These yearly updates must leave EA's programmers feeling like they're constantly being asked to reinvent the wheel. And when their source material is perfectly nice and round in the first place, sometimes the gimmicks glued onto the title's circumference are obtrusive enough to stop the thing spinning altogether.
Initially, NHL 07's Skill Stick feels a bit like this. It completely changes the way you play, to the point where it feels as otherworldly as a back massage administered by the tongue of one of Ridley Scott's Aliens. We mean, it's RT to pass, for puck's sake. That's insania. Madness. Like flicking the switch on your kettle to make your toast pop up. But 'stick' with it, because it really, really works.
It works like this: the left analogue stick is used to move, while the right stick controls your... well, your stick. This is instantly intuitive in defensive situations, where you 'reach out' with your stick to claim loose pucks/dislodge part of your opponent's tibia. But in possession it takes some learning. Flicking the stick laterally dekes the puck, and pushing it up and down winds up and then unleashes a shot on goal.
At first, it feels like the worst thing that's happened to the human race since Eve decided it'd be a good idea to take dietary recommendation from a talking snake. Long passes go laughably array, dekes magically turn into shots and because the system seems more suited to passing than shooting, it takes commendable self-control not to insert your boot into your TV screen. But then it clicks - it gives you total control over your shots, transforming the game from a button-bashing timing test to one which gives you the impression that you're the one setting up the passes, making that crucial interception, dummying the hapless backline and smashing the puck into the back of the net. Still don't like it? Alright, whingy-pants, chill out - the option to play it old-school is still there. Everyone's a victor.
A slower, more tactically-based game than NHL 2K7, this is perilously close to being the ultimate hockey title. What faults there are - glitches such as players freezing at face-off, and slightly anaemic online modes (no leagues - there isn't a big enough user base yet, apparently) aren't enough to turn the ice a funny shade of yellow.
A few bugs mar an otherwise fine title. Despite occasional control confusion, this is a superb new outing from EA.
- A great reinvention of an old game
- More spontaneous than NHL 2K7
- Hard to put down
- Tricky to pick-up