Body-check your way to the Stanley cup
I’m no sports fan really, apart from enjoying the odd NFL game or a bit of motor sport, and I’m certainly no hockey fan, but the last game to arrive on my doorstep was 2K sports’ NHL 2K9 so I had no choice but to give it a shot…
Now not being a hockey fan is one thing, but more to the point I’m completely clueless about the sport, which makes understanding the rules somewhat hard. I know that the game is split into 3 periods and that it takes place on ice, and I also know there’s usually some fighting involved, but past that I’m pretty much in the dark. So the thought of having to write this review is rather daunting.
So I popped the disk in my 360 and went straight into a quick match (the default option) and promptly won 5-1, and even better, I had fun doing it. Being a complete newbie to hockey games, I opted for the basic controls which I found easy enough to get to grips with, but there are also two other control sets you can use: Pro Stick Evolution which uses the right stick for stick control, and Hybrid which lets you use a combination of the basic button presses or the right stick for your shots. Using the hybrid system actually turned out to be a better option though as it gives you more flexibility depending on what type of move you want to make. It’s also great fun using the right stick to deke (I think that’s the right terminology? :)) your opponent. Whatever your preference, the controls will come quickly to you which is always a good thing.
There are a number of modes to play in NHL 2K9: Quick Game (the default presented when you load the game), Franchise, Season, Pond Hockey, Mini-rink, Shootout, and Practice mode. Franchise and Season modes are the bulk of the game offering you the chance to take control of all aspects of your chosen team. Pond Hockey and Mini-rink are the “fun” modes included for when you want a bit of change, although pond hockey just changes the scenery. Mini-rink is a 3v3 match on a smaller rink which changes the dynamics and makes for a fun diversion. Another mini-game you’re able to play between periods is “Drive the Zamboni” in which you, well, drive the zamboni. The challenge is to clear the ice within the time limit, which is both fun and frustrating, but unlikely to hold your attention after you’ve picked up the achievement points for getting 100% cleared. In addition to these modes,
a nice little touch is the players growing beards during the playoffs
there is of course online play. There is a nifty lobby system where you can practice shootouts while you wait for more players to join. Once the game is underway it is much more interesting having different people taking different positions on the field rather than the “I control one team and you control the other” that I’m used to in this type of game.
NHL 2K9 is very nicely presented overall. From afar everything looks pretty fantastic with reflections on the ice and well-modelled players, although getting up-close the player’s faces aren’t quite so well detailed. The movement of the players on the ice is also very well done, so kudos the motion capture team, and a nice little touch is the players growing beards during the playoffs (one of my hockey-loving friends explained this tradition to me last month when I commented on the beard he was growing for “movember”, but that’s another story…). Another plus is how smoothly the game runs, I’ve not noticed any slowdowns at all which is crucial in a fast paced sports game like this. In terms of audio, NHL 2K9 is one of the few sports games I’ve ever played where I have not got bored with the commentary, and the lines delivered always fit with the action. There’s also quite a satisfying thwack when the puck hits the plexiglass walls, and heavy crunches when you body-check another player. The soundtrack is not exactly to my tastes however (a bit too metal for me), although I did recognise a few tracks in there that I liked.
Overall I’m impressed by NHL 2K9. Considering I don’t really play sports games it has done well to keep me playing more than a week (although a fair bit of that time has been on the zamboni trying to get that damned achievement…!). It looks good, it sounds good and it has a fair bit of depth. The online multiplayer adds a bit more longevity for once you’re bored of trying to win the Stanley cup, and generally there are enough features in there to make this a game well worth considering. I’ve had great fun playing it, and if I can be made to enjoy a sports game with rules I don’t understand, then I’m sure others can too.
The Bad: AI can be iffy, Soundtrack isn’t great.