NHL 07 Review for Xbox 360

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EA Sports skipped last year with its NHL series of games for the Xbox 360. This was actually welcome as I wish many more of their titles skipped a year to truly bring something new and exciting that wasn’t available before. There are so many EA games where you feel only token gestures have been made to help sell millions more copies of a series, but with NHL 07 being their first NHL for the Xbox 360, lets see what the extra time has brought us.

Gameplay

The big extra for this latest NHL title is the Skill Stick. Chuck out those controls we have become comfortable with for all these years and bring in something new and hey maybe even exciting as well to the arena. EA have really delivered something here that has caught everybody’s attention, which is no small advancement. Using the right analog stick, you can now control the smallest action when attacking. By pulling back and letting fly with this method, you can feel in total control, well after a great deal of practice anyway.

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It is not just shooting though that the Skill Stick revolutionizes, it is the whole process of getting close to the goal area and craftily using tricks like the simple deke and then smashing the puck in the back of the net with the precision and total satisfaction never really seen before. Enjoy with a flick of a stick a wrist shot, slap shot and even a fake shot.

So using two analog sticks at the same time, you must learn a whole new system for NHL gaming. By using both analog sticks, you can’t reach the A,B,X or Y buttons, instead you have to use the right trigger to pass when you have the puck. This is very confusing at first as you are more likely to pass than shoot and vice versa for quite some time, but then all of a sudden it clicks in to place.

You can choose to use the standard classic way of controlling your players, however it really is advisable to spend some time with the new method as the rewards are well worth the effort, especially for attacking.

So a great start with something that could have been yet another gimmick, but it has really taken the game to a new level of immense action and enjoyment. Just shows you what extra time and consideration can bring to a title!

The AI has been enhanced apparently, which may well be the case for attacking; however defensive behavior still feels a little odd. There is still some work to be done here to really make this game stand out, although you have to admire the work that has been completed in other areas that really makes this game shine.

Unfortunately though there are few modes that really take advantage of this new excitement that is experienced. There is a season type mode, which as you would expect is pretty extensive and fun to progress through, however you can’t help but wonder where all the other game modes are. This distinct lack of modes is quite frankly heart breaking when you consider the magnitude of greatness the title provides in presentation and gameplay.

There is always of course online, but this is just simply ranked or non-ranked gaming with little in the way of additional modes. What I would do for a mini game like ‘Pick Up’ in NHL Rivals on the original Xbox.

Graphics

We are finally hitting that sweet spot when games for the Microsoft Xbox 360 are really taking advantage of the horse power it has available. Next Generation gaming graphically anyway, is really shining with some of the new titles leading up to Christmas and NHL 07 is one you would hold right up there with the best. If you want jaw dropping graphics to show off the consoles power, then this is one title that is sure to come out from your collection among the very elite that is soon to be available.

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OK so NHL games have an advantage as the size of the arena and number of players help keep things contained in an enclosed area, however the level of graphical detail is still (and I say this with no exaggeration) staggering on both standard definition and of course especially high definition displays.

There have always been enhancements, but I am talking about the whole experience from the game. Players just look superb both from a distance and close up. You can see features on the clothing that just amaze with some truly splendid attention to detail. It is hard to explain in a review how wonderful the whole things look, but I will try.

So we are all used to shiny ice and head gear with reflections, but have you ever seen clothing fabrics and indentations that look photorealistic? No probably not, especially in an NHL game. Shockingly there are very few cut scenes during play that really make the most of this graphical drama that is presented on your screen, but when you do, just sit back and thank God you have an Xbox 360.

There is a price to pay for this extravaganza of visual quality though as the frame rate seems to sit in the 30 frames per second range. This is not a terrible thing and it is very stable with little fluctuation when you consider all the detail, but it isn’t as silky smooth as you might hope for something as quick and slick like hockey games in the past. You do experience a feel of awkwardness with this lower frame rate action, but it is minor and the lush presentation more than makes up for it.

Sound

Gone is the supposedly humorous commentary of old and now enjoy the much more serious coverage from Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. It is a little repetitive, but at least we are back on track with the more serious offerings now available.

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Music is also a little repetitive and doesn’t really add to the atmosphere of in game action at all. I remember early hockey games having some really bass pounding tracks with lots of reverb to give the impression you were actually in the stadium, but it actually lacks that same impact. It is not bad or even average, but I do expect more especially from EA as they have done it in the past with great results.

Crowds still sound great though and add to the overall atmosphere, so that coupled with the new commentary team, we have a great 5.1 surround experience, just a shame the music isn’t quite on the same level.

Longevity

Season games should certainly keep you busy and with Xbox Live, you can enjoy some online spectaculars, although as with most EA online games, the performance is quite depressing at times as games randomly fail to start up and the lag being quite extensive.

Other than that though, there isn’t that much more to sink your teeth into except for maybe taking on earning the achievements.

Conclusion

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The best NHL game EA has produced in a long time! Certainly the best looking sports game to grace the Xbox 360 at the moment with its beautiful visuals and lush presentation, however there is a feel of some minor loss of control from the lower frame rate provided.

The gameplay is certainly more involving with the new control design and is well worth trying out as attacking becomes a triumph in this latest incarnation. So hit the ice smiling with this superb addition to the series.

Rating: 4 / 5