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NHL 08
Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 8; 2 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Hockey)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Hockey is a sport that, like soccer, will always be foreign to me. Despite several attempts, the sport has never really reached the same level of popularity in the south as it has in the north. While I haven't watched many hockey games, I've played enough hockey videogames to know what makes for a good one - which is something NHL 08 certainly does.

NHL 08's presentation is great. The player models are cleanly modeled and feature lots of little details that really make the game feel more like real-life. This is particularly true about the animations; there are no awkward transitions and movements have a more natural feel. Though some of these little things are easy to overlook when playing (you'll spend more time concentrating on player positions and the location of the puck), little things like players repositioning their sticks or the movement of fabric makes the overall experience that much better.

Details are also evident in arenas; not only do they look great, but they sound great too. Unlike some other popular sports games, the crowd feels like it is actually into what is happening on the ice rather than just sounding like background filler. The commentators also feel like they are actually watching the game and will sometimes give reasonably good insight into your performance.

Again, I'm no hockey fan. While I know the basic rules of the game, the game's smaller nuances are lost on me. Despite my unfamiliarity with the sport, I found NHL 08 enjoyable and very approachable - two aspects that speak volumes about how well-crafted the game is.

Most of your playtime is spent in Dynasty Mode, where you choose a team and hopefully build them into a power franchise. Not only are you able to play as an NHL team, but you also control the team's minor-league affiliate team. Not only does this give you a few more games to play through during a season, but it also gives you a better idea about the players you can trade or bring up to fill in spots on your NHL team's roster. You can also create your own player and bring them up in the league. The number of creation aspects is impressive and allow you to change everything from their appearance to the type of stick and skate they use.

If creating a player isn't your thing, you also have the option of creating your own team. You are given a choice of names and logos, as well as uniform designs and color schemes. Once the cosmetic details are in place, you can fill out your roster with players. The only limitation here is your salary cap.

The only problem I had came with online play. There were times where I would drop connection, the game would freeze, or other issues. While I'm sure it was just my PS3's way of saving me from humiliation at the hands of a player who knows how to play, it may prove to be an issue for some players.

As with any sports game, half the difficulty is just knowing what you are doing. If you are new to the series, or just need to brush up on your skills, NHL 08 offers a few practice modes. Each mode is designed around skills you'll need while playing in real games. If shooting is giving you problems, you can go through shooting drills or you can work on specific plays with your team. This was a big help early on and actually helped my in-game skills and understanding of the game quite a bit.

The opposing A.I. is generally pretty aggressive, so even veterans will have to stay on their toes. Although there are a few "tricks" you can use again the A.I., it does a pretty good job of figuring out your tendencies and setting up strategies against them.

Game Mechanics:
Games are usually criticized when it looks like the players are simply gliding along the floor, though in NHL that is to be expected. Of course, having players move on ice presents a few new issues - especially little things like stopping or quickly turning. The general feel of NHL 08 is good; controls are responsive and it very easy to get the basic feel for them. However, moving around is only half the challenge; you also have to knock the puck around, which is handled by the skill stick. This feature is similar to the mechanic found in the NBA Live series; you move around with the left stick and control the stick with the right one. This allows you to pass and maneuver the stick with a more natural motion. It isn't something you'll pick up on your first try, but that's what the practice modes are for.

Except for the online mode, NHL 08 provides a stellar game of hockey. Even if you aren't the most skilled or knowledgeable of hockey fans, NHL 08 is accessible and offers plenty to do.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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