EA should replace that dude they've had aggressively declaring "It's in the game!" in their EA Sports titles for as long as I can remember with The Wire's Omar Little saying "It's all in the game," mainly because, as I mentioned on Tuesday, Omar is awesome, but also because, at least in the case of their latest NHL game, it really seems to be true. At least, I have it on good authority that it's true from a few die-hard hockey fan friends of mine. I understand that the coaching and management aspects of the game are handled really well, and add a lot to the experience for those players who are into that sort of thing. All I really know is that, when you're on the ice, the game is tremendous fun. I've liked many a hockey game over the years, but I don't think I've ever loved a hockey game as much as I love NHL 08.
I'm pretty ill-equipped to review these sorts of annually released sports games, because I'm not a big enough sports fan to know how authentically they capture the sport on which they're based, and because I don't play them each year, so I can't really tell how significant the changes to each new edition are. But who cares about those technical details, anyway? For me, games and sports are primarily about emotion. I've never liked a sport or a team enough to follow it throughout an entire, interminable regular season. But I occasionally get swept up in the intense emotions that can surround a championship series, and I was crushed when the Ducks lost game 7 in their bid for the Stanley Cup in 2003. Just as that series had me screaming at my television like a crazy person, NHL 08 has induced me to take the Lord's name in vain many, many times, not out of frustration with poor design choices or unfair AI, but simply because the game creates in me the exact same investment of emotion that the sport itself has done on occasion.
A big part of the game's success is in the "skill stick" system, which isn't new in this edition but was new to me. This control scheme has you using the right thumbstick to deke and shoot. After years of playing hockey games where shooting was done with the push of a button, it took a bit of adjustment on my part, but ultimately this came to feel far more intuitive, and although it's a relatively small change, it goes a long way in making me feel more connected to the action on the ice.
Although I've never had the attention span to follow a full season of actual hockey, I did play a full season as the Ducks, attempting to help them defend the Cup after their victory last year. Playing through the season on the Pro difficulty, I wound up as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and was totally outplayed by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Who knows, maybe if I'd bothered with the deeper aspects of the game, the coaching and management stuff, designing plays, trading players, my team would have fared better. But although I'm really glad those aspects are there and are so well done for those players who enjoy them, I'm especially glad that the on-ice action feels so authentic, for people like me, who just want to get swept up in the emotion of that moment when you send the puck home.
NHL 08: Five/Five for fighting
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