NHL 07 Hands-On PreviewPublished by patto on Friday, July 21, 2006
Tagged: Gaming, Xbox 360,
A wise Canadian man once said: “There’s nothing like a little friendly competition, eh?” Soon after the league and owners were in battles with the NHLPA over the almighty dollar, EA and 2K Sports became entwined in a struggle over NHL exclusivity rights.
Just when looked liked the notion of competition breeding progress was about to fail the gaming and sports industries, things became all flowery. The C.B.A. was approved by the league and the players, and both hockey games for the Xbox 360 this year are fully licensed. Whew!
While 2K sports has been busy revamping last year’s decent hockey sim, EA Canada has had two years to pull something special out from under their sweater sleeve. The result is NHL 07: a sports title which is looks and feels about as next generation as anything we’ve played before it.
There’s still a bit of puck polishing to be done before NHL 07’s September release date, but we did have a chance to grab a stick and get down with beta code at EA’s Showcase 2006.
Will NHL 07 forever be known as The Great One? Le Magnifique? Let’s drop the puck and find out…
The last game we played that really revolutionized a particle sports genre was Fight Night. Can you take a guess why? Right- the control system which turned both analog sticks into fists changed the way a quick reflexes sport such as boxing is played. With two years to think about and work on it, EACA’s crew decided to include similar analog trickery into NHL 07. Dubbed the Skill Stick System, EA’s Canadian house has finally implemented a system that all hockey gamers wanted, but no other dev team was willing to step up and try.
The concept of Skill Stick is simple; mastering it is an entirely different matter, and one that couldn’t be resolved in our fifteen minute play test. The left analog stick is programmed to control the lower half of a skater’s body, whereas the right analog is designed to move the upper half.
The left analog, lower body concept is a bit easier to utilize, as it pretty much works like every other sports game on the market. Usually, you are controlling a character’s feet with the left stick, so picking up the general flow of skating in NHL 07 shouldn’t take much time at all. Yes, there are snazzy new skating animations and a slightly varied feel due to physics changes (more sense of friction due to the weight of each character, and how this affects skate “glide”), but generally, gamers will be able to skate around the ice without possession with aplomb. Move the left stick where you want to head, and the built-from-the-ground-up physics and animations take over to make everything look as realistic as any frosty sports title out there.
But it’s the right stick where the fun truly begins in NHL 07, and where having the trained brain of a concerto pianist would surely come in handy. In other hockey games, foot movements have been dependent of stick movements, and vice versa. If you wanted to shoot a backhand wrister for a righty, for instance, you’d usually have to aim the left stick to the left for the proper animation to be queued up. No more, friends. Since the right stick in the True Skill system is for upper body movement, and the stick is part and parcel of the upper body, you’ll now have complete biscuit control with that arthritic right thumb of yours. Want to stick handle right? Pull the right stick to the right. Want to wrap the pill behind your body? Just rotate the stick in a semicircular fashion toward you. Wristers are a snap too; a quick flick up fires the puck, with the left stick taking over aiming duties. Slappers require a full pull back on the stick for the windup, and a smack forward for the finish. Fake shots are just as intuitive in NHL 07. A pull back on the right analog, minus the forward motion, holds off like a hitter holding up for a check swing. The possibility for a complete 360 is there too. Just lead with the right analog stick and complete a 360 degree pattern; the skates do the rest. Nifty.
Although there are a few things to smooth out with this brand new title, NHL 07 is gearing up to be the sports game to play for the 06-07 season. The puck physics are much more arbitrary this time around and, when coupled with the fully analog control scheme, make for a raw yet organic hockey experience.
The graphics are simply outstanding, helped along by the hockey-accurate animations. Goalies are particularly impressive, as they watch pucks into their gloves, and properly plant a foot before changing direction for a trickling biscuit.
The controls have a steep learning curve, but it’s clear to see that, with some practice, pulling out fully analog maneuvers will be a cinch. Say goodbye to the scripted one timer, wrap around, or 360, and say hello to complete, skillful control in NHL 07. It’s about darn time!
Look for more on NHL 07 as beta code comes our way.
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