NHL 2K9 Review

Michael Finney

Detroit 7, Pittsburgh 2; that was the score of the first game of NHL 2K9 I ever played. No sliders (yes, they're back) in my favor, difficulty on default, and this being the first NHL game I have played on the Xbox 360 since 2K6. While I enjoyed slamming Sidney Crosby into the boards, ice hockey should never be this easy, right?

NHL 2K9 is the fourth installment of the series on the 360 and I can honestly say it is extremely polished with players react how they are supposed to and the controls being extremely responsive. One thing that I found out (much to my detriment) was that the AI has the ability to counteract your tactics if you continuously use the same one, a feature that is becoming more predominant in sports games in this day and age. In my case, taking the puck down one of the wings and trying to “one-time” it into the net was initially greatly successful on the first couple of attempts, but as time progressed, my tactics did not and later on, I was finding it extremely difficult to pull this manoeuvre off.

I am the greatest!

Another thing that fascinated me about NHL 2K9 was the amount of detail the developers put into the little things. Breaking the players up if they go in too early for a face-off and referees trying their hardest to get out of the play are only a couple of things that Team 2K does to try to make the gameplay as realistic as possible. Also, something as simple as giving you the option to simulate a season with no interruptions makes a huge difference to the enjoyment of a game. However, it is also the little things that make this game imperfect. Not showing players' ratings when a trade is offered is also extremely irritating and whilst this particular feature definitely makes you research your players and your team, you MUST either accept or reject the trade right then and there. You cannot put the player cards side by side and analyze the trade in further detail. Also, that weird menu system that 2K continues to force-feed its users is back and I don't know about anyone else, but I just can’t get used to pulling the right stick right to pull up the menus. When I press the “B” button and realize I have gotten rid of all the menus period, it raises my blood pressure by a few points.

Unfortunately for myself, and my player's well-being, every fight I have been in I have gotten my ass beaten down. There is no direction other than A for weak punch and B for strong. I have tried alternating, mashing, and being strategic with my punches and it still doesn’t matter. Fighting is supposed to be fun and exciting in hockey but this is far from it. Minor details can keep a good game from being great, and NHL 2K9 is no exception.

One of the new features that definitely needs to be discussed, aside from the updated rosters, is the "zamboni" mini-game. I was skeptical after I read the box, of how fun riding a zamboni could really be. I can honestly say that riding a zamboni is awesome. Aside from the word itself being great, cleaning the ice was a lot more fun than it should have been. After playing a few games, I found myself wanting the period to be over so I could ride the zamboni. Even though I never got the ice 100% clean, I still wanted to play this game more and more just so I could perfect it. Luckily this is one of the achievements that made me want to practice even more!

Get out of the way!

Playing online was a completely different story. One thing that I have never had a complaint with from any 2K game was their servers; they keep them up even for older games and you have to respect that. Now, I don’t know if they were doing maintenance or they were just down, but every game I entered either was extremely laggy or ended up disconnecting before the game began. As I tried to get back in another game, the servers completely kicked me out. As of right now, I cannot enter the 2K servers to play an online game. In addition, another downfall with the online aspect of the game period is that there has been no roster update. No rookies have been introduced into the game (even though their names have been) and you must create and insert them onto the team yourself. The reason for this is that the rookies must play at least one NHL game before they belong to the NHLPA, hence their official presence cannot be felt until this requirement has been met.

Even though no rookies had been introduced yet, the rosters were still staggering. Teams from countries such as Belarus, Russia, United States, and Sweden have been included to play at your disposal, even legendary teams from the past have been included as well for further enjoyment. One quirky thing I noticed with the rosters (this goes for both international and historical teams) is that some of them included genuine player names and some of them didn’t. I understand that the reason they can put the names into the team because they still play in the league, but why not just fill it out with the rest of the names? As I said before, it is the little things that keep this game from becoming a great game.

One of the mainstays of any American sports game is the elusive franchise mode. There have been many different installments of the game and every year they usually add a few new features. It would be crazy to think that they would dumb it down, but call me crazy, this year’s franchise mode seems eerily void of any new features. The news feed for the league as well as individual teams is neat, but should have been a standalone feature. Including it with the schedule is convenient, but completely reduces the depth of the mode. Don’t get me wrong, if you like to keep things simple, this is definitely your game. However, a hardened game veteran that loves customization and depth in a franchise mode will be extremely disappointed. A good thing about this simplicity that I want to point out again is the option to avoid any distractions while simulating a season and this includes everything from auto-updating your roster if a player gets hurt to avoiding any and all trades.

The greatest show on ice.

If you are a fan of long, tedious achievements, then this game is for you, but unfortunately for the rest of us, it's too much like grinding for them to carry any praisee. Whilst a little bit of thought was put into these achievements, they look strangely like some of the other 2K games (both NHL 2K7 and 2K8). Also, there have been murmurs of glitched achievements, however, the achievements in question have to do with online play which has been strangely off-kilter for the past few days. Half of the achievements are milestone markers such as score X amount of goals and X amount of assists and whilst most of these achievements can be reasonably attained, some require some definite skill. Perfecting the zamboni mini-game is something I have yet to do and scoring from behind the blue line looks like something I will have to do when the opposing goalie is pulled. Then, there are the “gimme’s.” These include a viral achievement that should be a cinch when the servers are working and recording statistics again, customizing your personal avatar, and downloading and rating a reel are an easy 60 GS.

Without a doubt, this is the simplest of the '09 games to have graced our system. While a blessing for some, it is a big let-down for many. Modes have been dumbed down and rosters have yet to be updated at the time of writing this. Players have been omitted and online is down (disclaimer: the servers were down at the time of this review and may or may not be up at the current date). However, this game is extremely polished and looks gorgeous, even when not playing with HD. The controls are extremely responsive and the mini-games are fun. The achievements are bland and not much thought has been put into them. While a thoroughly enjoyable experience, certain things could definitely have been improved upon.

I really enjoyed the track list that was provided. There were enough songs so repetition was pretty much non-existent.

Extremely polished and even looked good when not taking full advantage of the game's HD capabilities.

Controls are responsive and players did what they were told to do without a hitch. Lack of fighting direction hurts this score.

Hurt by a dumbed down franchise mode. At least the announcers weren’t annoying.

Not really much thought into these. Will eventually get most of them by just playing the game.

Not the worst hockey game but definitely not the best. I felt a little skimped when I was playing the franchise mode and felt they were replaced with other lesser modes. The zamboni mini-game was an excellent addition and having at least updated rosters was nice. Enjoyable while in a game, frustrating when navigating the menus and the simplicity of it all.

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