Blatant violence in video games is bad, or so the media would have us believe. If the censors had their way, the only sorts of games we would be allowed to play would be based around trying to keep a library quiet or perhaps competitive shoe tying. Subtlety is the key to sneaking violence under the censorship radar. The easiest way to do this is to disguise violence as sport. What better activity to let all your blood thirsty tendencies out than ice hockey, a game invented by toothless lumberjacks.
Despite the fact that the NHL experienced a complete player lockout last season, hockey lovers need not despair as EA Sports have released NHL 06, thus giving us the opportunity to play out the missing season for ourselves.
It is the general consensus of the gaming world that NHL 05 was a bit of a disappointment. What EA Sports have done is taken NHL 05 given it a Rikki Lake style makeover correcting all things that made it sub-standard and the result is NHL 06. What this means is that we have a very satisfying gaming experience without any ground breaking advancements to wow the awaiting public.
They gameplay in 06 is pretty much identical to 05. The ‘two button shooting’ that was introduced in 05 makes a comeback in this year's addition as does the ‘one-step wraparound shot’. One development that they have made is the use of the analog sticks. The left analog stick is in charge of “deking”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these baffling hockey terms to deke means to fake out. Once you’ve mastered the art of deking you should have no problem manoeuvring the puck around the opposition’s offish defence.
The right analog stick is for bamboozling the goalie with a rather spectacular goal attempt. When executed, your player will perform some flashy Michael Jackson style moves such as a 360 spin or a between the legs shot in the hopes of faking out your opponents goalie and scoring big. These right-analog shots can only be performed by certain members of your team creatively known as “super star” players, easily distinguished by the large star that appears around their feet when they’re selected. Not too big on subtlety are our hockey players. This all makes for a relatively fast paced match which takes away from the reality of the game. People as large as buses with blades strapped to their feet just don’t move as spryly on the ice as they do in this game.
Dynasty mode is back in this installment going under the same rebuffing that the gameplay has during the transition between NHL 05 and NHL 06. Dynasty mode gives you full managerial control over your team franchise. You become responsible for everything from player trading to the price of half-time hotdogs. Emails are frequently sent to you and are essential in letting you know what your team should be up to. These emails need to be checked often as you could miss out on some vital piece of information that might make your team or break them like so many goalies teeth.
Graphically NHL 06 is first-rate. This is most evident in the action replays where you can see each player’s facial expressions and you can visually differentiate between the bulkier defenders and the slightly less bulky scorers. The ice is beautifully rendered and as the match progresses, the ice gets more and more munted till it looks like someone’s attacked it with a rather blunt axe.
Sound-wise, the in-game FX are spot on, from the scraping of the skates to the crack of skulls on Perspex. However, like all EA games of late, when in the menu selection you have to tangle with the dreaded “EA Trax”. A very short list of rock songs that if left playing for too long might result in you burying the disc in your garden.
An interesting addition to the PS2 edition of this game is the inclusion of NHL 94. While this would be highly entertaining to those of us who remember this vintage gem, for the rest of the population it is enjoyable for about five seconds at which point you realise you’re playing an obsolete snooze fest that was popular at the same time as Ace of Base.
A sport where bashing people into walls is not only allowed but also encouraged has got to be a lot of fun and NHL 06 certainly shoots to win. Once you get the hang of the rules and controls the game becomes extremely enjoyable and competitive. Nevertheless you do leave the game with a feeling that they could have done more. There are other hockey games out there, this one’s good but it’s not the best.