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NHL 07 Review

Developer: EA Canada Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 19, 2006 Also On: PC, PS2, Xbox and Xbox 360

It’s unfortunate that hockey doesn’t have the American following that football and basketball do. EA Sports and 2K Sports publish some of the most fast-paced and entertaining sports games every year in their hockey franchises. EA Canada decided to implement the now-EA-standard right analog stick control into their NHL franchise, and in some ways, they’ve created one of the best and most fun hockey games ever made. Sadly, they’ve also slipped a bit in a few areas, keeping NHL 07 from a legendary performance.

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NHL 07’s Skill Stick will give you the ability to deke and shoot like no other. With the shot stick, you have more control over the hockey stick than ever. Pull the right stick downward and flick it back up, and you’ll see your attacker send a slap shot flying towards the net. Combine the right analog stick with the left analog stick for aiming, and you can place shots very, very accurately. Not only that; you can throw goalies off quite easily with dekes and follow up with all sorts of shots–and you’ll never press a button. In fact, you’ll really only ever use one button–the R trigger–in this game, as other control features have been removed for simplicity. You won’t have to hold a trigger down to sprint, and on defense, all body checks are done with the right stick as well. These control adjustments make NHL 07 a much less complicated affair.

Unfortunately, the easy controls make NHL 07 a one-sided affair. The defense isn’t very good, and the goalie control could have been a lot better. The A.I. doesn’t seem to be capable of breaking away towards either goal, so a lot of time is spent in the neutral zone intercepting passes. Passing isn’t very effective, and you’ll spend a lot of time hunting down stray pucks. This slows down the normally fast-paced hockey action quite a lot. The body checks aren’t very powerful and don’t feel very powerful, making the normally-brutal sport of hockey feel more like a game of touch football. Luckily enough, absolutely none of these mishaps make NHL 07 any less fun to play. It’s still a blast, even when you’re chasing down pucks and trying your hardest for that breakaway.

NHL 07 has phenomenal visuals. The animation is quite amazing, and during replays you’ll see a ton of detail, like goalies slamming their pads into the ice to stop a slap shot from sliding between that tiny space. Checks, though slightly underwhelming in their feeling, don’t look anything less than painful–you’ll often check attackers right off of their skates, sending them flipping forward onto the ice. The sound effects aren’t very powerful, but neither is the commentary. The soundtrack is much different than other games like Madden and NBA Live, as you’ll encounter more indie music than radio rock or rap. Indie’s not quite my thing, so I didn’t hesitate to activate my Xbox 360 Custom Soundtrack.

At the very least, NHL 07 is chock-full of features. You can put the Skill Stick to the test in Shootout Mode or manage a team for 10 years in the game’s Dynasty Mode. The only complaint I have with Dynasty Mode is that I found trading players to be extremely difficult–be prepared to give up all sorts of draft picks and skilled players for anyone with an overall rating of 85 or more. Speaking of the NHL Draft, why can’t I simulate it? The Draft is made a lot easier if you hire a good scout, but not being able to skip through it is pretty annoying. I don’t care to go through all those rounds, thank you very much.

Overall, NHL 07 should be credited for its innovative control scheme, beautiful graphics, and depth. It gets poked by less-than-stellar sound, passing, and defensive play–but it’s still a great game, and quite possibly the best EA Sports team sports game released on the Xbox 360 so far. Hockey fans should definitely check this one out.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 6
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.4
Written by Cliff Review Guide