Every year 2K Sports and EA have a battle for the top hockey game and up until last year it had always been one of the tighter battles between sports games out there. Both 2K and EA had different directions they were taking their franchises but both franchises seemed to still be headed on the right track. Last year however it seemed like EA was remaining on course and NHL 2K8 managed in my mind to take a bad turn somewhere. The big question in my mind for NHL 2K9 was if the game would be able to write some of the past games wrongs and get back on the right track? Read our full review to find out!
As I said here in the opening, the 2K franchise hasn’t necessarily been on the best of paths, it had some truly stellar ideas but the complete package felt off balanced. Let’s move on from the last year however and get to what 2K tried to do to continue to improve their franchise this year.
The real issue that needed addressing first was the controls. Like many of 2K Sports other titles, NHL was among the most complicated in terms of controls, so it seems like they went back to the drawing board here and went away with some of the extras and kept things back down to the basics. What ends up happening with the much easier to grasp controls is that they have kind of gone away from what their goal has been all along, and that is a simulation hockey title. It’s an interesting shift in a time where more and more developers are going to a more user friendly experience.
So let’s talk about the gameplay which has been altered quite a bit this year. Their is a trickle down effect from the controls that then comes to the gameplay. With the controls being much more simplistic the gameplay has taken a hard turn to the arcade spectrum of hockey games. No you will still never get this confused with a full blown arcade hockey games but if you have been tracking these games like I have each year you will notice a major difference. My first inclination of this change came in my first game I did a simple exhibition with the Penguins and Red Wings and the score got to about 5 goals within the first period. In last year’s game this would never have happened, you typically got 1-2 goals per outing, and more often then not ending just like a normal hockey game with only a few really good shots on goal.
Is this a bad thing? Well not really, in fact this really feels like 2K is trying to beat EA at its own game, and the only issue is EA has had a lot more practice at it. The gameplay is good don’t get me wrong, there are just quite a few balancing issues that takes away from the experience. The real issue is that the game seems to heavy on scoring and the gratification factor of accomplishing that looses a lot of its value. Even with that said I like the new direction, I think the game actually feels more like a video game right now. My problem before was that it felt like you were watching hockey on TV before and that can be rather slow, and now it seems like 2K is on a much more enjoyable path.
Outside of the gameplay the modes in NHL 2K9 have gotten an upgrade as well. The biggest upgrade for me was the team play online which means that up to 12 different consoles can play together in one game. The mode is a bit rough around the edges but it works, and its about time. I have to say that the franchise mode in NHL 2K9 is as deep as ever, and there are a good selection of mini games which I always find to be a nice step away when your grinding through a lot of games.
Overall I like where the gameplay of NHL 2K9 is going, I just don’t think it is there yet. The gameplay has the making for coming years but the unbalance really throws the game off a bit, and makes it to far on the arcade side of things.
Visually I was somewhat unimpressed by this year’s outing in NHL 2K9. I just didn’t see a lot to of improvements. Sure the character models are good, and the beards make a big presence in this year’s game, but the feel of hockey just doesn’t feel all there. The hockey rinks and ice are where I see the biggest lacking, the feel of hockey in HD can be quite the treat and I just don’t feel like 2K has taken it far enough.
So we are coming back to the issue of the enjoyability of NHL 2K9 and this is the category that I really think holds the game back. For me I just never felt overly satisfied with the experience of NHL 2K9. There were two reasons I came to find while playing it. First I just didn’t feel like they were committed to this new style, and thus the game came up feeling unbalanced. Secondly the presentation is still missing the feel of hockey, the hits aren’t all that electrifying nor are the goals all that exciting. The series still needs to find a way to capture why hockey is such a great sport.
NHL 2K9 in terms of an overall score stays right around where it was for me last year. However this is a very different score then last year’s game as I find that NHL 2K9 is making more of a push for a new and more engaging experience and just hasn’t put it all together yet. That is not to say it won’t happen because we have seen plenty of great hockey coming from 2K in the past, and I expect that this game is just a glimpse of the great things to come in the coming years. If your a big 2K hockey fan your probably still going to want to pick this up, but if your just looking for the best hockey title of the year, this one doesn’t take top billing.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.