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NHL 2k9 demo: First Impressions (xbox 360)

by: Ben Berry -
More On: Blog
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but they never said anything about games. Which is good because with Rick Nash on the cover of NHL 2K9, I’m buying some version of it no matter what. But I digress, as this is supposed to be about my impressions of the game, not my man crush of the player who could be the MVP of the 08-09 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The intro: The animation sequences and voiceover work are very nice, as are the video segments overlaid onto the ice during the pre-game.

Game play Graphics/Animations: The players almost have a bit of a cell-shaded quality to them, as if Visual Concepts (the games developer) said “let’s remind everyone this is a video game and not a hockey simulation”. I’m not sure if I like the way they’re drawn or not yet. The skating, shooting, stick-blocking, and goalie animations are particularly nice, but the contact animations (anytime a player hits the boards or another player) seem lacking. Maybe they weren’t done when they finished coding the demo, but right now it looks every time players make contact that they’re both going to apologize and say they didn’t see each other coming, because that’s how it looks. Also, you can’t really tell the difference between the relative sizes of players. Granter, neither Pittsburgh nor Detroit (the only two teams in the demo) are what you would call bigger teams, so maybe when Boston’s Zdeno Chara is on screen there will be a noticeable difference.

Controls: With the obvious success of EA’s skill stick addition to the NHL 200X franchise, it was only a matter of time before 2k got on board. Unfortunately, 2k has chosen the name “Pro Stick Evolution” for the new control setup that uses the left analog to control player movement, and the right analog to control the stick. I know they had to avoid copyrights, but that’s not the world’s best name. The nice thing about it is that it works really well, so I can live with the name. Passing, shooting, blocking, dekeing, and the rest of the standard hockey game moves work as expected on either the new or original controls. The hybrid control set wasn’t to my liking, but some may find it helpful in transitioning from the old to the new control systems.

AI: I know this is just a demo, but I’m a bit concerned about the defensive AI in this game. I should not be able to skate right up the middle into the high slot and shoot on the goalie without one or both defenders moving in to take me out. Maybe they have the defense dumbed down so players can learn how to shoot more easily, but from what I’ve seen so far, the games idea of defense is to have every player on the ice cram themselves into the very front of the goal crease and try to get the puck. I’ll be hoping this is just a basic subset of the AI that was still being completed. It’s a short demo, so it’s hard to see how much effect things like players getting tired, injuries, and penalties will have on the gaming experience.

Fun factor: The demo has a pretty short pickup time, and with the basic control set, I was able to start winning regularly against the AI opponent after the 3rd game. Additionally there is a special move modifier button that advanced players will want to try out.

Conclusion: The game looks promising, but I’ll want to take the full version for a spin on my Xbox 360 before I can give a definitive answer to the age old question: EA or 2k? One thing’s for sure; I’m going to give the Wii version of NHL 2k9 a try before I make my final decision. Hockey sticks are maybe the second best usage for the Wii Remote (behind lightsabres, and tied with golf clubs), and everyone I know who plays the NHL franchises has been waiting anxiously for a Wii version. Hopefully, NHL 2k9 will live up to its early promise.