Webster’s Dictionary defines embroidery as 1a: the art or process of forming decorative designs with hand or machine needlework. 1b: a design or decoration formed by or as if by embroidery. 1c: an object decorated with embroidery. 2: elaboration by use of decorative and often fictitious detail. 3: Something pleasing or desirable but unimportant. It’s the second definition that applies best to NHL 2K9, which is now back under the internal wings of Visual Concepts. Having flirted with other development teams, NHL 2K9 is back where it started, leaving gamers with a veteran player no longer in his prime, but who still displays occasional flashes of brilliance.
NHL 2K9 is not just a simple roster update; it seems more to be rebooting the franchise. Too bad the reboot isn’t necessarily a good thing. Many modes have been vastly simplified, the franchise option being the main one, and no longer do you have a minor league team to swap players around in. It also no longer appears to make any difference when training players to build their stats. And forget about hiring coaches. Matter of fact, throw out the whole Skybox hub together. Everything is unlocked from the start in terms of historic teams, jerseys etc. What’s my motivation to play, again?
Instead, what we now have is a new interface that involves pausing the game and using the thumbstick to bring up the menus, like several other non-hockey sports games. It works well enough and seems faster than the clunky system of old, but it’s still no easier to navigate, and certain options aren’t available off the title screen. Why I have to go all the way into a game, then press pause, then bring up my menu, and then adjust the camera is beyond me. Aren’t interface improvements supposed to, you know, improve things?
Outside of the interface, though, it’s obvious that 2K Sports has been listening to the fans. Detailed players react to various shots, whether it be bby lifting a knee or holding a stick out to block a shot. Reaching the playoffs will have your players growing beards in true NHL tradition. Winning the Stanley Cup will get you opportunity to actually participate in the celebration and have a team photo taken rather than some static cut scene. In short, all the nuances little “fan’s fan” tidbits are included.
Unfortunately, 2K didn’t get the nuanced memo about the music, which is still inappropriate. At leats they nailed the play-by-play team. Say goodbye to Bob Cole and Harry Neale, an amazing and authentic tandem that had just gotten a bit stale. The commentary follows the flow well, and I didn’t hear any wrong calls or repetition. Leave it to Visual Concepts to create a great play-by-play system.
The NHL 2K series seldom plays well right out of the box, so franchise stalwarts will appreciate hearing that sliders are still there and still need to be adjusted. Thankfully the sliders’ presence saves the game from an even lower score, but it’s baffling that Visual Concepts hasn’t yet made the game “work right” right out of its shrink wrap. Maybe they were too occupied with the Zamboni-driving game during periods to clean the ice. If that’s the case, at least the Zamboni is fun.
What’s completely unforgivable, however, are the graphics on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Player models are poor, and actually seem to have gotten worse than the past few years’ models, something that also marred Visual Concepts’ return to football. We would like to think that this is just a new team getting used to the design of the game and that next year’s edition may be more worthy. But come on, it’s Visual Concepts; they should be getting this stuff right.
With all that said, it’s with heavy heart that we point anyone looking for a fun hockey game to NHL 09. We loathe to do this in light of NHL 2K9’s impressive online features (tournaments and six-on-six with 11 other players), but the rest of the package just doesn’t live up to expectations. The NHL 2K series has always been one of the more sim-style games, but with this year’s release, they have instead taken a look at their competitor and moved in a more arcadey direction to “Bring the fun back.” This is a mistake. Grand Turismo doesn’t looking at Ridge Racer for inspiration. Hopefully next year will give us the hat trick we’re looking for.
- Score: 6.9
— Phillip Vollmer