System: multiple :: Rating: Everyone 10+ :: Players: 1-4
Genre: Sports :: Released: 06 September 2005
By Kellen Scrivens
29 May 2006 — EA's NHL series is one that I have followed for many years. Dating back to the original NHL Hockey for the Genesis (which I still have), I've owned '94, '98, '03 and '04. In recent years, however, the terrible gameplay and horrendous passing system (specifically '02 through '04) have rubbed me the wrong way. However, after hearing so many good reviews of NHL '06, I decided to give the new game a try.
The first thing I will say is that the actual gameplay is a great step up from '04: the passing connects very well, which opens up gameplay quite a bit. I'm also a big fan of the new shooting system, which covers two buttons: one for wrist shots, and one for slapshots. While many (including myself) will often go to the slapshot button (and be effective with it), the wrist shot is good for precision and will slide you through a screen with relative ease. (Yes, screens help now!) And while some may complain about rebounds being too damn big, I like them; just like in real-life, goalies rarely give up big rebounds... but you can put a goal in fairly easily when they do.
The goalies on the other hand are one thing that I don't really like, specifically their AI. The two main points that absolutely kill me are as follows. First, they have a habit of treading the line when playing the puck. As some of you know, in the new NHL, a goalie cannot play the puck in the corners. There is a trapezoid behind the net, and if he plays the puck outside of it he'll receive a delay of game penalty. In many cases, they'll play a puck close to the line and by the time you take control he will cross over the line and you'll be hit with a penalty! The other thing that really pisses me off is that they go down too damn much... and don't get up! I mean, if an opposing player is within an inch of the crease, the goalie sprawls down like Dominik Hasek in his glory days. On top of that, the goalie will stay down until the puck is cleared from the zone. Once my goalie made two amazing saves, then stayed down for five seconds as the puck slowly slid back to the shooter... who then easily scored on me.
Graphically, this game is incredible! The players look great, and the hits are amazing (I personally love the hits): every animation, from a Darius Kasparaitis-ish open ice hip check to a crush against the boards which leaves the guy without his stick, is smooth and lifelike. After each period the ice looks nicked and scratched, but regains its pristine, shiny smoothness before play resumes. Sadly the crowd leaves a bit to be desired, but at the very least they're decked out in hometown colors, jerseys and flair.
I must split the audio into two categories: the on-ice sounds and the announcing. The bone-crunching checks, the swishing of the blades, the ping of a puck flying into a metal post are all expertly crafted and, together, they add a real-life feel to the overall game. On the other hand, there is the subpar announcing. To put it bluntly, I am not a fan of Jim Hughson, and I think his work in NHL '06 is flat. Also (and this isn't Jim's fault) for just about every player, there is a quip about them, such as "puck picked up by Daniel Sedin... who was drafter alongside his twin brother Henrik by the Vancouver Canucks." Not only is that annoying, but most of the time Jim cuts himself off. Due to the speed at which the game moves, one second Hughson will be talking about the Sedin brothers, and the next another soundbite will interrupt his previous thought. It can be quite annoying.
Extras wise, '06 is fairly good. The 10-season Dynasty Mode should keep you busy for awhile. Once more a global flavor has been added, with teams from the German, Swedish and Finish Elite Leagues (now get the Russian Superleague and they'll be set), as well as an assortment of international rosters. On top of that, the create-a-player and -team modes are solid. So if you're an old Jets fan like myself, you can recreate them in all their glory. Tossed in for good measure are some fun party games, and the Genesis version of NHL '94. Overall it is a good package to keep a hockey fan happy.
While definitely not the greatest hockey game to ever grace a home console, NHL '06 does put forth a good effort. Despite a few shortcomings, '06 is a very solid game that I will definitely find myself playing for quite some time.
I give NHL '06: 4 "I wish the Jets would come back"s out of 5.