streamlined series of options, including one that apes EA’s superb right stick/hockey stick mechanic. Sometimes imitation is the right thing to do, and there’s no shame in adopting features that clearly work well. There are plenty of little things that impress hockey aficionados, too, such as an undeniably fun Zamboni-driving minigame between periods, players sporting playoff beards in the postseason, and an impressive amount of online options that continue the series’ proud tradition.
Unfortunately, the action on the ice is less than stellar. At no point does the skating or speed of the game feel exceedingly realistic, nor do the player models look particularly good. Goal celebrations are strangely herky-jerky, too, and often feature the scorer standing alone while his teammates skate off in different directions. Strange.
Each game yields positives and negatives. While we love the fact that 2K9 is no longer the rock ‘em-sock ‘em human pinball game from last year (thanks to decidedly less powerful checking), the fact that you can consistently still score exactly the same way you always have is a little depressing. Skating into the corner and then throwing the puck in front of the net is by far the best way to put the biscuit in the basket. Yes, the arenas and crowds look tremendous, but there’s also no denying that players sometimes meld into each other or the net (all of which is exacerbated when seen in slow-motion replays).
All of this has us feeling fairly uninspired, yet our love for the series and appreciation for what’s gone into this season’s title means we’ll still skate our way to a Stanley Cup or two before we put 2K9 away for good. That may not be the best endorsement you’ve ever heard, but this sure ain’t the best hockey game we’ve ever played either.
Sep 12, 2008