Ice Hockey can be one of the most fast paced and exciting sports around and, with the promise of fisticuffs on the ice and high speed body checks into the barricades, one of the most violent.
Ice hockey is all about speed, aggression and power, and it's this that NHL 2K8 manages to capture so perfectly. Holding down the R1 button causes your skater to speed up and power across the ice, and hitting the Circle button sees your player lower his shoulder to deliver a shoulder barge that can knock an opponent clean off his feet (or even over the barrier and into the penalty box if you're lucky). Of course, this being ice hockey, too much aggression and the opposition are going to want to throw down. When this happens, hit the SELECT button and you go into a one-on-one fighting mini-game where the aim is to knock your opponent down, giving a nice morale boost to your team.
The graphics and animation are all top notch, with particular attention paid to the ice and ice effects. Skaters move realistically, and leave trails on the ice wherever they go. They also raise a fine shower of ice whenever they stop. There's a great deal of attention to detail here, with light reflecting naturally off the ice and the players and some brilliant bombastic all-American commentary during the games.
The control system is fantastic. It's simple to pick up and play, and while you can get through most matches with just a combination of the pass, shoot and tackle buttons, for those willing to learn there's a huge amount of depth and substance to be uncovered. New features include Pressure Control where you select a player for your teammates to apply pressure to, Crease Control, where you take direct control of the goalie and are given the opportunity to save shots, Pro Control, that allows you total control over the power and direction of your shots and passes, and On The Fly Coaching, where you can issue orders to your teammates in the heat of the match. In this way both newcomers and veterans are catered for, and there are real benefits in learning the advanced techniques to give you the vital edge in games.
Going for gold
You can opt for a Quick Game, or the more in-depth Season Mode that sees you control your team over a whole season, with the goal of winning Ice Hockey's ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. For frustrated managers out there, there's also Franchise Mode, that gives you control over every aspect of your chosen team, from hiring managers to scouting the minor leagues for new talent while trying to keep the board happy.
There's a whole wealth of less serious options too, including 15 great party games you can play with up to three friends that see you trying to smash ice blocks, hold on to the puck for as long as possible, or collect brightly coloured tokens while picking up power-ups to freeze your opponents to the spot. There's also the option to play pond hockey on a frozen lake, and even a virtual games room where you can play air hockey, shuffleboard and a hockey trivia quiz. With so many game options on offer, as well as unlockable teams, jerseys and rinks there's enough game content here to keep anyone interested for a long, long time.
Whether you're a fan of ice hockey or not, NHL 2K8 is a brilliantly fun slice of action sports gameplay that's sure to get the adrenaline pumping, and there's more than enough depth to make sure that you'll keep coming back for more.