previews\ Aug 12, 2007 at 8:00 pm

NHL 08 - PS3 - Preview

Next-gen graphics are hitting the rink with EA Sports NHL ’08, and – quite frankly – the game looks amazing. But if you are someone that has not played an NHL game in a while, be prepared for a sharp learning curve.

EA Sports is packing in the features for the next iteration of the NHL franchise and this is a game that plays smoothly and looks good doing it.

The skill stick is returning – that’s the start of a new movement system. For those that may not know, the skill stick – on the PlayStation 3 system, the system the preview code was sent for – employs both the left and right thumbsticks, using the left to move the player and the right to control the hockey stick. The combination is a sweet element that gives the player the ability to pull off some nice handling moves. But adding to that is the new deke system, which allows players to push the puck in one direction and go in another. For example, if you wanted to go around a would-be defender, you might slide the puck through on the defender’s right, but physically go around the outside left of the defender to pick up the puck on the other side. You can’t do that on every play, but pull it off in the right circumstance and you may find yourself eluding the defense and breaking through on the keeper.  

Another new feature is the create-a-team function. You can create a skater or goalie (and use the high-def palette of options to customize the look of the player) but now you can create a team, replace an existing NHL team with your created squad and even pull in players from other rosters to skate for you. Yes, there is a salary cap, but you can turn that off in the options and end up with a high-powered team right out of the gates. The mascot names, logos and city names can be a little restricted, but you can take your created team into the dynasty mode and move through an NHL season toward the playoffs and Stanley Cup.

As for gameplay options, you won’t find that you can tweak the other team into being a total pushover, but you can do a fair amount of damage in the options menu. You will get messages throughout the course of the season – e-mails from your owners (you take on the role of general manager) or league trade announcements – that will give your dynasty ambitions some structure.

And if the pacing of the game is too much for you, you can turn on Goalie Mode, which has you controlling only the goalkeeper. Much of the latter is done with the thumbsticks, while L1 and R1 will have you diving (flat-out) on the ice. It is truly a remarkable sensation when you see the opposition working the puck in the corner, the defense playing off (you can call plays on the fly and if fast enough, counter what the opposition is doing) and then see a skater setting up on the back post. Should you play the front half of the net to stop an angled shot, or drop back a step or two, anticipating the pass for the shot into the back third of the net? Or the first time that an opposing player cranks up a slapshot from point-lank range and you anticipate the location correctly and block it (while play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne jubilantly trumpets the save), you will feel a complete rush of adrenaline. That is a great sensation induced by a game that does a terrific job or translating the experience.

As far as the game’s sound is concerned, NHL ’08 does a terrific job, from the crowd sounds to the stellar commentary. EA Trax is around, pumping out tunes that are average, but that’s not the focus. The game puts the audio focus squarely on the game itself and that is a very good thing.

NHL 08 PlayStation 3 screenshots

Graphically, this is a game that is very good. There was a glitch or two, but this was preview code so that is expected. The animations were great and the fluidness of the game is captured very well.

In addition to having the NHL and its players all available, NHL ’08 also has all 29 AHL teams as well as some national teams. There will be online custom leagues and 3-versus-3 online play available.

Fast, fun and full of NHL flavor, EA Sports’ title is geared to ship September 11. The NHL is hitting next-gen gaming and doing it with style.

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