It feels like only yesterday that I was playing 2K Hockey on the Dreamcast and reveling in the fact that it was superior to the competition in every facet. Fast-forward seven years and NHL2K has taken a backseat to the competition in terms of realism and authenticity. For the past four months, 2K has run a marketing campaign promoting the slogan, “Bringing the fun back to hockey.” Of course, this begs the question, has 2K acccompished such a feat? Read on to find out.
Naturally, the most important aspect of any sports title is how the game plays in comparison to its real-life counterpart. Unfortunately, those looking for an authentic experience are going to be disappointed here, as NHL 2K9 deviates from form and offers up a noticeably faster paced game of hockey than what you'd usually expect. On top of the slight speed increase, skaters are equipped with a speed burst that takes it a little over the top when comparing it to other hockey titles. This abundance of speed allows for breakaways to spring out far too frequently, which often results in easy goals. While I understand how fun it might be to make the light and horn go blaring, it simply becomes almost too frequent to enjoy. As such, many players may feel like scoring a goal is less of an achievement and more of an expected occurrence.
However, regardless of these issues, the game’s major flaw is the artificial intelligence. Ultimately, the AI within NHL 2K9 is highly inferior compared to past iterations, and as a result was one of the things that left me extremely unsatisfied. Yet, as disappointing as this is, it doesn’t completely deter from the overall experience; essentially, the game is still very enjoyable so long as it’s the type of hockey you’re looking to play. 2K9 is very comparable to GRID from Codemasters. As many of you know, GRID walks the thin line of both a racing simulator and arcade racer, which is exactly the same thing NHL 2K9 is offering gamers. While there are going to be situations where you’re going to have to set up a play in order to score a goal like you should, there's also going to be strings of games where all you need to do is wind up a couple of one-timers while crashing the next which ends up in you destroying the competition. Yes, hockey relies a lot on the philosophy of just getting the puck on the net, but 2K9 seems to have too many occurrences where the puck goes in, as though the goalie AI isn’t fast enough to keep up.
Fortunately 2K Sports still allows you to take part in the standard modes of play such as Franchise, Exhibition, and Online, though this year they’ve also implemented a lot of cool mini-games to change up the pace a tad. Gamers can lace up their skates for some 3-on-3 action on a mini-rink, take it out to the pond for some outdoor competition or drive the Zamboni around in between periods. While none of these will keep your attention for long, they’re a somewhat enjoyable, yet brief distraction all the same.
As for how the game handles, you can expect a much tighter feel than in the past. 2K has thrown out the complex control scheme for three styles of play that will appeal to a larger audience than before. There are basic controls for those who are new to the franchise, Pro Stick Evolution for those who enjoy the same controls as EA’s NHL product and finally a Hybrid mixture of both formats. Regardless of which you choose, 2K has also implemented some neat 1-on-1 deke controls for you to take advantage of. While holding down L1, you can utilize the right analog for your skates and the left analog for your stick. Therefore you can press the two in different directions in order to perform several different maneuvers. Of course, some work better than others, but nothing feels better than showing your friends up on your way to glory. Furthermore, nothing compliments your actions better than Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda, who both do a stellar job announcing the play-by-play action on the ice.
Much like NHL 09, 2K has chosen the online component as its main attraction, and as a result this is where the game truly excels. NHL 2K9 gives players a similar experience to that of Be A Pro mode except theirs is called “Team-Up.” Team-Up allows you to play with 11 other gamers where the goal is to achieve a high grade as a team and of course to rack up as many Ws as possible. Each position will have certain expectations they need to meet in order to attain a high enough grade to be respected. You don’t want to be known as the runt on the rink after all.
This brings me to the final touches and one of the brightest points in any 2K Sports title…the presentation. 2K9’s Franchise mode displays some of the coolest presentation features to ever hit a hockey title. Users can watch their players grow beards throughout the playoffs on their quest for Lord Stanley. Speaking of which, 2K has also allowed for user celebrations with the Stanley Cup. Therefore, you’re going to be able to skate around the rink displaying your achievement for all to see. Finally, your team will take a photo together commemorating the experience.
2K Sports has done a fantastic job delivering a title that both newcomers and vets can come together to enjoy. Despite this, they’ve still set themselves back a tad due to the excess of speed and lacklustre AI system. If the development team can utilize this season as a stepping-stone for the next, we could be looking at a reversal of fortunes in the near future. Until then, stick with NHL 09 if you’re looking for the most realistic experience possible.
-The Final Word-
NHL 2K9 will appeal to longtime fans of the series, though gamers looking for a more realistic experience are likely to jump ship to NHL 09 for this season.