With the NHL playoffs in full swing, I got the itch to play some hockey on my Xbox 360. I fired up NHL 08 and played a few games. I came away from the experience thinking that there was a lot of wasted potential in that game. EA have made great strides in the NHL series, but that is due mainly to how bad the game has sucked over the last few years. All of this progress can be attributed to 2k Sports pushing them with the excellent NHL 2k series.
This year was a bit unusual with NHL 2K8 taking a few steps backward and NHL 08 making some strides. NHL 08 does some great things. The animations are fantastic, the control scheme is intuitive and fun, the graphics are really good and the play by play although a bit repetitive, is top-notch. There is one huge problem though. In the NHL intensity is in the game. It isn't in EA's game, however. It's ridiculously easy to move the puck around and get out of your zone or keep it in the other team's zone for that matter. In real hockey everything is hotly contested ALL the time. It is a rare occasion where you can just waltz out of your own zone willy-nilly.
For instance, in the last game I played I was killing off penalties and each time I was able to win the face off back to my defense and then bring the puck down to my own zone behind my net. I then just proceeded to pass the puck back and forth behind the net as the computer's "fore-checkers" helplessly went back in forth like cats chasing a light on the floor. I could repeat this for every penalty kill. That is just inexcusable. How could something like this get by the QA department? In other cases, I was able to move the puck into the computer's zone and just stand there with it by the boards. My players didn't move nor did the computer players pressure me in any way.
I should explain that I was playing on the Pro difficulty level. Some people might suggest that I should have been playing on Superstar level, but I don't think it is too much to ask that the AI should play like "pros" on the pro level. The other problem is that there is a bug in the game where if you change sliders (a must in this game for realism) and then you change the difficulty level before an exhibition game all of your sliders will be reset. Again, how this got by QA is beyond me. And worse still, it has not been addressed in a patch. These things make an otherwise enjoyable game almost unplayable to me. I am so sick of having to endlessly tweak sports games just to get them to play decently. I am left with the same old thoughts about what could have been.