With the NHL’s full season lockout now ended, eager
hockey fans are itching to get their hands on an NHL videogame.
NHL 06, EA’s latest hockey game, promises a more exciting
and fast-paced style of play. EA attempts to achieve this
style of play through a wealth of in-game additions. Let’s
take a look at these gameplay additions as well as some of
the other new features.
EA’s main focus this year was to implement a faster
paced gameplay that would allow for more highlight reel moments.
The game is intended to be more offense-based than it has
been in the past, but EA was smart to avoid turning the game
into a completely unrealistic goal-fest.
The most advertised feature of NHL 06 is the ‘Skill
Stick’. The ‘Skill Stick’ is a new offensive
control that allows you to perform show-stopping moves. The
moves are programmed to correspond with the different directions
of the right thumb-stick, and the left trigger can be used
to modify these moves. They can only be done effectively by
star players (indicated by a star instead of a circle) and
most aren’t too outlandish for an NHL simulation. Some
people will be annoyed by certain moves, such as a player
shooting the puck through their legs, but they can take comfort
in the fact that the ‘Skill Stick’ does not guarantee
a goal. In fact, it can only be used in certain situations,
and you still must aim your shot.
This year, shots can be aimed using the new target system.
EA’s NHL games have always featured a form of shot aim,
but this year, a target appears where you want to shoot the
puck. This feature is very well implemented, and it is a great
way for gamers to experience having to pick a hole to shoot
Another great new addition to the game is ‘Classic Deke
Control’. This feature integrates skating control with
stick control. As you skate forward, you can move the left
thumbstick side-to-side in order to perform manual dekes.
This is a great way to move around defenseman and it can also
be used to fake goalies out of position. A similar new feature
is the inclusion of momentum. In NHL 06, each player has a
set amount of turbo to use during each period. In addition
to turbo being limited, players also have to use turbo less
due to the fact that it limits a player’s ability to
turn. In this way, NHL 06 mimics the real-life effect of having
an increased turning radius due to skating faster. Also, the
turbo button forces a player to put the puck in front of them
in order to generate speed. This increases the likelihood
of losing the puck, and it is impossible to use the turbo
button in tight quarters. The added control provided by the
‘Classic Deke Control’ is perfectly balanced with
the inclusion of skating momentum, and the combination of
the two provides for the most well implemented skating system
ever seen in a hockey video game.
Another much needed adjustment has been made in NHL 06. This
time, the NHL series moves away from the arcade style of hitting
that has been present for years. Now, you can’t absolutely
crush someone each and every time you make a check. Depending
on the circumstance you either slightly slow an opponent down,
bump them off the puck or knock them down.
NHL 06 will feature all of the new rule changes that the NHL
has made. This includes the bigger attacking zone, delayed
offside rule, no two-line pass, and the limited goalie zones.
The limited goalie zones prevent the goaltender from touching
the puck outside a defined area of the ice. Unfortunately,
NHL 06 seems to have rushed the implementation of this rule.
Goaltenders skate out of the net and then suddenly remember
the new rule. Sometimes they can’t skate away from the
puck fast enough and you get hit with a two-minute penalty.
This is a slight but sometimes costly annoyance that can often
times change the outcome of a game.
Even though the majority of new features are seen in-game,
‘Dynasty Mode’, the main single player mode of
play in NHL 06, has not been forgotten. I am overjoyed to
be able to say that the goal based ‘Dynasty Mode’
of NHL 2005 is now an option. Now, you don’t have to
participate in tasks such as having the number one power-play
team in the league to keep your job. Now, if you are like
me and have no interest in this type of thing, you can merely
toggle this option off and worry about winning the big silver
The biggest addition to ‘Dynasty Mode’ is the
new period-by-period simulation. Now you can jump into the
game at any time to save your team from defeat. You can jump
in between periods and you can intervene with 5 minutes left
in the 3rd period. This is a good way to handle simulating
certain games that you need to win but don’t necessarily
want to play. If you are the more impatient type, you can
simulate the entire game at once, and if you are even more
impatient, you can simulate weeks, months, and even seasons
using the calendar.
Another change to ‘Dynasty Mode’ is the automatic
configuration of coaching assistant. In the past, if you simulated
too many games at a time, the game would edit your lines automatically.
Now, the game generally keeps your lines together by switching
its “Assistant Coach” to low. Aside from what
has been discussed and some slight coaching and financial
tweaks, the Franchise mode is basically the same. The salary
cap has not been implemented, probably due to a lack of time
to include it. As a person who likes to build teams with an
outrageous number of superstars, I’m glad that the salary
cap is absent in NHL 06. I hope that they include the option
to turn salary cap on or off in the future, because I think
that salary caps can take some of the fun out of videogames.
The in-game gameplay of NHL 06 is very solid, despite some
rough edges such as the goaltender rule implementation. The
main mode of play is basically the same, despite a few changes
here and there. I would have liked to have seen a bit more
in terms of ‘Dynasty Mode. I hope to see a drastically
improved off-season mode in NHL 07. They could use an idea
similar to Madden’s training camp drills that use mini-games
to determine a player’s progress during the off-season.
The graphics in NHL 06 are the best aspect of the game. The
player models and rink details are all very solid, but that
isn’t what makes the visual element of the game so great.
NHL 06 features the best presentation of any EA game to date.
This just proves that a game doesn’t need big ESPN logos
flashing around everywhere to have good presentation. It comes
down to the fact that 06 features fantastic looking menus
and graphic displays, well implemented replays, and amazing
cut-scenes. The scenes of players entering the ice, warming
up, celebrating goals, and more of the same make the game
much more fun to play.