previews\ Aug 27, 2006 at 8:00 pm

NHL 07 - PS2 - Preview

The ridiculous season-long hockey strike left many wondering where the sport would end up. Developers still pushed ahead with their titles, giving gamers hope that the sport would someday continue.


Now that the strike is more than a year behind us, developers can get back into the groove and create some advancements in the genre. NHL 07 isn't going for a one-timer, but instead shoots for a one-two-three punch that'll leave series fans, enthusiasts, and casual players unwaveringly addicted. 




EA hopes to make NHL 07 the most realistic hockey game yet by including player-specific behaviors. This is accomplished via six different player types: playmakers, danglers, snipers, power forwards, offensive defenseman, and defensive defenseman.


You'll notice slight differences between the players early on -- not so much in the way they react to a particular situation (penalties seem to have the same effect on everyone) but in the way they act toward the game itself. Intricate animations and in-depth motion-capturing give the players a massive amount of ways to act and react, both physically and aesthetically.


Team chemistry and owner appeal is the focus of your control as general manager, forcing players to think twice before they make a decision. Is greater trust worth less pay? Is less trust worth more pay? Would you acquire additional bonuses sooner if it meant greater penalties for failure? These are a few of the choices you'll have to make going into the single-player quest, AKA the Dynasty Mode.


The new salary cap has an effect as well, adding another challenge in keeping your team happy. In the real world, the Detroit Red Wings repeated history last year by re-signing Chris Osgood. They've done the same by acquiring Dominic Hasek – the goalie who once retired – for another year. Will you make those same choices? Or do you envision a better game plan for your team? 




NHL 07's best feature is also its most subtle: analog passing. Most sports games offer a simple button setup that makes passing random, or at best, semi-directed. Using what EA calls a "skill stick revolution," NHL 07 lets you pass the puck in any direction you desire. This is done through the right analog stick, and it involves more than pushing it up, down, left or right.


The tricky part is making sure your pass lines up with a teammate. Since passing is no longer automatic, the puck is not influenced when a teammate isn't around. If you slide the puck just behind your skates, your teammate had better be exactly where the puck was passed or else the move will not be completed. Not unlike a mistake made in real hockey, the puck will be lost without a destination, and likely get snatched up by a quick-thinking opponent.


It takes some time to get used to this style of passing, but most players should begin to feel comfortable by their third or fourth game.


Once again EA has come up with a sharp-looking game, offering effects that range from simplistic – scratched ice that leaves permanent marks during the period - to the more complex player interactions that cause a penalty. Players will have to be careful as they pass, steal, and check their opponents. Any wrong move could land you in the penalty box. If you get caught high-sticking, or if an elbow unintentionally plows into another player's face, you'll end up with a five-on-four in the opposing team's favor.


The refs won't care if it's an accident. Instant replays, manual or automatic, let you examine what happened very thoroughly. But you can't get inside the player's head to know what he was really thinking. Just as we can't get into a ref's head to know if he was really going to blow the whistle, thus removing a goal from the game that maybe should have been. 




Slamming into stores this September, NHL 07 should have what it takes to take home the Stanley Cup with gamers this hockey season. The new features and player chemistry elements are icing on the cake now that passing can be done with the right analog stick. Once mastered this feature becomes the most intuitive element seen in a hockey game since the PlayStation 2 was released.


Stay tuned to GameZone as we bring you our full review of NHL 07 in the coming weeks.

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