For its generation, the 16-bit era spawned stunningly accurate replications of hockey in the form of the EA Sports staple NHL franchise. After botched changes, missed opportunities, and some changes for the better, this is finally becoming a contender for the top sport amongst the best the company has to offer in its strong sports line up. NHL 08 is a new standard.
Every aspect of play has been upgraded, and not a single alteration fails. NHL 08 is running flawlessly at 60 fps, creating the smooth skating the series needed last year. This year, it feels and looks like hockey. At its peak, combined with a beautiful graphics engine that allows you to see every stitch on the jerseys, this is indistinguishable from an actual broadcast.
Customization has been added to supreme effect, allowing entire teams to be molded from scratch. The menu features countless options, and the only area skimped on is logos. Goalies can customize the design of their helmets or pick from pre-determined ones, though this is only the surface of the feature. Every pad can be individually created by the user, and brands are licensed.
An in-depth franchise mode now features the full AHL minor leagues with the option to play those games in addition to the NHL team you’re building. In other words, there’s practically a full AHL franchise mode too since you can simulate the NHL side if you wish. Trading, drafting, setting lines, practicing, and choosing prices for admission make this a stat freaks dream title.
On ice benefits from the creation zone as well as a simple to use play editor infinitely expands the amount of strategy. Since the selection of pre-designed plays is sadly limited, you’ll need to find your own style of offense to stay competitive. The AI aggressively follows your play, and by the third period if you’re still running the same set ups, you’ll be shut down every time down the ice.
What NHL 08 does beautifully, and certainly more so than any other current sports game on the market, is capture the flow of the sport it’s replicating. It’s a perfect balance of high-speed breakaways and setting up an offense and going to work from the post and into the slot. AI players do an awe-inspiring job of pushing back on defense and protecting goal.