NHL 08 - PS2 - Preview
Sailing past the opposing defenseman, you weave in and out of every obstacle. A plan to steal your puck is foiled by a last-second pass that glides to a teammate – a master shooter who hits the puck with every bit of energy in his body. The puck is struck, gains a foot of air, flies three yards to the net and is stopped! – by the goalpost. Unfazed by the mishap, you dive in, grab the puck and immediately pass to the player closest to the goal, who whips it just over the goaltender’s left shoulder. Lights flash, the crowd cheers, and you are a hero – for the next 10 seconds. Lose control after the next face-off and the cheers turn to, “No! Get that puck away from them!”
NHL 08, the annual installment in EA’s long-running hockey series, is living a new life on the next generation. Despite the shift, PlayStation 2 updates are still being made with almost as many new features as you’ll find on PS3 or Xbox 360. The most notable features include: an improved Skill Stick, new Dynasty Mode content, a new Playoff mode, European Elite Leagues, and exclusive AHL team integration (NHL 08 will contain 29 AHL teams).
On the Skill Stick front, players can look forward to a control scheme that’s accurate and realistic. You can’t score simply by flicking the right stick. Just as you have to wind the stick (by pulling it back toward yourself) in the Tiger Woods games, NHL 08 requires you to wind up before a slapshot. Weaker shots – executed by pushing the stick in any direction (no winding required) – aren’t much easier to pull off. The player’s position in relation to the net is as important as the direction you push the analog stick. Wherever you are, the stick must be pushed in the direction of the net. It’s an intuitive gameplay mechanic that greatly improves on the old press-a-button formula, but you aren’t likely to grasp it on the first try, unless you’re a master of NHL 07 (the first version to introduce the Skill Stick).
Beyond the Skill Stick, players engaging in a quick game won’t notice too many differences between the 07 and 08 editions. The other control aspects are about the same as last year’s game, as are the animations and player/arena details. Go a little deeper and you’ll find that there are different strength ratings for each team in NHL 08’s revised Dynasty Mode. The Detroit Red Wings start off with these five strengths: Legal (one star), NHL Pressure (two stars), PR (two stars), Assistant Coaches (two stars) and Teamwork (one star). Comparatively, the Dallas Stars have six strengths with fewer stars.
I began with the Vancouver Canucks, whose player salaries exceeded the $50 million salary cap. The first game could not be played until the salaries dropped, which led to the removal of unnecessary players, who have since become free agents. Contract renegotiations are sometimes available, but you’re not likely to get someone to take a cut just because you have a cap to abide by. Unless, of course, we lose another hockey season.
Hitting the rink this September, NHL 08 builds on the last game's success a few tweaks and a low price point. It might not be able to compete with its next-gen brethren but could prove to be a worthy successor on the previous generation.
Look for our full review upon the game's release.