In terms of the audio, the game is like that 3rd line center that can play some top line spot duty; dependable, but not flashy enough to warrant a lot of attention. While this may sound like a put down, it’s not. My favorite players are usually the 3rd line guys who can do it all, but nothing particularly well. The in-game commentators are the TV play-by-play crew of the San Jose Sharks. While they have decent voices and are not particularly annoying, the recorded calls are far too repetitive. This is nothing new to sports video games, but is an area the 2K series can improve (with all the others). The games soundtrack features a mostly generic set of modern and alt rock entries typical of most modern sports stadiums. Again, not bad, but nothing to write home about and could have been easily improved upon in terms of authenticity with the addition of a Canadian band or two and some hockey related songs.
The general game play was overall a very positive experience. Using the Pro Stick Evolution control set, it wasn’t very long before I was able to set up plays and start getting quality scoring chances. No AI is perfect, and it wasn’t too long before I found that any number of dekes could be used to freeze both defensemen in their lanes leaving the slot (the area of the ice in front of the goalie) wide open. This is the NHL equivalent of footballs Red Zone, and is the most heavily defended part of the ice. This is a serious weakness that needs correcting in next year’s edition. Otherwise the AI is relatively sound.
Goalie control for shootouts is one area of game play that provides a nice difference from its rival. During the shootout the player is forced to play the part of the goalie, defending the net from the onslaught of a single attacker in a best of 3 scenario. The game displays a crosshair identifying the shooters targeted area, and the goalie has to move to stay square to the skater while ready to make one of several possible stops.
Fighting is another area where NHL 2k9 innovates, bringing the important aspect of balancing on skates while trying to clobber your opponent. Much of NHL fights end with one combatant grabbing the other and throwing him to the ice. The player with the better balance usually wins this part of the fight. During fights, players not only have to watch their guard and what kind of punch they want to throw, but also which way their player is leaning. Leaning too far to one side opens you up to an onslaught from your opponent and diminishes your ability to retaliate. It’s not as exacting as it could be, but it’s still the most advanced fighting system in an NHL title to date.
A couple of nice features that enhance the game play involve time. The first is a time passer. While the game loads the arena environment and prepares for a game, the player gets to answer a couple of trivia questions. If playing head to head, you can play against your opponent. No score is kept, but they do have some nice questions with a decent level of difficulty. The other is a time waster. Between periods, players can choose to participate in a Zamboni race. The goal of this mini-game is to clean more of the ice than your opponent. It’s good for a laugh once or twice, but will definitely appeal to younger fans who may enjoy this as much as the main game.
This game is very much like so many talented rookies in the NHL. It shows flashes of promise and some exceptional areas, but also some pretty big holes to its game. Rebuilding the character modeling from the ground up, shoring up the AI, and getting rid of the red line in the pond hockey mode would go a long way in making this rookie into an All-Star.
More On:NHL 2K9
Companies: 2K Sports
NHL 2K9 is a significant upgrade from the 2K8 offering, but the complete rewrite has some noticeable flaws that demand attention in the 2K10 edition. That said, if those flaws are addressed, this title has a lot of positive things going for it, and can be a serious challenger to EA Sports recent domination of the NHL franchise.
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