NHL 06 Review





Developer: EA Canada Publisher: EA
Release Date: September 6, 2005 Also On: GCN, PC, PS2, and Xbox

Since 2000, I haven’t been the least bit interested in EA Sports’
hockey franchise. Whether it was sloppy control, the arcade-like
gameplay or the lackluster visuals something about the franchise
turned me off and I jumped ship to the 2k series. As fate has it,
however, I’ve become reacquainted with a friend that started to clean
up his act and is attempting to once again be the person that everyone
used to love. That friend, obviously, is the NHL series. NHL 06 is
easily the best in the series in over a decade and has won back one
estranged fan; almost.

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Hockey may not hold much importance in the lives of everyday
Americans, but NHL video games have always been a big deal in the eyes
of adolescents and adults alike. Over the last few years though, EA’s
NHL series has lost its touch and, in my opinion, badly needed a spark
to set the series in the right direction. Luckily, since the NHL
lockout EA obviously went back and reworked one of it’s most beloved
sports franchises.

Many things in EA’s NHL series have changed over the last few
years. Gone are the years of over-the-top arcade style gameplay and
more simulation-heavy elements have been ushered in. Some of the old
elements remain as the glass still breaks with 120+ mph slapshots
(yes, apparently everybody shoots like Al MacInnis) and there are
still checks that send players into the opponent’s bench but these
things are special when they happen, not the de facto standard. It
also feels as if the game has been slowed down just a tad bit to
better resemble authentic NHL hockey, but is still very fast. I could
spend 1000 words trying to explain the feel of NHL 06 but I’d rather
save my time and yours and just say that it straddles the line of
simulation and arcade with near perfection.

The biggest gameplay change on the ice is the addition of the left
analog stick deking, which is very similar to the 16-bit hockey glory
days, and the right analog stick shooting. Say, for example, you
intercept a pass on defense and pass up to your breaking star forward
while the opposing defensive pair is in the middle of a line change
that, unfortunately for them, was interrupted. This is where your
options really open up. You can deke out the lone, straggling
defenseman with the left analog stick and flick the right analog stick
to deke the goalie, you could let off the turbo so another forward has
a chance to catch up then drop a pass to him so he’s set up to rip a
one-timer towards the net or you could take it into the corner or
behind the net to set up the offensive play of your choice. For an
arcade-style game that’s a lot of options available and is sure to be
appreciated by many.

That’s not to say the game doesn’t have faults, as it has quite a
few. The immediately responsive controls have been replaced by
controls that lag a few moments behind the actual button presses, a la
FIFA 2005. This was done to emulate the feel of real hockey but I,
personally, am not a fan in the slightest. I rarely ever see a
superstar forward cross the blue line and sloppily let the puck a few
feet in front of him to easily be poke-checked away but I’ve seen it
countless times in NHL 06. The controls as a whole are sub-par,
actually. No where near the expert controls the 2k series has to
offer and include quirks that appear for seemingly no reason. One
particular annoyance is that passes to complete plays that are
otherwise meticulously set up sometimes never leave the skaters stick
for reasons unbeknownst to me.

The dynasty mode is much improved and is the best NHL
dynasty/franchise mode and is only bested by EA’s own Madden, NCAA and
MLB series’. Many things can be adjusted including concession stand
prices, season seat prices and the amount of money spent on giveaway
throughout the year. It’s nice to see hockey get the recognition it
deserves on that front.

The visuals, while far from outstanding, are done nicely. The ice
visually gets torn up throughout the periods and returns to pre-game
shine at the start of each period. The in-game player faces were
quite a surprise; it was absolutely no problem telling players apart
just by their appearance. The character models themselves, goalies
especially, could use some more animation but are otherwise quite
detailed. The sound is coming in at just about average.

The audio commentary is great at first but becomes repetitive even
after the first game. If I hear that “Petr Sykora could become a
great sniper” one more time I’m going to throw my controller at the
television. Ignoring the fact that Petr Sykora is well into his 30’s
and probably will not develop into a ‘sniper’ anytime soon if he
hasn’t already, I hear this little quip every game. It’s just obvious
that these announcer rehashes are indeed that; rehashes from years
past. Other than that the crowd noise is nowhere near NCAA’s
excellence and the EA Trax selection is average at best.

Don’t get me wrong though, if I’m pointing out more of the misses
than the hits it’s only because EA was so close to fully redeeming
itself with this year’s effort. NHL 06 is definitely a huge step in
the right direction. They’ve dropped a lot of the over-the-top hits
and replaced them with more hip checks in the neutral zone. They’ve
made the goalies more realistic and the defense savvier without being
cheap. They have also deepened the dynasty mode. If EA can carry
these steps in the right direction onto the next generation, then
we’re going to see some phenomenal games. If not, though, we’ll still
have a solid hockey game to play with that promises not to get old
even after weeks of play.

Graphics: 7.5
Sound: 5.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 6.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 7.3
Written by Chris Review Guide

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