Ice hockey is absolutely nuts. I think you would have to be mentally retarded to actually want to play this game in real-life. Chasing a potentially deadly hunk of metal around on ice surrounded by glass while other guys charge around on blades smashing the living daylights out of you? Not exactly what I’d call sane. But it sure does make an awesome video game!
Instantly when playing I was reminded of my days playing Speedball by the Bitmap Brothers on my old Amiga 500. NHL 2K8 combines the sheer speed and aggression of ice hockey to create an experience that other sport titles have failed to deliver. To be fair, it has taken 2K Sports a while to get it right. Both NHL 2K6 and last year’s 2K7 were so buggy that it hindered what could be a great ice hockey title. But in this latest installment, just about all of these glitches appear to have been remedied. Goal keepers no longer act like mindless gorillas and the player AI is definitely better tuned and can adapt to your pace of play perfectly.
It’s important to state that you definitely don’t need to have a love of ice hockey to enjoy this game. In fact I’ve never even watched a full game of ice hockey in my life. But if you have a lust for speed, violence and skill then just set the game to arcade mode and you should get some enjoyment out of it. For the more ice hockey-mad punters out there, the game can be set to the more realistic simulation mode where all the penalties are there too.
Being an official product of NHL, the game is packed full of authentic teams and players. You can take part in several different leagues and tournaments and even complete an entire season with the franchise of your choice. All of the American and Canadian NHL teams are present as well as a comprehensive International selection of teams. Probably one of the coolest features is that the database of players goes right back to the 1970s, allowing you to use the classic teams of yester-year.
There are several different control schemes in NHL 2K8 and they are similar to the previous titles. The default controls let you control your player with the left stick, and the right stick is your ProStick, which lets you perform advanced moves by tapping it in various directions. For example, without the puck, the ProStick gives you complete control over your hockey stick to allow you to block shots or to poke the puck away from your opponent. In offense, the ProStick will allow you to pinpoint shots on goal regardless of which direction your skater is facing.
Anyone who has watched some ice hockey matches will know about the fights that occur during play. The weird thing about mid-game fighting is that it’s pretty much encouraged. When two guys start some biffo, the helmets and gloves come off and the crowd cheers as if in some form of gladiator arena. The referees just hover around the outside and make sure no one pulls out a knife. Once a player goes down, the fight ends and the game resumes. It really is totally insane. NHL 2K8 contains all of this madness and when two players get into a tussle you can click a button and start a fight.
This is where the game changes completely and turns into a Mortal Kombat-style affair. You get complete control over the player in the fight, allowing you to move around, throw punches, grab the guy’s shirt and even taunt your opponent. Once a player’s energy bar is depleted they fall to the ground and the fight is over. No fatality combos or a pit of spikes to uppercut your opponent into, sorry. But this isn’t just a random mini-game that the coders put in for fun. The outcome of the fight can change the dynamics of the game. The team that won the fight can quite often be spurred on and uplifted by their team-mates successful brawl. They can posses extra stamina or speed and possibly score a goal shortly after the fight. Unfortunately, the fight mechanisms have been poorly developed, so don’t expect to show off any of your Street Fighter prowess. It usually results in an awkward scrap of button mashing as you both yank on each others’ shirts in what looks more like a gay-lovers dance than a manly duel.
The soundtrack in NHL 2K8 is definitely worth a mention and is a mix of rock, punk, metal and house music. It features the likes of Bloc Party, Quiet Riot, Early Man, Police Club and Priestess. Even Korn makes an appearance, but oddly enough, they have supplied the track Blind which was released back in 1994. The track is definitely well suited to the angsty nature of the game though and should gear anyone up with the “Are You Ready?” intro.
The graphics in 2K8 are brilliant. The lighting effects and detail in the characters’ faces make for a highly realistic spectacle. Watching instant replays is like seeing actual footage of real-life plays on TV. The physics of the ice and puck are also near-perfect, with the character animations looking great even when slowed down in the replays. There are even little minor touches such as the drink bottles left on the goals by the goalies which can get knocked off and sent flying by a stray puck. It all leads to a dynamic environment and helps make the game that little bit closer to the real deal. At any point during the gameplay you can appreciate these by calling up an instant replay complete with angle control, zoom and the ability to save footage to your hard-drive.
Multiplayer wise, you can have up to four players all controlling the one team or any mix between the two teams. 2K8 comes complete with extra game modes including Mini Rink and Pond Hockey, which are both down-sized versions of normal hockey in a smaller ring. These games offer a much faster pace of gameplay and are definitely a lot of fun in multiplayer. Finally, all of these game modes can be played via Xbox Live and 2K8 is packed full of little achievements to be earned through-out. This is definitely a must for any ice hockey fan or anyone who enjoyed Speedball back in the 80’s.