Genre: Sports Simulation
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada, eh?
Release Date: September 6, 2005
The NHL is back! After a year-long hiatus, the NHL has returned with a fresh set of rules, a host of old faces in new locations, and a dedicated plan to get its fans back to the rink. With all of the commotion from the October 5th opener, it seems that those fans are indeed ready to renew their support for their sport. EA Sports invites you to bring the action of the 2006 hockey season into your home with the latest installment of the sports simulation series, NHL 06. Quite honestly, if this year's NHL season turns out to be half as fun as this game, nobody will remember what happened with last season.
This year, the NHL revamped its rules in an effort to regain fan support by giving the people what they want: goals. Scoring is what makes any game exciting, and so this year in the NHL, there are some definitive changes. The blue lines (which separate the neutral zone from the designated offensive zones) have been pushed back, allowing for a larger offensive zone, and passes can now cross two lines to allow long breakaway opportunities and one-on-ones. In the event of a tie after overtime, the oh-so-exciting shootout will now be the game-deciding measure.
Much like the officials in the NHL, EA Sports also had offense in mind when designing NHL 06. All of the previously mentioned rule changes are present in this year's game. Adding to the authentic feel is the official NHL and Players' Association licenses, which allow for authentically designed rinks, accurate rosters, and beautifully rendered player likenesses.
NHL 06 features several different game modes: Play Now, Exhibition, Season, EA Sports World Tournament, EA Sports Free For All, Elite Leagues, Dynasty Mode, and Creation Zone. The Dynasty mode follows the tradition of the EA sports lineup, providing the player with year-round control of every aspect of the team. Not only do you control the coaching portion, but you also handle the finances to crank out a dream team. This mode really puts you into the game and allows you to trade players, sign rookies, read scouting reports, assign duties to your assistant coach, and monitor the morale of your players. I found this mode to be both comprehensive as well as entertaining, without losing too much momentum in unimportant details.
If you don't want to spend your time worrying about how many jerseys your team is selling, you can just play the Season mode to make a run at the Stanley Cup with your favorite team. The World Tournament and Elite Leagues modes add some flavor by introducing different lineups, rules, and uniforms unique to their environment. If that isn't enough to satisfy you, EA brings in a Creation Zone so players can create themselves in-game, complete with black eyes, scars, or a broken nose to intimidate rivals or to just look goofy. All modes are accompanied by a traditional EA Sports real music soundtrack featuring quality tunes from signed recording artists. No matter what type of hockey you're in the mood to play, odds are that NHL 06 can accommodate you.
In addition to the new rules carried over from the real-life game, there are several simulation improvements that make NHL 06 stand apart from its predecessors. New for this year is the "Skill Stick," which lets players make beautiful-looking signature moves on offense to score goals that would make SportsCenter's top 10 reel, from dazzling one-timers to "Did that just happen?" wrist shots. If you manipulate the right thumbstick as you approach the net on offense, you can move the puck in any direction while your player artfully spins, sidesteps, and outwits the opposing goalie.
Additionally, during your windup, you will be shown an in-net target to indicate where your shot is going. By moving the left thumbstick, you can aim for the empty net and blast the puck as accurately as your player's offensive skill will allow. To add to your already-overflowing offensive arsenal, NHL 06 incorporates the once-forgotten "Classic Deking Control" that was absent in last year's version. As the player moves on the ice, the left thumbstick controls the puck in rhythm with player input, allowing for maximum control and truly exciting offensive gameplay.
Every single improvement that EA installed into NHL 06 works exactly as it is described in the owner's manual. I found myself successfully using all of the new features, and not only did they work, but they were also quite easy to execute. It only took a few minutes in Exhibition play before I found myself skillfully utilizing the new features and leaving defenses dazed and confused while simultaneously prompting frequent use of the pause button to relive my glorious scoring shots. Some of the signature dekes are so skillful that you won't even know where you're going until it plays out. Play calling is easy in this game and requires only a quick jab of the directional pad to change your offensive or defensive strategy on the fly or during a face-off.
Some might worry that EA has compromised realism by making it too easy to score in NHL 06, and to be honest, it is probably easier than in prior editions. However, escalating the difficulty level will ensure that the computer brings its full defensive arsenal to bear. Expect many a bone-crunching hits and acrobatic goalie saves aplenty if you decide to play this game on the "Difficult" game setting. Despite this game's decisive emphasis on offense, at the end of the day, hockey is all about hitting people. Checks look and sound great, and player movements are fluid, realistic, and, when appropriate, downright painful to behold. Hold down the Y button as you skate full speed into another skater, and you will administer a hit that would bring a smile to the face of any would-be NHL bruiser.
By far, the gameplay in NHL 06 is its strongest asset. The physics employed as your players skate around the rink feels accurate, and changes in direction require a shift in momentum. Players skate instead of floating along the ice, and puck movement and control are painless while still feeling realistic.
On the eve of the Xbox 360 console launch and its awe-inspiring graphics system, EA shows that the Xbox can still deliver the goods. This game looks really, really good. Players look like their real-life counterparts and move convincingly, both with and without the puck. Helmets gleam, the ice shows its wear, the various rinks of the NHL have never looked better, and replays are shown from the appropriate camera angles. Let's not forget the fun of watching hats fly onto the ice if your player is talented enough to score a hat trick during the game. In addition, EA didn't leave out the little things, like visible player frustration upon entering the penalty box, and even more so if it results in a power-play goal.
There were no phantom penalties called in NHL 06, and the controls are intuitive and quickly mastered, as they should be. The pace is exciting enough for die-hard fans and complete newbies alike, and even the commentary is appropriate and enjoyable. You don't have to employ any of the new features in order to play this game well. The game's only perceivable flaw is that it is leans too much on the arcade side instead of accurately simulating hockey, but I think the game strikes an almost perfect balance between the two. The goalies don't freeze the puck every time down the ice, but the AI does a great job of selecting appropriate line changes, strategies and aggression. The computer is probably a little too aggressive when they are short-handed (when you have five players on the ice and they have four, due to a penalty), which is somewhat unrealistic, but you may hardly even notice the change.
Players who thrive on competition will be pleased by the multiplayer options available, which support up to four player-controlled players on the ice at any given time. Subscribers of the Xbox Live online experience are in for additional treats: in addition to maintaining current team rosters, single-player and multiplayer tournaments are also available online. Talking trash and spouting taunts while checking your opponents into the stands is quite satisfying.
NHL 06 is a tremendous sports simulation, so if you have any love for hockey, not owning this game is downright inexcusable. Even if you don't watch real-life hockey and are just looking for a sports game to pass the time and entertain, this game is capable of doing just that. NHL 06 is enjoyable, easy to pick up and play, and every improved aspect (graphics, gameplay, new features, etc.) is an absolute success.
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