Hockey on the 360 is all the rage these days, but 2K Sports and EA didn't forget about the current-gen titles. That is to say they published them. The PS2 hockey title this season is, for the most part, nearly identical to last season's game. While the publishers devote resources to the next-gen, we are happy at least to see a nice price drop as these once premiere sports titles are now budget games on the Xbox and PS2.
NHL 2K7 is lot like 2K6, but still jam-packed with hockey. Visual Concepts' game stands out for a wide variety reasons, most notable of them a wide variety of fun game modes and great online options. But other than a new camera angle and some tweaks to Franchise mode, like three-level rivalries and team chemistry, 2K7 is 2K6 plus a roster update.
Anyone that's played past titles will have no problem picking up the controller and feeling right at home. Perhaps you'll feel a bit too familiar as only the camera angle has really changed on the ice. The mechanics are all the same from last year, including shooting, checking and passing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however. We were just hoping for a something new from 2K Sports in recent seasons.
The one-timer is still a major source of scoring for the 2K franchise, which is not always a good thing. One-timers are not a major source of scoring in the NHL, not compared to a snappy wrist shot in the slot or a break-away. In 2K7, it's easy to wait for a teammate while leading a breakaway, let loose a centering pass and hit a one-timer to the near post. It's been a problem in the franchise for years, and it remains a minor nuisance today. There is a one-timer difficulty option that can be bumped up -- there are options and sliders for just about everything in 2K7 -- but we'd like to see it tweaked even higher.
Shot aiming is set at auto by default, and seasoned 2K gamers know already to immediately toggle it to manual. Then, in the slot, you have a nice chance at locating a wrist shot in the desired corner of the goal. The shot aiming is satisfactory, but nowhere near as fun as NHL 07's skill stick or even the current-gen version of NHL 07 and the bulls eye aiming system.
Defensively, the new addition is Pressure Control, which puts three layers of defensive pressure on opposing players. By holding down L2 and aiming at, say, Sydney Crosby, you ask a defender to shadow the young star. Click L2 twice and the defender will get rough with Crosby, risking a penalty in exchange for even more pressure. Three clicks call for a double team, useful in crunch time when teams look to their star players.
Checking is simply too easy on the default difficulty levels, and experienced gamers will want to bump up the challenge to Hall of Fame. If not, the CPU makes a minimal effort to dodge hulking defenders that are gearing up for a board-shaking collision. Still, defense is where 2K7 shines, with 360 degrees of poke check controlled with the right analog stick and some solid CPU AI on both sides of the puck. Defenders will lie out on the ice to deflect slap shots and they'll continually clog the slot. On higher difficulty levels, you'll have to work to score goals. On easy levels, you'll look up in the third period and find yourself up 6-0.
Visually, 2K7 is a good looking PS2 sports title. The animations and frame rate remain smooth, despite the new dynamic camera which works the console a bit harder than a simple overhead camera. The new camera is lower to the ice and pulled back a bit, so you get a great view of the action without feeling as if you are too far away. You can see your whole team on the break and the camera will even drop behind the goalie for one-on-one encounters. An excellent touch and a real improvement over the traditional top-down angle.
Online play is better than ever, with eight-player franchises and 30-team leagues and stat tracking. 2K Sports continues to raise the bar for online sports gaming and EA Sports needs to put in some work if it wants to catch up.
The remaining game modes comprise a long list: pond hockey, the Skybox, tournament, party mode with 15 mini-games, mini-rink and old-school season mode. Skybox is your virtual trophy room where you use points from gameplay to purchase classic teams and games like air hockey. The Franchise mode is excellent this time around, featuring a team chemistry system and dynamic rivals. Each team has a default set of historical rivals, but if a team boots you from the playoffs or signs one of your star players an instant rivalry forms. There are three levels of rivalry, and beating up on your main rival is worth more to your team's morale then knocking off a third-tier rival.
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