Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NHL 08 Review

The immensely COHF anticipated video game of the year came out today. Now that I have come across the brand new Sony Playstation 3 technology, All I could think about was getting to experience the next generation of hockey video gaming. The desired potential experience would be the closest thing to actually seeing a game live. As Electronic Arts (EA) being the #1 selling sports video game franchise, added with the extra time to develop, there was no possible way that EA Sports was going to f--k up this game.

First, I had tried asking around to my favorite computer game stores about the NHL 08 launch, they laughed in my face when I asked if there was going to be a midnight release just like the new football games. So, I bought it at another store instead. Now that I got my hands on a copy and played it for a while, I will tell you what I know about it before the siren song of digitized hockey near perfection calls me back. When I usually write reviews, I always begin with the positive attributes, but unfortunately I must vent and go straight to the negatives about this game.

They f--ked it up. I couldn't believe it. EA Sports f--ked it up. Maybe if they siphoned off a few brainiacs working on the Madden NFL franchise, then hockey would be more respected in America. The supreme bliss of the loading title screens and unveiling of the new EA-HD games logo with digital E-Staal, was ruined by the disappointment of what promises EA Sports alluded to include with this edition. Gamers, bloggers, and fans saw the cut scenes and screen captures of players gussied up in the controversial RBK Edge jerseys, but those have yet to be discovered. It seems that the game is played using last year's styles instead. Conceivably, the jerseys are unlocked once Reebok provides a code. All others must be downloaded off of the PS3 Internet connection (which I have yet to figure out how that works). Also not imediately playable are the AHL Edge jerseys. Should you chose to play your favorite American Hockey League Team, get used to the thought that exhibition games are in the white or dark practice jersey.

Now on to the most enraging bush league mistake that EA should just hang their collective head in shame. They misspelled Pittsburgh. Game users like me, for now unless there is a download able patch fix coming for this too, are slapped in the face by selecting "Pittsburg" on the screen cycling through the new enhanced create-a-team or player bios (and I will get to that in a little bit). EA really f--ked up. Did they not have any competent beta testers out in Burnaby, B.C.? [Is this some secret dig at my hometown after some embittered fans north of the border got disappointed at Penguins not playing in Hamilton?]

The next negative thing I found was the game play itself. Though the game took a giant leap in closing the gap between their 2K Sports competitors, the desire to create players with even more realistic moves required an entirely new system of movement. Yup, gamers who were used to all of the buttons set up on the last generation, must learn an entirely new way to control via the analog sticks. The left one moves the players and the right corresponds to the players stick. There is a two minute (aprox.) tutorial video as digital E-Staal demonstrates the game.

Still, EA proves that they still can't get it right by completely eliminating the Czech Republic's Tipsport Extraliga teams from the game despite its fresh debut in NHL 07. They still have the Swedes and Fins, but in order to make way for the AHL teams, I suppose the Czech league was sacrificed.

EA dumped the Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson tandem for the Playstation and brought over the standard duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement from the X-Box 360. Why? Clement's broadcasting personality has reached a level with me on par with NCAA's Lee Corso. Nationally, I believe the Thorne-Clement team is branded well, as I imagine Canadians are used to the Neale-Cole HNIC team. No confirmation yet if the in-game Clement continues to show his "man crushes" on the Avalanche and Flyers.

Oh yea... they brought back the FOX "glow puck" for this game. Yes - the glow puck. Even though they don't name it as such. In the game menu it is "shadowing" in light, medium, and heavy degrees.

Okay, I think that covers my negatives. On to the positives.

The players in the game look real, a staple of the EA franchise. Game fans will be blown away at how much growth this game influxed the series with. No more generic cookie cutter players, this time each player is bitmapped out with their respective likenesses. The motion capture (mo-cap) is cutting edge. They move like real human beings. The crowd has become more animated too as the PS3 version uses better mo-caps on the arena fans. No longer are they a flat jpg in a seat perpetually clapping.

Finally, since the tease of the Gretzky hockey game, EA has included fully playable AHL teams with their current rosters. My second trial run game before writing this review was WBS Penguins vs. the Philadelphia Phantoms. They captured the AHL well enough. I love that now I can now prevent an overloading of rosters simply by sending players to their minor league team.

Speaking of rosters, they are incredibly very up to date. They included all of this summers FA period in the current FA rosters. As an admitted hockey fanatic, I love to keep my rosters up to date, but I am glad that I didn't have to spend a lot of time re-working the players. Thank you, EA. At least you got that right.

The create-a-player was upgraded. I love this too. Gamers can now test their new player avatar before it is finalized in a mini-practice going one on one with a goalie in an empty arena. You can choose to suit up your player with all the latest hockey equipment. All of the major brands are in the game. Gamers who are uncomfortable with the blatant advertising that is seeping its way in may be a little warry of this. I don't mind - all for the sake of realism. When building a player as well as a new team, I think EA Sports must have found my review of the other games and taken one of my suggestions. EA now employs a palette to alter uniforms expanding the now limitless potential combinations. I hope they continue to keep this and expand this to the next year's edition.

Overall, it was well worth the wait. I envision myself now neglecting all of the other game titles in my collection to focus on this NHL 08. Matter of fact... I think I can get a few more games in before I go to bed.

3.75 hockey pucks out of 5.
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