NHL 08: Hands On
A common complaint with the titles that has occurred recently in sports video games is that the lack of competition produces lesser quality games. The same can’t be said of Electronic Arts’ NHL 08. I should start off by saying that I’m not the biggest hockey fan. Like most casual gamers, I focus on the little guy and simply try to get the puck where it needs to go for me to advance. I am void of the defensive plays and the offensive procedures. EA's NHL 08, however, is teaching me the ins and outs of hockey. As someone who has played hockey games the same way every time, I am finally forced to learn something and use my brain in a hockey game. I am naturally made to want to learn this game, and am taught so accordingly.
NHL 08 consists of two major improvements from last year's version: The addition of the one-on-one moves and the impressive AI. EA proved themselves with NHL 07 which, despite stiff competition and coming off of a year lapse, prevailed as the premier hockey game of last year. Why? Because people admired the Skill Stick control from last year, but this one will leave them in awe. The left thumbstick controls your skates; the right your stick. This is the same as last year, only now you can press L1 to engage one-on-one moves. Tap the left thumbstick in the direction you want to send your skater and the right thumbstick to control what you do with the puck. In this way, you have greater control over your moves in order to bring the game home against the defender.
Sometimes, things might not always go as planned, just like real life. You might accidentally go overboard and send the puck flying into the audience. Ouch! It takes practice to figure out how to move your body and puck properly in perfect amalgamation. Just don’t forget, you still have to worry about getting yourself and the puck around the defender. Luckily, the replay system shows the positioning of the sticks. So when you fail miserably, just go back and zoom in on what you did. You can watch how you did the move frame by frame, and maybe not tilt the left stick inwards so much. If you figure out an unbeatable stick move, hit the replay and see how you did it with the weight shift of the character.. Once you have the hang of the new system, you'll likely find reliable moves for specific situations. This is helpful when you find Scott Niedermayer coming close to your step.
The biggest improvement to the game is definitely the AI. Playing NHL 07 and then comparing it to NGL 08 is like comparing the moon and the sun. In NHL 07, the AI played in the fog of the night. They weren't stupid, but it was the same old Neanderthal intelligence. Literally. It was so easy---a cave man could do it (props to Geico). NHL 08 is definitely the most realistic hockey game--ever. Even though I’m not a harcore hockey guy, I know can recognize realistic approach from a fake one.
You can’t perform any “hell mary’s” here. If you charge, the puck carrier will slam you to the ground. On defense, you need to be most careful. Play the passing lanes and check defensively, when you have a real shot at changing a play. If you don’t, you might find you can never reach the other side of the arena!
Offense takes more of a careful approach towards judgment calls. In the past, it was easy to get breakaways and then look for the one time to score. Or (particularly in NHL 07) just keep shooting in hopes that the puck will swoosh behind the goalie. Sorry, but this won’t work here. When these "unfortunate" goals occur, it looks and feels more natural. After all, sometimes the goalie does lose sight of the puck, but it's not because of the AI. It’s simply because the goalie is actually an idiot.
Going right down the center isn’t the best way to score a goal. You need to pass the puck from side to side. Your best bet is to play like ... (continued on next page)
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