November 14, 2006 - Hockey is perhaps the most perfectly realized sport in the world of videogames. It's fast, easy to learn yet hard to master, and both fluid and brutal all at the same time. It takes a skillful developer to really get it right, but when everything comes together hockey videogames are generally one of the most fun sports and party games out there.
Kush Games and 2K Sports return to the ice once again with NHL 2K7, the latest installment in the reigning hockey franchise champ. The game was released not too long ago on the Xbox 360 (and current-gen systems as well), and while the PS3 version is in large part an exact replica of said release, it does bring with it a few PlayStation 3-specific features that make great use of the SIXAXIS controller.
One of the things that's made the series great for some time now is its extremely fluid control. Players really feel like they're on the ice, skating in proper arcs and accelerating and decelerating at realistic speeds. The hardest part of any hockey game to get right is the skating, and luckily Kush has nailed this.
The skating ties directly into the game's extremely smooth and realistic animation system. Players lean, kick and shift their bodies exactly as real humans would, helping to heighten the game's sense of fluidity. The players' weight is also simulated quite well here, with crushing checks that really deliver the feel of inertia and mass. It's too bad the SIXAXIS doesn't support rumble to help emphasize the blows...
Speaking of checking, this brings up the PlayStation 3's first unique feature in that you can use the SIXAXIS controller to check your opponent. You can land a ferocious blow by simply moving the controller towards another player, be it by simply tilting or full-on thrusting it like you're actually trying to check someone. The movement response is really quite good and works just as well as pressing Circle does. It feels a tad odd at first, and we weren't quite sure whether we'd stick with it or not, but after a period or two we can't go back to simply pressing a button. The act of shoving the controller and seeing your on-screen player check the living hell out of someone is too rewarding.
The other way that NHL 2K7 uses the SIXAXIS is with its Crease Control system. For those not familiar with it, Crease Control is activated by pressing R3 when you're on defense and allows you to control your goalie from a third-person, over the shoulder perspective. You're given a vision cone that you aim to control your defensive zone, and when a shot is fired you need to move a crosshair to the shot point to block the puck. It's a really fun and inventive system, though it's been a bit slow to line up the markers with an analog stick.
With the PlayStation 3 version of NHL 2K7, you're able to perform everything but dive moves with the SIXAXIS' tilt controls (you use the right analog stick for these). Tilting the controller from side to side moves your goalie's vision cone, and rotating it forward and back moves the block marker up and down. It's quite simple and intuitive to use, and it allows you to block shots that would be nearly impossible with an analog stick simply because of movement speed. The tilt control allows for awesome use of the Crease Control and it becomes quite a bit more fun than using a stick. We could play entire games from this perspective and not miss the hat trick celebrations.