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Xbox 360 Review: NHL 2K6

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Unlike another companies sports titles on the Xbox 360, 2K Sports has done things right. There’s not a single feature missing from this upgraded edition of NHL 2K6, and as an already beautiful game of hockey, there’s little else they could expect. You’ll be getting the same game you would on the Xbox; everything simply looks a touch better.

There’s hardly anything to complain about in this hockey sim, and there hasn’t been for a few years. The engine is easily the most realistic and natural feeling of the current string of NHL titles. The feeling of gliding across the ice is unmatched, and the limited impact of basic hits makes the big ones actually hurt. Coaching players you’re not in control of with the d-pad is great, and the AI allows for plays to be set up in your zone properly.

If you’re desperate for something new though, you won’t find much. The biggest change is “crease control,” finally offering players the opportunity to handle their own goalie. It’s sad to think that Blades of Steel on the NES was the last one to offer this feature and make it work 17 years ago. In NHL 2K6, with a quick press of the right analog stick, you’ll enter into a view behind the net. There you’ll need to keep your vision on the puck handler. When shot, move the analog stick to the puck and make the save.

It’s an addition that offers control in the single player game. The switch in cameras is not jarring, and the AI that takes over is intelligent enough not to block your view. In multi-player, it’s a feature you’ll want turned off. Here the problems are obvious, and the stuttering style of play that is causes isn’t worth the extra effort. The opposite player is blinded by meters and a vision cone (right out of Madden NFL 06).

That may be a disappointment, but 2K has added enough multi-player modes to take care of that. The franchise mode is accessible to four players, and its in-depth play is a necessity for die-hard fans. The team chemistry feature (keep players motivated and satisfied when they have concerns) has been lifted from NBA 2K5 and fits right in. You’ll also be hiring coaches and staff that can make a critical contribution. Party mode offers a unique set of mini-games, borrowed from last year’s title. Mini-rink hockey is arguably the most enjoyable, a two-on-two speed fest with plenty of goals and countless brutal collisions.

A big step has been taken in this franchise’s presentation. A lot has been borrowed from the eliminated NFL 2K series, including fans walking through the concession area, finding seats, and celebrating. It’s a stretch at times (who takes a sign to a game that says “visit NHL.com?”), but adds to the already strong feeling of being in the stadium.

The largest graphical upgrade has been applied to the ice since the player models were already flawless (you’ll notice the jersey’s look sharper). The reflections, for the first time, make each stadium unique. When you can see the Red Wing’s banners on the ice, you know that you’re in Joe Luis Arena. It’s a subtle touch that goes a long way to appeasing NHL fans. It’s not just a bunch of seats anymore.

The 5.1 audio is put to outstanding use as well. All audio from the PA system comes from the rear speakers. This prevents the commentary interfering, and the mix is natural. Bob Cole and Harry Neale call the game, though they fall behind which has more to do with the pace of the game than the coding.

When it comes time to rationalize things though, this is the same game as on the current Xbox. The extra $30 for shinier ice, smarter AI, and tweaked goal keeping probably isn’t worth it for most NHL fans. Hockey was almost certainly the best represented of the four major sports in video games as far as realism is concerned, and this non-substantial upgrade seems unnecessary. NHL 2K6 is a judgment call on a purchase even though this is the best hockey video game to date.

NHL 2K6 is a rated E 10 (10 years+) by the ESRB for violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox, PS2.

(**** out of *****)

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.