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NHL 08
Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: HB Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Sports (Hockey)

Graphics & Sound:
In tales of far away, frozen lands like Canada, there is legend of a sport played by monsters. Ruthless beasts that scathe on razor sharp blades of death and do battle with clubs. A game where they battle for control of the immortal puck and attempt to get into their opponent's goal. Epic individual battles would break out where two opponents would battle to the death. Now, only if NHL 08 was actually half as interesting. I honestly mean no disservice to the avid fans of the game, but that is exactly what you would have to be to get into this specific title. I was there for Blades of Steel, and just like every sport game today, there has been a long and arduous growth from a hockey-like game to a true sport simulator. But truth be told, you do alienate people from learning about the game.

One thing that the game has going for it is that it is actually very pretty to look at. The animations and timing are very tight and show the result of a job well done. I have seen supposed next-gen titles that don't have the graphical polish. There the usually graphical clips that we have come to expect and are accustomed to. We will see this in every title that they use their current engine on, but by far there are fewer noticeable instances here than in other EA examples.

Sticking with their new universal front end, you will have the opportunity to listen to several new age musical selections. Now I have yet to figure out exactly how long people sit in the front end waiting to play that they would need so many choices for menu music, but hey it's there for you.

NHL 08 has a slew of game modes and a few new features for this year's season. Whether you would like to be on the ice or in the box, you can control every aspect of your franchise or season. Getting into a game is easy. Right off of the Main Menu, you can jump into Play Now, choose teams and go. For more options, choose Game Modes to find something that suits your fancy. From there in the Main Menu you have control of Rosters, Rules and, of course, the creation area to build your own team. Almost missed, but hopefully forgettable, is EA's continued commitment to merchandising and selling in games, with EA Sports Extras.

In Game Modes, there is a lot to choose from this year. First you have the option to go head to head with the world online; that is, if you can handle it. You have the massive Dynasty Mode where you have the keys to the castle to control the day-to-day, manage players and rosters and lead your way to glory. Remember as a team manager that you have to please the owners that sit above you. If running the whole show from the box isn't your style, then lace up your skates and take to the Season Mode. Choose from six different leagues to dominate. New to this area is the AHL; now you can bring the kids up all the way to the big leagues. In World Tournament Mode, you pit country against country on a modern version of the Cold War. Set up your own playoff series in NHL Playoffs mode. The last two modes are just for fun. EA Sports Free for All and Shoot Out mini-games take advantage of the stick control to have a blast of shooting one in without the messy details of a full game and rules.

The are a few last minute new details for you to take a look at. There is now a Hybrid Controller scheme you can take advantage of to control the puck any way you want to. They have also introduced the Buddy Buzz so you can get your teammates' attention when playing to let him know you're open.

NHL 08 is supposed to be hockey, and hockey is one of those easy games to overgeneralize, much like soccer. All you have to do is get the puck into your opponent's net. This seems easy on the outside, but you would be surprised exactly how hard such a simple thing was to accomplish.

The very first time I put the game in, I wanted to get the feeling for the game because they didn't bother to include a tutorial of any kind for those new to this franchise. So I picked the biggest missmatch I could in my favor. They have four modes: Beginner, Easy, Medium, and Difficult. So which did I choose? You guessed it, Beginner. Now I am not one to strap on my skates and take the open waters of the local pond down here in Texas, but I have seen the game many times. I probably watch it more during the Olympics, but I do know the game. I am pretty sure that they put that guy in all of his padding in the goal area for a reason, and I thought it was to stop the puck. In the first minute and twenty-two seconds, the worst team they had scored two goals from drop against the best team the game has. I was dumbfounded. It took a moral obligation to continue playing.

I then went to the difficulty settings to take a look. In the four modes, they list four attributes you as the player have over your opponent. These were Speed, Scoring, Checking and Opposition. It was ridiculous to try and shoot the puck with their Hybrid Control scheme as most of the time you just juggled the puck a lot. It was too high a barrier for entrance into this franchise.

Game Mechanics:
NHL 08 boasts an extremely involved control scheme that is supposed to allow you the most control the franchise has to offer. All of this is great and all, but it was just too hard to shoot the puck. Now to their credit, I think they realized this because they saw fit to include the "Classic" control scheme for those of us who didn't want to do tendon damage in our thumbs to get a shot off. Whether true or not, I felt like the Classic style was easily blocked by the computer whereas the newer Hybrid would get through more, that is when you could get it to shoot.

The parts of the game that were not actually played on the ice looked very good, and the interfaces were clean and easy to understand. You had no question what was expected in any area, and it seemed almost too easy to use.

Time to pull the goalie and take the last shot. The overbalanced difficulty and convoluted control issues just made this game unfun for me to play. There is plenty for a rabid fan to do here with the many game modes, but when it comes right down to it, there is a huge barrier for anyone else to enjoy the game. This would almost warrant it two separate scores, one high for content and one low for actual gameplay. But, since that isn't how we roll here, we are going to have say it just came out average.

-WUMPUSJAGGER, GameVortex Communications
AKA Bryon Lloyd

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