Reviewed: October 14, 2005
Released: September 6, 2005
Ya know what? I couldnít care less if hockey was cancelled last year. Sure I know who Brett Hull is, Wayne Gretzky and the other classic stars, and sure, I have been to a semi-pro Hockey game or two, but I sure donít bleed antifreeze if you catch my drift. Still, there is no denying the ultimate simplicity and downright good time one has with a Hockey videogame.
I recall many a fond memory of body checking my pixilated opponent (usually my cousin) in NHL í94 (which is included here, redone), or Mutant League Hockey. Speaking of those zany mutants, where have they run to? Itís easy money EA, easy moneyÖhere, sign this petition if you want to see it return http://www.petitiononline.com/MLF/.
So for the rest of you, I am sure you are rejoicing about the return of hockey, and NHL 06 should make you even happier after you finish this review.
You can jump right away into an exhibition game, but most players are eager to know about the ever-gimmicky Dynasty Mode. You get to manage every detail, much like Madden; tickets, concessions, seating, player management, accounting, marketing, scouting and so on. Equally cool is the ability to hop into a simulated game to turn things around, for those who donít really want to give up total control, yet are short on time. Plus you get a reward if you save the day-cool.
The owner hands down objectives as well, like win x amount of games, reach the playoffs, win the cup and so on. You can add your own touch with the ďCreation ZoneĒ, adding very specific features to your player character, or even making a fresh new team. The latter seemed a bit limited in the choices however, but hey, if you want to truly be original, hereís your chance.
The action is intense and fast paced in NHL 06, just perfect for the epitome of ice hockey. There are a host of sliders to adjust the gameplay as well, something I just LOVE, and is the rage in sports games these days. The physics are pretty neat as well, pucks will fly erratically all over, zip at sub-sonic speeds after a hearty slap shot, and players will make some devastating hits as well.
You have to be careful not to get too hit happy though, not only will it cost you some penalty time on the more savage results, but the computer A.I. is pretty sharp. They work as a team (wow, really?) and try and move the puck via pass, rather than sheer athletic ability, setting up good angles for assists. They also will play you tough on D, coming at you in pairs, and while they may not lay you out, they will steal the puck often enough to frustrate. Which ainít so bad, when you can get back at them with a little love tap or two.
The controls are fairly responsive, and easy enough to master in a few hours. You have a wide variety of moves at your disposable, like dekes, passes, pokes, sprints and so forth. You have even more control when going in for a score, with the right analog stick, often resulting in overly long animations that look a bit awkward.
You will use most of your deke arsenal with the left analog stick, in an attempt to bust an opponentís ankle with your fancy moves. This comes in a lot more handy because itís more natural, and faster than the aforementioned special move right stick. On top of all this, star players have special abilities above and beyond the mere mortals who play with them, and can score in a pinch. You can even place your shots with a new goal targeting system, so no more praying for your puck to land inside a sweet spot.
Online modes are support here as well. You need an EA account, and I have heard it there are some general headaches in getting connected. Of course, if your PC savvy, you shouldnít be too disparaged, but I know a lot of gamers are still transitioning to the online world slower than others. Like most EA games, you can download updated rosters and other info as well.
As the PS2 reaches itís peak, their stable of sports games really have been mired in the same level of graphics the past 2-3 years. Itís no different here, sadly. Still, I really canít complain too much. The player models are pretty damn good, and animated really nicely as well. You can tell who eats their Wheaties too, from the lithe scorers, to the bulky defensemen, proportions are true to form.
Little details like decals, laces, and several facial looks, really bring authenticity to the game. The goalie is especially adept at making you hit the replay button again and again-they make some really awesome saves. And of course a plethora of camera options are present, so itís really up to you to find your right one. I personally went with the classic view, I felt it gave the best angles and wasnít too close I would miss stuff on the periphery. Getting blindsided by a 250lb linesman is never a good thing, be it virtual, or not.
The rink entrances are pretty fun too, especially if you know who the players areÖ Along the same lines, the cut scenes when players celebrate a goal or whatnot are really top notch, and integrate well with the flow of the match. There were a few graphical errors though, from the occasional player getting stuck, or some drops in frames during hectic exchanges. Thankfully, it doesnít distract that much, or happen very often either.
Each arena is also remade here with painstaking detail. EA even included real, fleshed out crowds, not unlike 2K sportís method. Of course, I really donít pay attention much to the fans as it is, but its nice not to stare into a pixilated blob all the time.
A hockey game without a robust sound effects list, isnít a very good one. Good thing the guys at EA have just a few titles under their belt to hone the audio. Massive thuds, stick thwacks and whistles galore (*shrug Iím a dirty player), assault your senses. The commentary of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson is pretty decent too, but seems a bit calm for hockey. I mean, glass will shatter, as well as bones, and yet these two guys sound like they are sipping Mai Tais at a country club. But hey, at least they are accurate.
Rounding out the sound, are a host of quality tunes, from such artists as PennyWise, Ok Go, Charge and others. The latter do a good job of keeping things peppy, while not annoying. The general arena ambience is rocking, from foghorns, raging fans and the occasional tunes over the loudspeaker.
Being a sports title, NHL 06 naturally has oodles of replay value in each match. Tack on the deep dynasty mode, and you have monthís worth of play here. Heck, if you just want updated rosters, you can either create the players, or download them via the online function, and keep the same game for a while.
But one of the coolest features is the inclusion of the classic NHL 94, which still plays as great as ever. Unfortunately, none of the players are named here, much like other games that have trouble with licensing retired players (historic teams in NFL for example). This is too bad, but the nostalgia makes up for it in the end.
Electronic Arts continues to pump out the solid games, and NHL 06 is no different. With slick graphics, an expansive Dynasty mode and solid gameplay, this one is sure to please you hockey fans out there. However, Iím still content in reminiscing about the plethora of body parts sliding across the ice, after wicked chainsaw hits, 2x4 slams, and bone crushing checks, in Mutant League Hockey.
Sign it for the kidsÖthe kids. http://www.petitiononline.com/MLF/