I’ve been a big fan of 2K Sports’ NHL games so it’s only natural that I pick up NHL 2K8 since the new season is just underway. The latest edition of NHL 2k8 has taken a few more risks to keep the gamers interested in their always evolving hockey game. If you are familiar with the NHL 2K series in the past you know what you in for, but 2K has thrown in a few new twists for a more positive playing experience that will take some time to get used to. 2K has also given the series a cosmetic boost as well as deepening the franchise, updating the goaltending mode and introduced the new ProStick feature.

The ProStick feature is 2K’s answer to EA’s Skill Stick that they introduced in NHL 07. The new system is almost identical to EA’s Skill Stick, using your right analog stick to control the puck moving it from side to side, and from the front to behind your body. Shooting the puck is still mapped to the controller’s buttons, with an updated layout compared to previous years. Unfortunately somebody at 2K Sports felt that combining buttons was a good way to determine the kind of shot you’ll take at goal. You can’t simply press A or X to perform a slapshot anymore, now it’s a combination of buttons and the right timing. Something that will have you scratching your head over. 2K also introduced the new Superstar combo moves, which are controlled by holding down the left trigger along with a face button. The Superstar moves add a lot of personality to the game with a quick spin or through the leg shot. It’s a little confusion during the action get used to performing these moves, but once you get used to it the game is really enhanced.

NHL 2K8 also has a deeper franchise mode with the typical features included, but now you can go deeper behind the desk with managing e-mails, keeping a happy team, and negotiating free agents and other contracts. CBA features including waivers, two-way contracts, restricted and unrestricted free agents, and salary cap management are also present, and off-season activities have been revamped, including an improved draft and contract negotiating system. I was extremely impressed with the negotiating system. You’ll find yourself walking a tightrope, balancing your owner’s wallet with the asking price of a player’s agent. If you aren’t fair in the negotiating process, you could risk having the player walk away from the negotiating table. Lastly there’s a new player progression system and dynamic player types, so as the seasons progress, players’ attributes will improve or decline as they become star players, veterans or wash outs.

The graphics have been given a nice boost giving it a more realistic look while watching in full motion. Player models look much better with accurate equipment, which you can edit for color, size and brand, and updated faces. Off the ice, I think it’s about time the NHL 2K series received a bit of a face-lift. The menus look dated and the new menu layout, a tree-like format, is a step backwards. One annoying thing I found was the calendar, which has been minimized into a horizontal bar that doesn’t allow you to see beyond a week a time without pressing a button several times. Hockey Night in Canada announcers Bob Cole and Harry Neale return to the booth, and I find them to be bland and out of place within the game. I miss Gary Thorne and Bill Clement from when 2K had the ESPN franchise.

Lastly NHL 2K8 has focused a lot of energy retooling the goaltending brains, its artificial intelligence. The new AI makes a impactful touch to making 2K feel more real which is a plus when you get down to breaking a tied game. The overhauled goaltending has new animations that include some cool save animations along with a more aggressive and instinctive behaviour. Goalies will now come out and challenge players with the puck as well as guard the post for those annoying around the back scores.

Overall though the game has gotten a much needed boost. With EA’s NHL 08 hot on its heels 2K had to step up to the plate and they have. It may take some time getting used to the new layouts, but it’s still a fun game and worth the buy. Problem is EA’s NHL 08 could be worth a buy as well.