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Feature Article



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.



Gameplay:

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 at.

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 chalice.

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.

Graphics:

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.

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