• Sports games, sports games, sports games…They have come thick and fast onto the Xbox 360 and have given us more choice than we care to think about when it comes to choosing a sports title. That said certain sports genres have been excluded until recently, and 2K Sports being the professionals they are have stepped out onto the ice with the first Xbox 360 Ice Hockey game – that being NHL 2K6.

    Being the first Ice Hockey game on the 360 therefore makes it very important to set the standards high, by not only producing a superb game to play but to ensure it is given the 360 touches; sheen appeal and all that we are all coming to expect from any 360 title, now. 2K Sports are certainly not the new kids on the block, but are they set to leave us with a pleasing chill and a smile or just annoyed and wishing the ice would bloody well melt.Â

    The menu system within NHL 2K6 is very similar to that in NBA 2K6 but to be expected as after all both titles are from 2K Sports.  But if you have seen neither game then all of the available game modes are presented to you on the main screen, and then with you digging deeper you will discover a huge amount of changeable options buried within each menu. It may appear overwhelming at first, and even confusing, as there really are an amazing amount of menus and screens to jump in and out of. But with practice you will learn what is where and find yourself navigating like a pro.

    NHL 2K6

    Speaking of game modes NHL 2K6 comes packed with a huge amount of content, from the quick pick up and ‘play now’ game mode, through to a huge franchise mode, party game modes and the title also providing full Xbox LIVE Multiplayer support. Content wise this game is certainly no quick dash and you will need to put in a fair amount of time to get through all the content available to you. But as with any sports game content as important as it is to have a wide amount of choice…matters not if the gameplay of the said game is not up to scratch.Â

    Gameplay in my books also contains looks appeal and sound appeal… why? Well it’s simple if I don’t like the look to the game then it has already gone half way into ruining my experience. Now in NHL 2K6 it has to be stated that the best looking part of the game is the ice…now this may seem like a harsh statement I am making, but the character modelling which is where your eyes are drawn to for the majority of the time in my opinion is just plain awful. The saving grace being whilst you are in play your team players are mini-me size for the majority of the time. What 2K Sports did beautifully with NBA 2K6 they seem to have done with their eyes closed on NHL 2K6. The character modelling although slightly better than the Xbox version of the game is certainly not presented as it could be with the HD technology on this spanking shiny next generation 360. The modelling is blocky and very poorly done, plenty of hair cut styles to show off with but every single ice hockey players face looks the same and is actually quite freaky. And don’t even get me started on the crowd, as it will only result in me swearing a lot, yes I know its background graphics…but even so.

    What robs Peter will only lead to pay Paul, and it has to be made clear that the audio presentation within the game is top notch and very neatly done. The puck pinging around as you would expect and skate to ice sounding perfect. Even the crowd chant is what you should expect with an Ice Hockey game although I did expect a bit more volume from them on certain occasions within the game. The commentators are cheesy but hey aren’t they always and although they are not the usual pairing that have been tied to the 2K NHL series in the past they are at least accurate with the tempo of the play, which is more than can be said on most EA Sports games.

    Now the actual gameplay itself is fairly neatly done although a tad easy. I would recommend starting on pro level at least, as any difficulty level below pro will only lead to making the game far too easy and thus un-realistic. Passing the puck around is easy and once again by pressing in a thumbstick your team mates are assigned a face button, bumper button or trigger and by pressing said button you will swiftly pass the puck to you player. Shooting is simple and left to one button and you can even pull of some neat tricks to ensure you keep the puck away from your opponents on the defence. But with speaking of defence this can actually be quite difficult at times and whilst Ice Hockey positively encourages rough play, it becomes too easy to get a smidge too rough and you will only end up committing a never-ending list of fouls. Overall the gameplay is fairly fluid and once you have notched up the difficulty level can also prove to be quite entertaining and challenging, but with what I have stated already the looks department lets the gameplay down in my opinion as the looks to the game could have been a hell of a lot better, it just does not feel like a next generation platform game.

    Xbox LIVE Multiplayer also became a big bug bear with me as I found it practically impossible to get a game with someone, the system seemed confusing and when I did eventually find a game, I found it’s not nice to be beating the player as they quit out on me before the match had ended. Thinking this was a one off turned out to be not so true as my second match after much frustration in getting it once again ended with a quitter not being happy at losing. So if you are looking at this game for the LIVE experience then be prepared for a frustrating time in (a) getting a match and (b) having that match go the distance.

    Before I close with summing up it has to be stated that once again a sports game has produced a no imagination approach to the Xbox 360 achievement list. Like with NBA 2K6, NHL 2K6 only has 5 achievements to gain, and the majority of them can be achieved fairly easily, with the penalty shot on all-star setting being the only one that appears to be blind luck in getting it. Everybody loves the gamerscore system with the 360 but I am also pretty sure that the majority of players out there also enjoy a challenge and well… some of the achievements within NHL 2K6 were just to damn easy to get. Maybe this is a clever strategy knowing that more of their titles will be sold to players just wanting points, but it is still pretty lame.

    Okay now it really is time to close. NHL 2K6 is the only Ice Hockey game out there and whilst there is a huge amount of game content to sink your teeth into, and coupled with the fact that the game actually plays pretty well. It’s biggest let down is its looks and I will stand by my statement in that, it matters not how fine the gameplay is, if the game does not look good then I am not going to want to play it. The Xbox 360 is a showcase for visual beauty and well NHL 2K6 is nowhere near the mark when compared to other sports games out there. Nice try – but no first prize.

    Score: 6/10

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