Review By: Jared Black
|# Of Players:||1-2 (2 online)|
|Accessories:||Memory Card, Network Adapter|
After taking a year off due to labor disagreements, the National Hockey League came back for the 2005-2006 season. With a new salary cap (and floor) as well as rule changes designed to increase scoring, hockey fans are experiencing a new style of hockey. Although ice hockey video games have been around since the earliest days of gaming, NHL titles were going through a low span throughout the late 1990s. Under industry mainstay Electronic Arts, NHL titles were synonymous with an arcadish, high scoring game. When Sega introduced the 2K series on the late Dreamcast, gamers finally got a series that was more sim than anything released before. When Take-Two Interactive purchased 2K developer Visual Concepts, they continued to produce the NHL 2K6 series across all platforms and the divide between EA's NHL offering and NHL 2K6 became even bigger. With EA making changes in their NHL title, the biggest question for NHL 2K6 concerned their ability to remain the top NHL game. On this front, they do not disappoint.
The first thing to address in an NHL title review is the style of play. There are two types of hockey games: simulation and arcade. While the term arcade is not the best one to use, it accurately reflects the style featured: high scores and fast-paced play. While NHL 2K6 offers options for both styles, it is clearly geared more towards simulation style hockey. If you are looking for a fast paced, generally non-realistic NHL title, look at EA's NHL 06. With that out of the way, NHL 2K6 is clearly the hockey sim champion. The first thing every gamer should do in NHL 2K6 is go into the options menu and set the game slider settings to "simulation." While the default settings are playable, the game does not really shine under an arcade gamestyle.
On the ice, NHL 2K6 performs well in all but a few areas. While the game will go much better for gamers that have a working knowledge of how hockey is actually played, the title is fairly easy to pick up and play. There are three types of control schemes, ranging from very basic controls to an advanced mode that features an extensive button scheme. The advanced controls offer more control over your players and the shots they take by holding the L-trigger while pressing buttons. NHL 2K6 also features a new Pro Control system. Clicking on the right thumbstick brings up an advanced passing menu, assigning each player on the ice a button. Double-tapping a button will set up a one-timer shot, while tapping a button once will simply pass. Under the Pro Control system, the right stick also controls lobbing the puck, protecting the puck, or dumping the puck. NHL 2K6 also boasts Maximum Goaltending controls, although to be honest I've never used that feature as the AI does a decent job of keeping pucks out of the net. Automatic wraparound are by far the most useful control feature added this year. Pressing X behind the opposing net while in possession of the puck sends your shooter into a quick wrap motion to try to catch the goalie off guard. While this can be exploited to no end on lower difficulty levels, it is not nearly as effective on higher difficulty settings.
The Enforcer system is my favorite addition to this game. Certain players are labeled as "enforcers," and their on-ice function is to basically hit the other team as hard as they can. While overusing these players will rack up your penalty minutes, they do serve a major function as they can intimidate opposing players. If you hit an opposing player enough times with an enforcer, an I will appear under that player. While intimidated, players are less accurate with their shots and more likely to lose the puck if they see a hit coming. Oh, and for all you create-a-player fans, the enforcer position in this mode is severely limited in certain attributes in order to balance out the game. However, real enforcers in the game do not have limitations, nor do the players you can draft in the franchise.
The biggest problems with the on-ice gameplay concern coaching options, although there are a few other oddities and problems in the game. While I applaud the on-the-fly coaching system in the game, I'm finding my players are rarely following the plans unless I set all of my pause-menu coaching options on total manual control. If you do not manually control your coaching options, you will see annoying things from the CPU coached decisions, like line-changes at inopportune times or players simply not attacking while you're on offense. The line-changing system is actually good, but it contains some obnoxious quirks. Unlike every other hockey game I've played, NHL 2K6 puts you in control of your forward line and defending line. In other words, you can swap just your defenders while taking your three forwards on attack. While a good system, it has several flaws. When performing a full line change, I often found myself getting annihilated by defenders mid-ice because I had to change two sections of my line. While I quickly adjusted to this after a few games, I found myself questioning the lack of a middle ground between line-change options. The only options available are to let the CPU "manage" your lines or to do the whole thing by yourself. They need a middle ground to allow manual line changes to include both defenders and forwards, not just one section. This would help the learning curve as well as convincing people to play pickup games with line changes turned on. Perhaps the biggest problem with the line changes falls during pre-faceoff switches. You only get access to your forward line changes, and often times you don't realize that your defending line hasn't been changed in almost a period because of this. You don't have the time or the option to change defenders before faceoff, although sometimes a line change would bring in fresh defenders on its own. This, however, seemed almost random and I often remembered to change my defenders after they had been on the ice far too long.
A forgivable problem, especially considering how long the labor negotiations lasted, is the CPU AI with passing. As many hockey fans realize, the two-line pass infraction is no longer on the NHL rulebooks. However, you will almost always find a CPU teammate stop suddenly before the center-ice line to avoid the phantom two-line call. Hopefully this is just a transitional problem since this is the first year of the rule changes. The other rule changes seem to be in place, as goalies are called for delay of game penalties and the shootout option is in place after an OT period.
Posted: 2006-03-03 20:49:09 PST