Fun. It's a word bandied about the games industry with the regularity of a weak-sphinctered prune addict. But what really constitutes fun? Is it marvelling at cutting edge graphics and gasping in awe at utter realism? Or is it that old-fashioned feeling of absorption that only a buttock clenchingly thrilling game can produce? If you think it's the former, then NHL 2K6 probably isn't for you, but if you're the kind of person who can't wait to experience some unadulterated entertainment on your shiny new console, then you're in for a treat.
Granted, ice hockey isn't exactly this country's most popular sport - probably owing to the fact that the English ice hockey team is about as much of an international sporting power as the Oman under-fives football team - but that's not to say you won't enjoy NHL 2K6. Why? Because it's just so damn entertaining you can't help yourself.
This is a package that simply haemorrhages fun and features. For starters, the basic player and team controls are so easy to pick up, you'll be pulling off some impressive moves and goals within a couple of hours - which is great. However, there are also a multitude of skill moves and on-the-fly tactical changes that can be learnt and mastered, which allow you to squeeze out even more enjoyment from a title already dripping with gaming gratification.
Before you know it you'll be powering down the ice, shoulder barging opponents into the barriers, flicking the puck into open space and racing towards it as desperate opposing defenders hack at you with their sticks in an attempt to slow you down. You'll smile smugly as you learn to pull your outnumbered opponents out of position during
Power Plays, before sending blistering slap-shots to rip open the opposition's net. Chuckle with glee as you frustrate the opposition by bringing out your Enforcer defensive line, whose sheer physical strength will intimidate the opposition players and temporarily lower their stats.
You also get to tinker with line changes and defensive tactics (if you so wish) with a single button press, meaning you'll never feel confused, swamped and, most importantly of all, distracted from the frenetic on-ice action that's close enough to reality to be satisfying, but tweaked enough to ensure that things never get dull. With the game undoubtedly geared towards attack, you'll quickly find that the majority of matches swing back and forth like a seesaw in a hurricane.
All the real life NHL and international teams (along with some great All-Star lineups) are present and correct, while some sparkling presentation - including brilliantly context-sensitive commentary - make this one thrilling, all-consumingly exciting product. Of course there are some shortfalls, too. For starters, NHL 2K6 is hardly the most graphically impressive of launch titles, and is only slightly more visually stimulating that its Xbox counterpart, while the puck often seems to be magnetically drawn to any nearby stick, even if it's still some way off. What's more, the ice hockey purists amongst us may well find the game's over-exuberant sprint button a little too nippy for comfort.
In a time when technology speak is dominating many Xbox 360 discussions, NHL 2K6 is a refreshing diversion that'll provide you with weeks if not months of entertainment and gaming intensity - whether you're already a hockey fan or just stepping onto the ice for the first time. Sure, it may lack the realism and eye-popping visuals of some other launch titles, but if you're looking for a sports game that's fun in the purest sense of the word, you'll be hard pressed to beat it
AN ON-ICE ACTION EXTRAVAGANZA
- Exciting, utterly addictive gameplay
- Easy to pick up but hard to master
- Great tactics, features and options
- Brilliantly presented
- A little too frenetic for hockey purists