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1 rating: 3.0
Sports video game by Take 2 Interactive for the PlayStation 2

Play like the pros with our revolutionary icon-based passing system. All new combo passing and shooting controls let you queue up give-and-go attacks, tic-tac-toe passing, puck cycling, behind the net plays and more; play your style of hockey at both … see full wiki

Release Date: September, 2005
1 review about NHL 2K6

Cool as Ice

  • Jun 24, 2010
Pros: A brilliant AI and deep hockey sim

Cons: EA Sports stealing the ESPN license

The Bottom Line: I'm posting my old review of NHL 2K6 in honor of the Chicago Blackhawks, who just won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

This is another old Netjak review. Since the site is officially gone, I have to put it somewhere. 

I was surprised to find out that when EA Sports began monopolizing, the NHL license remained untouched. Whether this was because NHL commissioner Gary Bettman turned it down or simply wasn’t asked, I don’t know. I do know, however, that if he in fact turned down Electronic Arts’ extra pennies in order to keep what little dignity his beleaguered league has left, it would represent the kind of clear, level-headed thinking normally associated with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue (who DID allow EA to buy out his league’s license) and not with the man whose reign over the National Hockey League oversaw some of the worst, dumbest things to ever happen to both sport and league alike: The emergence of the Neutral Zone Trap as the driving force of NHL games; rapid expansion into the uncaring southern United States; the relocations of franchises that moved south from hockey hotbeds like Winnipeg, Quebec City, and Minnesota; two work stoppages, including one that canceled the entire season; the nullification of a contract with ESPN, resulting in fans being able to see even less of the sport; and the No Goal controversy of the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, rated by many sources as one of the worst blown calls in the history of modern sports. Selling exclusive rights to an average-at-best game developer would have iced Bettman’s reign of idiocy quite nicely.

It looks like reality has finally slapped Bettman in the face after last season, though, and so the NHL commissioner is now rolling the dice in a spectacular bid at redemption. Keeping exclusive rights away from EA Sports’s NHL series and its bee-swarming, strategy-less style of gameplay, horrible commentary, and ridiculous mechanics - including a spin move more suited to Michelle Kwan than Jerome Iginla - proves to be another high point in a recent string of ideas that are bringing the NHL out of the basement. And what better developer than 2K Sports (formerly Sega Sports, guys PLEASE pick a name and stick to it! It’s very inconvenient to us reviewers!)? And at what better price for new games? You can’t lend much weight to the competition these days between EA Sports’s slavish devotion to inaccurate arcade gameplay and 989 Sports, which apparently never received the memo that Wayne Gretzky retired several years ago.

To get your biggest worries out of the way right now, yes, all of the new rules are intact. If you play your hockey video games in a certain style, though, some of them won’t have much effect. Since the new NHL is intent on keeping the game moving and fast-paced, they’ve cooked up something of an escape clause for players who go offsides which is working wonders in the NHL. Now to be fair, you WILL see that offsides won’t be called nearly as often in NHL games - well, NHL 2K6 anyway - as it used to be. 2K Sports appears to have done a good job of adapting the new rules, so you have to be aware that when your team is whistled for offsides, chances are you were the one who caused it. So you have to be more aware of where you are on the ice while playing defense. You’ll also notice the new rule concerning icing is enforced, but this concerns line changes so it’s pretty much automatic. The more visible aspects of the new NHL, like the closer blue lines, the trapezoid area behind the net restricting the goalie’s movement, and the shootouts used to break ties, are all included in the game. All of the new rules have their intended effect - they make the experience of video game hockey speedier and a bit less penalized. Those craving the most accurate recreation possible will not get mad at the game should they choose to play with the offsides rule on. All that’s missing are the "Thank You Fans!" signs on the spots where blue lines used to be before the new rules.

Everything that’s old may be new again when it comes to the rules, but with the rosters, everything that’s old... Is still old. 2K Sports usually does a good job keeping up with the roster movements, but maybe the people in charge of that area of the game were locked out. NHL 2K6 has rosters that are very behind the times. At best, the major players who made big moves over the last year are in free agency and free for the signing. At worst, the relocated players are still with their old teams. Is Peter Forsberg still with Colorado? (He plays for Philadelphia now.) What about Dany Heatley, I thought he moved to Ottawa! (He did.) Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh’s widely touted Next One, isn’t even in the game. It will take some frustrating legwork to bring your team’s roster up to date, and even then you won’t have all of your team’s current players. This really doesn’t effect the gameplay, but those who like managerial aspects of sports games won’t be very happy about it at all.

I was a little disappointed with the presentation of the franchise mode. Instead of the nice, cozy coach’s desk seen in 2K Sports’s NFL and NBA games, we get a bland, generic menu overface which, to its credit, is still as easy to navigate as the NFL and NBA menus. The franchise mode allows access to each team’s farm team, which I thought was a nice touch even though you can’t actually play games using any of them. What I think is a little wasted is the Skybox, the NHL 2K counterpart to the Crib of NFL 2K. While the items you can purchase per way of the Skybox don’t involve useless innocuous items that are in the game purely for decoration, the methods used in getting credits to purchase them are a little out there. The game appears to only awards credits for first-time milestones, like your first goal, your first pass interception, et cetera. It’s hardly a formula which will allow you to buy the NHL Original Six or the 1980 Olympic Miracle team. While the Skybox does contain fun mini-games, your constant inability to earn new credits to purchase items renders it pretty useless. It would have been better if the game had passed out credits in accordance with the number of shots your team took, the number of saves your goalie made, the number of times you successfully stole the puck through poke checks and body checks, and other assorted things of that nature. There are mini-games used to test your in-games skills that are also available, and though they seem a bit limited in quantity, they’re very challenging, and one of them will be useful in improving your skills in skating.

While Gary Bettman was able to say no to EA Sports, ESPN unfortunately was not. EA Sports now has exclusive possession of the ESPN license for the next 15 years, and so the glitzy, TV-like presentation of the last few years is now gone, and the overall presentation suffers. I award full credit to 2K Sports for making up their losses using the commentating duo of Harry Neale and Bob Cole from Hockey Night in Canada. The two of them provide a diverse and overall quite good commentary for the game, but I’m disappointed that 2K Sports decided against doing it in the style of Hockey Night in Canada. Not that the format would be that complicated, but the exclusion of the fiery, funny Don Cherry is inexcusable! Then again, those who have seen Cherry’s wonderful rants know he has a style of trailing off his original subject which simply can’t be duplicated in a video game script. What we get as an overall presentation is fine, but it could have been much more. And after playing games with the Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars, and Phoenix Coyotes (the perpetrator of the No Goal controversy plays for them - that is, he did before his retirement just after I began this review), I was pleased to hear that the commentary didn’t include any of the atrocious back-and-forth banter regarding the No Goal controversy that you heard in EA Sports’s NHL 2001 - the last NHL-licensed game I played.

My favorite aspect of the gameplay is a feature called Pro Control. Whenever someone from your team gets hold of the puck, pressing the R3 button places the game in Pro Control mode. This feature allows you to make quick passes without aiming and control the puck using the right analog. While in Pro Control mode, all you have to do to pass is see which player has a clear path for the puck to travel to him and press the corresponding button that will get it to him. It’s a very innovative idea that allows you to do exactly what the game package says it’s for - the complete exploitation of the newly wide offensive zones. While this mode doesn’t really allow you to take a direct shot, you can one-time the puck by double-tapping the button corresponding to the player you’re passing to. If you’re in the offensive zone, for example, and you see Chris Drury standing in a scoring position right in front of the net, and the button sign under him was triangle, you would double-tap triangle to send the puck across the ice to Drury, who would then whack it into the goal. Again, however, you have to be careful who you pass to, as to not inadvertently send the puck offsides or have it intercepted. Turning the puck over while in Pro Control mode will result in it turning off very suddenly, so you have to be prepared for that.

Having been spoiled by NHL games on the Genesis, it’s almost disappointing to see how simplistic hockey can be on the PS2. I remember when a drop pass took two buttons to perform. These days, there are more buttons on the controller than there are fancy moves in hockey. It’s gotten so that 2K Sports actually included a button that you have to hold down in order to skate backwards. I’m not complaining about this, though - it feels quite natural for some reason. Of course, after EA Sports’s ridiculous spin move, one can walk away from any hockey-based video game with a newfound sense of just how dumb it can get. Amazingly enough, not only are there no dead buttons on the PS2 controller, but all the buttons are used to perform functions which are both realistic and useful. NHL 2K5 even demands that you make significant use of the right analog stick, which is used for poke checking.

While the game is a bit too vulnerable to one-timers, the AI in it is still very impressive. Watching the computer-controlled players on both my team and my opponent’s, I was amazed to see that the players appeared to be looking for open spots instead of just skittering about at random. There are even times when the computer players actually stop in order to contemplate what to do next, just as the real pros do when the puck is being carefully passed by a few players waiting to make a move. Even on the lowest skill setting, the computer players still did everything they could in order to disrupt my strategies, make me turn over the puck, and just generally make the fight for goals a real pain. The resulting effect is a realistic score count no matter how high or low the difficulty because the cheap little tricks of the 16-bit era are gone and completely forgotten - every last goal you score will be earned the hard way. Running up the score - if it’s even possible - proves to be very tough to do.

You’ll always know who the enforcers are - they have large letter Es sitting under their likenesses wherever they go. 2K Sports brings us the enforcer system in NHL 2K6, which is supposed to lower the stats of opposing players through intimidation. If this system works, the difference isn’t a noticeable one. I would assume the stats of the intimidated players don’t lower very dramatically, so that pretty much defeats the purpose of the enforcer system even being there in the first place. There’s also an on-the-fly coaching system that allows you to decide what strategies to use simply by pressing a button on the d-pad. It’s a good idea, but often you’ll be so busy in the heat of the game, you won’t be using it very often.

In their dedication to making the gameplay as good as it is, 2K Sports forgot to add one of the more essential elements of the game - the Zamboni! No Don Cherry, no Zamboni, and a bunch of cardboard-flat spectators mean 2K Sports has a ways to go before getting the atmosphere of a hockey game right. Of course, the reason there’s no Zamboni may have something to do with the fact that players’ skates don’t leave any marks behind on the ice. I’m talking about the graphics now, and all cynicism aside, they’re actually quite good despite that particular (and ignorant) lack of detail. The arenas and goalie masks are recreated in striking detail. The players, despite the sharp-edged polygons that make up certain types of padding, all look realistic and move with incredible fluidity. Players show emotion, and the way the uniforms react to the ways the players move are excellent. Little details abound too - the hats that are traditionally tossed onto the ice when a player scores a hat trick, glass breaking when a player or puck hits it too hard. I apologize to Red Wings fans for not playing any games as the Red Wings, because it would be a safe bet that you’d see some stuffed octopi on the ice whenever a Detroit player scored a hat trick. The only unrealistic detail about the graphics is the puck’s black outline - and I dare not complain about that, since without it you wouldn’t be able to see the puck.

The audio department is just fine, but it’s a weakness when compared to everything else. The opening theme to the game is off-key and sounds terrible - it’ll make you wish for the theme to Hockey Night in Canada. Harry Neale and Bob Cole broadcast clearly and have lots to say, but the dialogue really does sound like it was strung together without regard to speed or pitch. They would also apparently drown out the sounds made by the players’ skates or any communication that happens between players at all, because those sounds are nowhere to be heard. While the licensed music in the game is very good, it’s not on the par set by EA Sports’s mostly excellent use of soundtrack licensing. Which is really kinda pathetic, since EA’s music quality took a real nosedive recently. And I promise I won’t complain any more about the absence of Don Cherry, whose blazing rants are actually seen by more Hockey Night in Canada viewers than the hockey games themselves. (Just thought I’d point that out.)

So to wrap it all up, NHL 2K6 is everything a great hockey game should be, but the presentation lacks the luster a license from Hockey Night in Canada should have had. Still, the presentation does not affect the love a true hockey fan should have for this game. All in all, Gary Bettman’s sudden bursts of hockey wisdom mean that, after a long, too warm year off and a possible exclusivity courtship from EA Sports, hockey’s back, NHL 2K is back, and we have the closest attempt yet at recreating the feeling of real hockey because of it. NHL 2K6 rules the ice, anything else is just figure skating.


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