NHL 08 Xbox 360
Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Sports
Release Date: Out Now
Ice Hockey fans have been spoilt over the last few years with both EA Sports and 2K Sports creating great NHL games. Last year was especially good as both NHL 07 and NHL 2K7 were great games. In our opinion NHL 2K7 was the better game but both titles were must own games for fans of the sport. Now it's time for the 2008 editions of both games and the first one we have in for review is NHL 08 from EA Sports.
NHL 07 introduced us to the Skill Stick which allowed the gamer to use the right analogue stick to simulate a hockey stick. It offered a radically different control scheme but one that allowed for a more natural feel. The Skill Stick was well received by gamers and critics alike and it's no surprise to see it return in NHL 08. The Skill Stick controls have been refined and expanded. They ultimately allow for more control. You can send the puck away from your player and perform off the puck manoeuvres before regaining control of the puck. This is a great method of finding a way through a tight defence. If you're new to the Skill Stick control system you will find it does take a while to master. As with NHL 07 you can revert back to the classic, button-pressing method to perform shots etc. if you really can't get on with the Skill Stick controls.
Our main criticism of NHL 07 was that it was light on content. Thankfully this isn't a complaint we can level at NHL 08. The single-player modes on offer are Play Now (for a one-off exhibition game), Dynasty mode (which is more impressive than in NHL 07), an EA Sports World Tournament mode, a Shootout mode and a Practice mode. You're well catered for in terms of options for online play too. You can take part in ranked and unranked games, enjoy 1 vs. 1 or up to 3 vs. 3 games and also play Shootout games. By far the best addition is the ability to create or join an online league. The leagues can have up to 32 teams and the creator of the league has a fair amount of customisation options available to them.
NHL 08 plays a much more realistic game of ice hockey. The pace of the game has been slowed down a little and the AI is now much more capable than in NHL 07. One of the biggest additions to this year's game is a smarter AI that learns from the way you play. Try using the same strategies over and over again and you'll find your opponents becoming wise to your tactics. This probably seems like it would make the game more difficult to play, and I suppose it does if you're used to employing the same strategies over and over again, but in actual fact it makes for a more realistic experience as you have to have a good deal of variation to your play, just as a team would in real life. The slower, more realistic, pace of the game also allows you to play in a more varied fashion. Past games in the series have often felt like an ice hockey variation of pinball, such has been the pace of the game. NHL 08 does away with this unrealistic pace and this helps to give the game a more natural look and feel.
So what other additions are there in NHL 08? You can now customise team strategies and create your own plays. There are new goal keeper controls that are more satisfactory than before. The American Hockey has been included and you can manage any of the 29 teams in the game's Dynasty mode and attempt to take them all the way to the Calder Cup. The new Practice mode options that have been added really allow you to brush up on your technique outside of a game situation and it's actually a very worthwhile addition.
We had no complaints at all about how good NHL 07 looked and to be honest it's surprising that NHL 08 manages to look slightly better than last year's game. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the fact that the game remains a smooth frame rate throughout. The player models are excellent, as indeed are the arenas that you play in. You can even access the new 2007-08 RBK Edge uniforms by visiting the official NHL 08 website and inserting a code into the game. Whether you like these new uniforms or not, the ability to access them in the game is appreciated and they certainly look impressive.
NHL 08 is OK for deaf gamers. As you might expect, the game commentary isn't subtitled. This is unfortunate but it's not problematic and it certainly doesn't prevent deaf gamers from enjoying the game. Last year we complained that the Skill Stick tutorial wasn't subtitled and sadly we have the same complaint again this year as the tutorial is speech only, meaning that it's pretty much a waste of time for deaf gamers. Elsewhere in the game the important information is in text meaning you'll have no problems enjoying the Dynasty mode and the other modes on offer. Online play does support voice communications which could prove to be a problem for deaf gamers.
At the moment it's difficult to say which NHL game will be our preferred one given that we haven't yet had the chance to play NHL 2K8. What can't be disputed though is that NHL 08 surpasses both NHL 07 and NHL 2K7 in just about every department. In fact it's probably the best NHL game we've seen to date and I can't honestly see how any fan of the sport could fail to be thrilled with the game. In fact, from all of the sports games we've seen this year we would have to say that NHL 08 is currently the most impressive. In short NHL 08 is a must own game for anyone with even the slightest interest in the sport.
NHL 08 manages to surpass both NHL 07 and NHL 2K7 and is without a doubt the best ice hockey game you can currently buy.