Sunday, September 21, 2008

NHL 2k9 - First Impressions

I've had NHL 2k9 for a few days now and I've gotten five games in using the standard Pro difficulty and default sliders (7 minute periods).

It appears to play a decent game of hockey. I'm not finding it as fun to play as NHL 08, but that game was really frigg'n good. Puck physics are fantastic. Players look great skating along the ice and I'm not a hockey strategy guru, but they appear to play sound positional hockey. There are, however, yellow flags all over the place. For example, goal scoring -in terms of what types of shots will go in and what types won't- is very, very narrow.

I haven't played 2k hockey in a long, long time, so I was relieved to see that at least the super goalies aren't there anymore (probably haven't been for awhile). But 90% of the goals I've seen scored come from directly in front of the net, and usually from within a few feet of the crease. I've had one shot from a defenseman near the blue line find its way to the net and I've had absolutely nothing go in that came from a steep angle rather than straight on. For my next set of games I'm going to bump up the difficulty a notch and see how that affects things. 

Penalties also need some re-balancing. The AI rarely gets called for a 2-minute minor. (Again these are defaults only; changing the sliders could help.) In fact no AI controlled skater is called for a penalty very often. The vast majority of minor penalties I've seen have come as a result of me trying to use the Pro Evolution stick (the right stick) to swipe the puck, only to end up tripping a guy. Occasionally I'll get a roughing call if I get reckless with the check button. In one game I got tagged with a legit boarding call, which was pretty cool. But there has not been a single interference or obstruction call in five games played. And I've been trying to cause them. You can pretty much take out any player on the ice whether they have the puck or not and the only call you risk getting is roughing. I'm really hoping the sliders can address this as you can really make life hard for the AI by interfering with any player in front of the net that's waiting on a centering pass.

Here's the stats I've been tracking from each of the five games I've played.

Game 1     AI-Pit     Hu-Det
Shots         25          30
Goals         3            2
Pass %       88           84
Face-Offs   23          6
Hits           5            9
PIM            7            17
PK%            100        67

Game 2     AI-Pit     Hu-Det
Shots         21          34
Goals         2            4
Pass %       88           90
Face-Offs   15          15
Hits           11           14
PIM            0            10
PK%            0           100

Game 3     AI-Pit     Hu-Det
Shots         13          31
Goals         0            5
Pass %       91           82
Face-Offs   21          11
Hits           2            12
PIM            7            7
PK%            100        100

Game 4     AI-STL     Hu-CHI
Shots         25          42
Goals         6            5
Pass %       83           80
Face-Offs   30          20
Hits           2            16
PIM            12          20
PK%            100        80

Game 5     AI-STL     Hu-CHI
Shots         22          34
Goals         3            8
Pass %       88           80
Face-Offs   16          20
Hits           11           14
PIM            12          19
PK%            0           50

As you can see, my shooting percentage is probably a bit high. As I've gotten used to the controller set up it's mostly gotten easier and easier to put the puck in the net just by getting a puck carrier in front of the goalie and shooting a wrister. (I cannot find a control for manual vs. auto shot aim. It feels like it's on auto.) God I hope upping the difficulty settings will address this. Pass percentage has got to be too high, but I can't find a site with the stats I need to confirm that. (NHL.com wasn't working for me this morning. If you know I site where I can get league-wide stat averages please let me know!) Penalty minutes, as noted above, are out of whack since the AI rarely takes a minor. Face offs seem decent for 7-minute periods and I'm very happy with the shot totals per game, which are usually always inflated in video hockey games. I am consistently outshooting the AI, but again, we'll see what happens at higher difficulty.

Right now, I'd say if you're a fan of 2k hockey, there's a lot to like here, barring the issues with goal variety. But I loved NHL 08 and I've read enough good things about NHL 09 that if I were to buy just one, right now I'd have to go with NHL 09.

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