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9/27/2007 12:55:00 PM
Review: NHL 08 vs. NHL 2K8 (All systems)
By Paul Ulane
If you held a popularity contest, the NHL would rank just ahead of Bad Newz Kennels and right behind Curling in the world of sports. (And at least those two get coverage on a network other than Vs.) But set aside the lockouts and the mullets for a minute and focus on the game itself. Hockey still offers the most non-stop action of America's four major leagues, and it's a pace that translates well to the gaming world. With the 2008 regular season about to drop the puck, we took a look at EA's NHL 08 and 2K Sports' NHL 2K8.
NHL2K8 :: EA Sports
In this brave new world of next generation consoles, sports titles strive to strike a balance between innovative controller techniques and the basics like passing and shooting. These two titles are no different, turning their focus to puck-handling: 2K8 adds the "ProStick," while 08 keeps rolling with the "Skill Stick."
The ProStick offers you total stick control with the right thumbstick. This lets you flash your skills when you're trying to weave through a defense, where you can handle the puck on either your left or right side to set up the opposing goalie. Throw in the simple but effective deke button and the L2 combo options to really carve up the ice.
The Skill Stick in 08 also offers up the freedom to handle the hockey stick with the right thumbstick, including simply toggling from right to left to deke your defender. The advantage here is the smooth transition to shooting. As opposed to 2K8's blend of thumbsticks and button mashing, when you're ready to unleash a shot on goal in 08, you stay with the right stick -- push forward for a wrister, pull back then push forward for a slapshot, all the while pushing in the direction you want to aim.
2K8's most unique controller feature comes in Shootout Mode. To control the goalie, you have to utilize the PS3's Sixaxis controller to stay in front of your onrushing opponent. If you maintain proper positioning by tilting your controller to the left or right, the action slows down once your opponent shoots and you get an on-ice perspective from behind the net to try to stop the shot. This is the closest you'll get to the Wii in a next-gen hockey game, and it's worth enjoying. Unfortunately, it's only available in shootouts.
On the defensive end of the ice, the same differences in controller functionality arise. 08 offers the hit stick, an opportunity to line your opponent up from across the ice and knock some teeth out with a punishing body check. Just take aim at your opponent and let loose with the right thumbstick as you make contact. But be careful -- if you miss, you'll be out of position and leave yourself and your goalie exposed. (It's like missing with an uppercut in a boxing video game.)
On the other hand, another blend of buttons and thumbsticks clutter 2K8's defensive controls. You can hit the buttons to poke check and body check, but the right thumbstick controls whether your stick hits the ice to deflect passes.
When it comes down to it, 08 is easier to pick up and play right away. (It even has a tutorial with controller movements on the bottom left of the screen during each unique move.) With 2K8's over reliance on the L1, 2 and R1, 2 buttons, it's bulky and difficult to grasp. The thumbstick controls in 08 stress puck movement and player positioning. Unlike 2K -- and most sports games, for that matter -- there is no turbo boost button in 08, and while realism doesn't always go hand-in-hand with good video games, it definitely works here.
Another treat for hardcore puckheads is 08's "Create a Play" feature, which is perfect for fans obsessed with X's and O's. Set up a route to the goal for two of your players to follow while attacking the net. Once you've found a combination you like, perfect the new wrinkle in practice, then call the formation in a real game situation. For all of you fans out there who think you're more qualified than your team's coach, struggling to get a designed play to work in real time ought to take you down a peg.
NHL08 :: EA Sports
In terms of the looks of each game, at this stage in HD graphics, it's a toss-up. 2K8 has little flourishes like rumbling boards after checks and wispy mustaches on bench players. 08 has the distinct advantage of getting Reebok's blessing to nail every uniform detail. Another draw goes to the various Dynasty, Franchise, and online modes. There's more than enough options to keep you busy realistically managing a roster from season to season. One element that EA is pushing this year is the addition of the American Hockey League for proper minor league scouting -- but that's only for the most consumed hockey fans and/or Canadians.
Then there's the element of hockey that's loved by purists and non-fans alike: fighting. Yet again, 08 streamlines their controls. Once you pick a fight, success comes down to the thumbsticks (punch and uppercut with the right thumbstick, bob and weave with the left). 2K again resorts to more button mashing.
And that's really the difference between these two titles. Both look good and play fast, but the seamless transition from offense to defense to fighting to goalie in 08 make for a more fluid experience. Use your thumbsticks to naturally control every player and every move and you'll remain engrossed and immersed from the first faceoff.