NHL 07 – The Bad
Where NHL 07 fails, and does so spectacularly, is on the front end. This is quite possibly the worst management interface ever devised. There are too many menus, getting through them is too time-consuming since they are animated menus, and if the phrase “style over substance” ever needed a perfect example, NHL 07 would more than suffice.
Take, for instance, line changes. This is a basic, routine function of any hockey game. Players get injured, acquired, and promoted from the minors. In NHL 2K7, when I edit lines, the game shows me a handy list of all the lines, highlighting all the ones with missing players in red, and showing the ones on which the selected player is playing in orange. Thus, in an instant I can know which lines are missing a player, or I can scroll through my list of players (who can be organized by categories such as skater, goalie, forward, center, right winger, left winger, and defender). As I scroll through, it tells me what lines the player is present on, making the task of trying to keeping a player off multiple lines easy.
Changing lines in NHL 07, on the other hand, is a “process”. First, you select the line and player you want to change. Then, you get to pick from a list of players available to take his place – but you cannot sort them by even forward/defense categories, never mind specific positions. If the person you want to replace him with is in the minors, you might as well scratch your player now, then back out of the line change menu, then back out into the main menu, then go into the GM menu, then manage your rosters. There, you can call players up to the majors, or send them down to the minors – but only if they’re already scratched. If you forgot to scratch your player, you have to go back to the GM menu, then the main menu, then head into the coach menu, choose to edit lines, select someone on a line as if you’re going to replace him, but really use that just to get your list of players, then scratch the guy you want to send down to the minors… and then go all the way back to your GM again. Scratching a player or sending him to the minors in NHL 2K7, by contrast, can be done from almost anywhere.
Did I forget to mention that if you sim, the AI will automatically call up and scratch players to fill a need if your players were injured, but once healed, it leaves the job up to you to put them back into position? Also, like previous NHL series games, the simulation AI isn’t smart enough to rotate goalies into the starter position, so that your main goalie gets rests every now and then. No, that would make sense if you’re simming a few months, wouldn’t it? Fortunately, the simulation process is unbearably slow – a month takes about a minute to sim – so you have plenty of time to press the “Stop simulation” button a few dozen times as it gets ignored for a few sim-games.
On the bright side, Michael Peca (among many) will no longer break all of Wayne Gretzky’s single-season scoring records during a sim-season. It seems EA has decided that an average score of 7-5 is no longer needed to excite players.
I praised NHL 07’s graphics and the new animations, but there are some issues with them. The animations are herky-jerky and when players collide, especially with a goalie and go flying, it really looks like stop-motion animation. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever seen the old Sinbad films, Jason and the Argonauts, or the original King Kong. Even now, I’m not certain if it’s just a bad framerate during certain animations, or if the animations are just not smooth enough. Honestly, at times it looks like EA did draw them by hand rather than using motion capture.
The animations, skating controls and shot stick combine to create some problems though. If you’re racing up the wing, sometimes the game doesn’t register your desire to turn quickly enough – you’ll take a stride or two after your character tries to change directions. This may be an animation loop issue or unresponsive control inputs. Regardless, it sometimes feels as if something similar goes on with the shot stick. Slap shots don’t fire or come off as wrist shots, or the game ignores your choice of a fore- or back-hand shot and fires a regular wrist shot. It could be a matter of practice, but it’s very difficult to tell during a hectic match.
Finally, EA’s scouting and rating of players is quite off. Even better-known hockey players like Ryan Smyth are rated in ways which totally don’t reflect their gameplay. In the game, Smyth is a Cam Neely type of player: fast, hell of a shot, accurate, tough to get off the puck. In real life, he’s not that fast, his shot is a marshmallow, and he gets most of his goals by tip-ins and screening the goalie. As you can imagine, lesser-known players suffer from poor representation as well.