It’s safe to say that while we have a strong field hockey presence, ice hockey is about as popular in New Zealand as cricket is in America. The only thing that most people could tell you about ice hockey is that it’s obviously played on ice. They probably couldn’t even tell you how many players are on the field at any one time. And that is exactly the reason why reviewing NHL 2K6 is an exercise in frustration. Ignorance of the sport means that it becomes seemingly impossible to review NHL 2K6 as a video game simulating ice hockey without it becoming a review of the game of ice hockey itself.

NHL 2K6 is not only one of the deepest ice hockey games on the market, but is also one of the deepest sports games period. That means that the interested yet uninitiated would do well to read Wikipedia’s entry before attempting anything more than a quick game. Quick games are accessible enough that fun can be had with simply passing and shooting, but the career mode will no doubt be complicated to all but the most rabid of ice hockey fans. Intimate knowledge of the sport is required for the franchise mode; it’s deep and realistic – one great feature is that older players retire – but it is frustrating to be faced with the offer of trading players without any concept of their worth or importance.

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Outside of management features, the gameplay holds up pretty well. Basic passing and shooting is intuitive and accessible and will provide for an enjoyable experience for novice players. However, ice hockey fans will no doubt demand the same level of depth and control that is offered in other sports games like Pro Evolution Soccer. They’ll be glad to know that NHL 2K6 will allow players to be able to perform all the tricks and moves that would be expected in an ice hockey game. One nice feature is the ability to pass the puck to a specific member of the team, rather than just passing the puck in a general direction and hoping that it connects with the desired player. Another interesting feature is the inclusion of an enforcer. Each team will have one player that is considered to be more bad-ass than the rest. Highlighted by a giant ‘E’, this team member will have the ability to intimidate opposing players. As these players become more and more intimidated, they’re stats will plummet, providing the player with weaknesses to exploit. It’s a unique feature that really helps NHL 2K6 stand out from other sports titles.

Unfortunately, not everything about this game can be considered positive. The overall presentation is lacklustre for an Xbox 360 title, and is simply unforgivable considering that the game retails for an extra $30 than its Xbox and PS2 counterparts. The graphics offer little improvement over the Xbox version, especially on an HDTV, and hardly justify the investment in the console. The menus and general presentation is sloppy and unnecessarily encumbers the game. The commentary is repetitive and lacking, and the music is downright awful. Fortunately, however, the Xbox 360’s custom soundtrack feature allows for seamless integration, meaning the mediocre college rock can be left to the masochistic. There are also only 5 achievements, meaning the usual trickery to extend the gameplay experience is absent. Usually bland presentation could be forgiven in the wake of such excellent gameplay, but considering that the Xbox 360 version of NHL 2K6 offers little over the versions available on its younger sibling and retails for 50% more, it suddenly become a major flaw.

Unless you’re an ice hockey fan or have a strong desire to learn about the sport, it’s difficult to recommend NHL 2K6. Its complex gameplay, demanding franchise mode, poor presentation, and high price tag means that it’s a tough sell to casual fans. It’s even a tough sell to ice hockey fans, since the Xbox and PS2 versions offer practically identical content and a lower price. If you own an Xbox or a PS2, the intelligent decision would be to pick up the title for one of those systems. However, if you are looking for a deep, complex ice hockey title and you’re only in possession of an Xbox 360, then you might want to check out NHL 2K6.

"A complex title that's only for fans of the sport."
- NHL 2K6
Follow Own it? Rating: G   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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