After a nasty lockout that say the 04/05 season cancelled completely, the owners and players of the NHL have reached an agreement and we have pro hockey again. Not only that, but thanks to some rule changes and an offseason that saw several big name players change teams, the 05/06 season is looking to be one of the most interesting NHL seasons yet. EA has captured all of these new and exciting changes for NHL 06 and the result is a surprisingly fun and fast paced game of hockey.
As far as hockey videogames go, the new rule changes the NHL has implemented make for a considerably faster and far more exciting game of hockey. If the real thing plays like the games I have played so far in NHL 06, were in for a treat when the NHL season starts. The new rules (which you can learn all about at About.coms pro ice hockey site here
)include things such as legal two-line passes, a larger neutral zone and smaller area behind the net, teams are penalized for icing by not being allowed to change lines, and the tag up offside rule all combine to make the game play considerably quicker. Hockey used to be very stop and go with way too many whistles for rules that no one but the most hardcore hockey fans even understood. With the new rules, however, there are far less icing and offsides calls and the result is a game that plays more like soccer than hockey (which is a good thing). You are constantly in motion moving up and down the rink and, as far as the games in NHL 06 go, it is a while lot more fun and a whole lot more exciting than the hockey games of old and Im loving it.
Gameplay and Features
Outside of the rule changes, the gameplay stays very much the same in 06 as it was in 2005 with a few key additions. The two button shooting, precise passing, wraparound shots, and everything else that makes hockey good are back and just as solid as ever. New additions include left analog deking where you just move the left stick left or right as you move up the ice to fake out defenders, and right analog shooting which allows star players to perform special spins and fakes and other trickery with the flick of the right analog stick. Another key change is that the defensive AI has been softened up quite a bit and the game is actually playable beyond the easiest difficulty level this year.
As far as features go, there isnt really anything new to mention in 06. Dynasty mode returns with most of the same issues as last year but now has a fairly major oversight that forces you to play the same exact schedule every year. Check out our review of NHL 2005 for more info on the dynasty mode and other features. Online play returns and is very smooth and solid over Xbox Live. Nothing new or fancy in 06, but everything that is here is pretty solid.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, NHL 06 is a sharp looking game. Player models have been altered to more accurately reflect the size of different players. The animation is as smooth and flawless as ever and the new right analog stick moves are particularly nice to watch. Everything else about the graphics the arena, the fans, the ice itself all look great.
The sound in NHL 06 is also quite good. Sound effects for what is happening on the ice are very clear and accurate and help give the game an authentic feel. The announcers do a good job of keeping up with the action and even provide a few interesting comments, which is nice. The soundtrack consists of mostly EA Trax licensed rock music, but you only have to put up with it on the menus so it isnt all that noteworthy.
Overall, NHL 06 is a solid game that plays even a little bit better than last years game. The new rule changes and roster moves that have made this offseason so interesting are included, of course, and the result is a very fast paced and fresh look at hockey that fans should really enjoy this year both in videogames and in the real NHL. This is a game that dedicated hockey fans will love and casual fans will embrace just as much because it is so fast and so darn fun to play now. Even though it sort of follows the same pattern as other EA Sports 06 titles by not adding too much in terms of features over the 2005 version, the gameplay is definitely better and for $30 the price is definitely right. Give it at least a rental, but hockey fans can buy with confidence.