Cold as Ice
Ice hockey isn't for the weak of heart. It's a bruising, fast-paced game, featuring large sticks, razor-sharp blades and far too many angry Canadians.
Of course, hockey's scrappy style is exactly why people love the blue-collar sport. For chrissakes, Stanley Cup winners chug Labatt's out of the trophy during the off-season.
If only there were a videogame that could capture the same gritty flair. Unfortunately, NHL 2K7 is not that game.
2K7 is little more than a roster update of last year's edition. It features the same booming slap shots and nimble dekes as its predecessor. As a player, you swerve and swoop fluidly. You can also step into the role of coach, overseeing in-game strategy and line changes on the fly. Once again, this franchise handles as smoothly as Joe Thornton in a new pair of skates.
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But something is lacking here. The game feels frigid. Not a good Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan kind of cold. More like the heartless frost of an overproduced videogame.
Hockey, we must never forget, is rough around the edges. Hockey players aren't the prima donnas you see in basketball and football. They're the bearded dudes in flannel at the end of the bar.
Instead of trying to capture that roguish spirit, 2K Sports gives us a hollow, if beautiful, ice sculpture.
The action in NHL 2K7 may look true to life, but it's often robotic: Pass puck into slot; score; return to center ice for face-off. Too many goals come off one-timers, too few from deflections and rebounds.
And unless you tweak the settings, it's nearly impossible to get your goons to drop the gloves. Don Cherry would not be pleased.
The players are pretty much indistinguishable. Nashville's featherweight Paul Kariya looks no different from the Rangers' hulking Brendan Shanahan. The arenas look the same too. The designers could at least have given us some Red Wings fans chucking octopi onto the ice during playoff games.
What's more, you take the rink to the music of the Postal Service, a nasally indie-pop band. Hockey is not the Postal Service. Hockey is Rush, ZZ Top, and AC/DC. It's the Hanson brothers "puttin' on the foil," goalies in Cujo masks, and commentators screaming, "Kick save -- and a beaut!"
The problems aren't limited to the presentation. Some of the controls are too complex for you to execute while hurtling down the ice.
For example, the game's new pressure control allows you to target a single player on the opposing team for punishment. Your forwards will knock the offender out of the crease to give you an open shot. But there's no way you'll have time to pull off the three-step combo to make it happen. Hockey just moves too fast.
A few silly minigames try to liven the mood by making you skate around barrels and over targets. There's also a franchise mode that, while deep, gets stale quickly. You can play a full season -- fielding trade offers, dealing with injuries, and calling up left wingers from the Peoria Rivermen -- but in the end, the mode doesn't offer much fun.
Besides, a hockey game shouldn't be about the mundane life of a general manager or even the perfect wrist shot. It should be about drinking beer from a giant trophy and making Wayne Gretzky's head bleed. And until developers realize that, hockey fans will pine for the glory days of games like NHLPA '93, a far simpler but more passionate take on the sport.
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