NHL 2K7 Review (Xbox 360)

In 1989, I drove a 1976 Ford Grenada. She was a golden rust color with a tattered black roof, windows that wouldn’t roll down and an A.M. radio with 8-track player. She was a good car though. My first. I worked hard to pay for the car myself – all $90 of it. I loved that car.

Like the car, I’m a big fan of the NHL 2K series from the team at Kush Games. NHL 2K6 on the original Xbox was one of my all-time favorites and even grabbed a 10 out of 10 from me on the infamous OS scale.

Right now you’re asking yourselves, “what do his 1976 Grenada and NHL 2K6 have in common?”

Well, I could wash my car; detail the inside and blow an entire tub of Turtle Wax on it and it wouldn’t make it a new car. It would still be my same old reliable “Grenade”, just shinier. When Kush Games moved the NHL 2K series to the Xbox 360 last year, they claimed to be releasing a new game. However, it was the same game, just shinier. A good game for sure, but certainly not a new game.

So, much like my first “hooptie”, I’ve put that experience behind me. Cracking the case on my copy of NHL 2K7 and sliding in the keys, I was greeted with what the sports gaming community has been waiting for since the launch of the 360 – a next-gen sports title with a full development year to do it right.

When you hit the ice for the first time, you can’t help but get that feeling that was missing from 2K6. It’s not just a nice paint job on a used car. This game looks, sound and, most importantly, feels like it belongs on the Xbox 360. The arenas are beautifully rendered. The ice surfaces are almost creepy in their realism. It really looks like you are skating on a photo, that’s the level of detail put into the frozen floor in NHL 2K7. The player models skate, pass, deke and crash with a silky-smooth feel that strings animations together in one of the most seamless flows ever presented in a sports title. The game just feels like hockey. It has the speed and grace of the sport that I think, when properly showcased, is what the NHL should be marketing to pull non-fans in.

What highlights this feels so splendidly is what the team at Kush Games is calling “Cinemotion”. In the sports gaming wars of the last 5-7 years, what gets lost in the shuffle is how much credit the developers from the 2K side deserve for simply being innovative. “Cinemotion” is innovative. Not only does it take sports gaming presentation to a whole new level, it actually gives the gamer the option of how they want it. When you launch the game, you choose whether you want your “Cinemotion” experience with or without commentary. The presentation at the core remains the same, but this simple adjustment lets you decide whether you want Bob Cole and Harry Neale to call the games. What “Cinemotion” does is turns your game experience into a movie. You’ll hear the coach in the locker room. The soundtrack starts to build as you make your way to the ice. There’s chatter during the game. The musical score becomes more dramatic during key moments. It works. Take every great moment in sports movies and add in the ability to control the action. That's what “Cinemotion” brings to NHL 2K7.

That said, when push comes to shove, it doesn’t matter how pretty or how smooth a game looks if it doesn’t play well. Fortunately, the on-ice experience is just as beautiful. They’ve taken everything that was great about NHL 2K6 and done nothing improve it for NHL 2K7.

The name of the game is still control and it is the focus of your ice time. Crease Control is back this year, as well as the On The Fly Coaching. You’ll also find the Pro Controls are there and, as they should be, they take time to master, but doing so is well worth it in the end. Practice your Pro Control skills, and the depth of the game and effectiveness of your offense will increase exponentially.

The newest edition in the control family is the all-new Pressure Control. With a squeeze of the Left Bumper (LB), you can select an opposing player and choose the level of pressure that you want to apply. One click and you’ll simply be shadowing the player. You want to make sure Nicklas Lidstrom is always on Peter Forsberg when they are on the ice together? Use Pressure Control. Two clicks of the LB and you’ll tell the defender to rough the target up a little bit. A little chippy stick work might be in order. You may take a penalty, but you are going to be all over this guy. Add one more click and now you're double-teaming the man. It may be a risky move, especially against a skilled passing team, but it is a calculated gamble to stop a hot shooter in a tight game.

The Artificial Intelligence this year seems, well, more intelligent then before. Even on the default settings, you’ll find a somewhat competitive game of hockey. However, as you raise the difficulty, the AI raises the bar. The higher the setting, the smarter the game you are forced to play. They won’t sit passively by and let you dictate the action, you have to read and react to their gameplan just as they will yours.

The modes available have stayed tried and true with Seasons, Tournament, Pond Hockey and the popular Party Mode. But, the most bang for your buck still remains in the deep franchise and online multiplayer modes.

Franchise mode, taking a page out of a lot of other sports titles, has become a lot more about chemistry and rivalries then in years past. As the man making the calls, it will be important to make sure your team is clicking on all cylinders on and off the ice in order to dress the best unit every game. You won’t find a lot of drastic changes to the mode; it’s just a little deeper. Which, as an avid Franchise player, was a welcome addition and sends the replay factor through the roof.

When you take to the online ice on Xbox Live, make no mistake; the team behind the 2K Sports titles is far and away the best in the business. No one does online sports gaming like they do. Not only are the connections nearly perfect in most sessions, the depth is not only the best, it so distances itself from second place that it is practically beyond compare. Quick games, Tournaments, quick 8-team Seasons or even a fully blown out 30-team League, no ther developer can touch the experience and the depth that you’ll find with NHL 2K7 from the online perspective.

As we quickly approach the Xbox 360’s first birthday, we’re starting to see developers get their first shot at a second chance. We finally get to see what a full year in development can do. We finally get to see that a shiny exterior doesn’t tell the story of what is under the hood.

NHL 2K7 is the best sports title on Xbox 360 so far. It’s exciting when a company actually uses the year in development to bring us a year’s worth of progress. NHL 2K7 is definitely the measuring stick with which all hockey games should be compared, but, with this release, they’ve set the bar for all next-gen sports titles.

NHL 2K7 Score
out of 10