One of the best aspects of hockey fandom are the video games. From the release of Nintendo's Ice Hockey in 1988, there have been a wealth of hockey games that have made an impression on casual and die-hard hockey fans alike. During Hockey Wilderness' Video Game Week, we'll be re-visiting our favorites. We continue with NHL 2K8.
I should probably preface all of this by saying that I'm really not much of a gamer. I played PS1 regularly as a kid and a bit of PS2 as a teenager but I've never been one to keep up with newest games and consoles as they came out. Sometime, during the first two years of college, when I was 17-18, I got my hands on a 2nd hand copy of NHL 2K8 from 2K Sports for PS2. I knew next-to-nothing about hockey at this point but I just got the urge to play an ice hockey game. At that time (and even now) the only games I can ever really play are sports games, mostly because they're easy to pick up and put down with very little commitment.
I remember booting up this game, going right into the Franchise Mode and spending a lot of time picking a team. I knew lots of team names already simply because they had just trickled through pop culture or whatever, but I had never heard of the Minnesota Wild, so when I saw their eye-catching green jerseys and saw that they were relatively new and not very good, I thought it might be cool to play as them. Playing that game, I learned all about how a hockey season works, the rules of the game and about numerous well known players. I used a Wild team that featured a pretty good top-6 of Mikko Koivu, Pavol Demitra, Brian Rolston, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Marian Gaborik and Mark Parrish. I still remember that in my first game I played, I lost 4-3 to the Blackhawks (featuring Robert Lang, Radim Vrbata and P.A. Parenteau) with Bouchard scoring a hat-trick from the 2nd line where he was beside Koivu. Typical Butch, am I right?
The gameplay took some getting used to for a complete hockey noob. It was fast and furious with a lot of hard hitting (the #1 way to stop the other team from scoring), odd-man rushes and a fair amount of button bashing for the player. It wasn't really a realistic simulation of NHL hockey in terms of the gameplay, but the franchise mode was very detailed with contract negotiations, roster management, the draft, free agency and various other things needing to managed pretty meticulously.
I don't remember how my first season went, but playing that game, along with my brother already being a big NHL fan and showing me stuff, set me on the path to becoming a fully fledged hockey fan...and the rest is history. When I started actually watching hockey all the time and becoming a big time fan, it changed the way I approached NHL 2K8. I began meticulously altering the settings to make the gameplay more realistic. Shot totals were brought down to normal levels, games weren't just a constant barrage of unrealistically hard hitting, I stopped just scoring primarily from wrap-arounds and one-timers and started working to score more goals with re-directions and by crashing the crease. I also spent a lot of time editing players and creating players and prospects who weren't in the game. Another thing I did, purely out of personal preference, was change the camera view to the side-on broadcast one rather than the traditional end-to-end camera. I found it way better for playing defence and suppressing shots against. I recommend trying it in whatever NHL game you play at the moment.
In the end, with those changes, the game was quite realistic while still being lots of fun and it was now a real challenge. I think I made the playoffs as a 6th or 7th seed in my first season and was eliminated from in the 1st round, so it was no walk in the park. One disappointing thing about the game was that at the end of the season, star players from other teams would almost always just walk as free agents so rosters would be completely different by the next year. I would have preferred if teams made an effort to lock up their best players so it was more realistic and consistent.
Besides the Franchise Mode and all the creating and editing stuff you can do, there's also some mini-games you can play, but I don't remember much about them. I did used to spend some time playing the shootout game to practice my one-on-one scoring. The graphics seemed good to me, but I don't have much to compare them to. The soundtrack was your typical game soundtrack with lots of crap metal and fairly forgettable stuff across the board, but it did have a pretty decent Les Savy Fav song and one of the okay Bloc Party songs on there so I guess it wasn't all bad.
It's been a couple of years since I played this game, and writing this article is giving me the urge to dig out the PS2 and see if it still works. It was a whole lot of fun and the ability customise and edit almost everything suited me perfectly.
Did any of you play this game? If so, leave a comment and tell us what you thought.