NHL 08 Updated Hands-On: First Look at Online Modes

NHL 08 is blowing out its online features this year and we've got the first details.

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Few sports games translate better to multiplayer action than hockey. The game is fast enough to keep the action flowing at all times, momentum can change with the drop of a puck, and leads are never safe. And while EA Sports' NHL series has been online for a while now, there's always been significant room for improvement. With the upcoming NHL 08 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the publisher is taking a big step forward in its online ambitions for the series, as we discovered today in a hands-on session with the game.

NHL 08 is looking to raise its multiplayer game with four new online modes.

Four new gameplay modes anchor the core of NHL 08's online offering: leagues, shootout, versus play, and team play, and each of these offers a slightly different puck experience. The addition of online leagues is probably music to the ears of the year-in-and-year out hardcore NHL fans who've been clamoring for just such a feature in the series for a while now. Here, you'll be able to play a league comprised of anywhere from two to 32 teams--and you can choose teams from the NHL, AHL, international, even 32 of the exact same team if you so wish. When setting up the schedule, you can choose to play every team on the schedule up to eleven times in the season; as a result, you can play pretty close to a regular 82-game season, or a season that's far longer than normal. League games will feature full stat-tracking via Xbox Live, so you can keep track of league leaders in a variety of categories.

Last year's NHL 07 let you play a shootout minigame that was a fine way to introduce you to the then-new skill-stick controls. NHL 08's online shootout mode will let you compete against a friend in a shootout; the twist here is that for ranked shootouts, you'll play each round both as the shooter and then as the goalie, defending against your friend's shots. Naturally, playing the goalie will make use of the manual goalie controls, and you'll need to have skills on both sides of the puck in order to be successful.

Online versus play will allow multiple people to play online on the same consoles. Here, up to four players on the same Xbox 360 can take on up to four players on another Xbox 360. Folks playing the game on a PlayStation 3 will be able to enjoy six-on-six gameplay on two PlayStation 3s (yes, one player can control the goalie on each team). If the idea of playing on the same console doesn't appeal to you, then online team play is the mode for you. In this mode, up to three players can connect online and play on the same team from individual Xbox 360s or PS3s, creating three-on-three match-ups on six distinct consoles (of the same type, naturally), all playing over online connections.

In both online versus and online team modes, you can play any combination of players up to the maximum on either team. For instance, in an online versus match, you can play five-on-one, with five players on one PS3 playing against one player on another PS3. Similarly, in an online team match, you can have three-on-one games, or two-on-two, and so on, with the rest of the positions on the ice filled out by CPU-controlled players. Before a game begins, you can choose to lock yourself into a certain position or have the ability to switch between open players as you go, so if you're looking to play center the entire match, you'll be able to do so.

While we haven't had a chance to see the online play in action yet--we had only one copy of the game available to us--the new modes have some interesting implications with regard to how you'll play online hockey. For one thing, it will likely quickly separate the men from the boys in terms of strategy. We expect to see plenty of online matches where every player on the ice is chasing after the puck, leaving holes wide open for those who know where their position is on the ice and how to take advantage of it. Another interesting aspect in online team play is voice chat: You'll be able to communicate with your teammates, but your opponents won't be able to hear your conversation, adding another layer of strategy to the action on the ice. Finally, NHL 08 producers are quick to point out that last year's game didn't perform that well online and, as a result, EA has spent a great deal of time ensuring that current online performance is comparable to the offline game.

For the single-player game, the team's focus on improved controls and smarter artificial intelligence seems to be paying off. The create-a-play feature, profiled in our last look at NHL 08, has proven to be a test for the game's improved AI. The goal for the developers has been a defensive scheme that continually adapts to your play on the ice and, from our time with the game, it seems to be heading in the right direction. CPU-controlled players are always looking to fill up passing lanes and interrupt your play, forcing you to keep the puck moving with smart passes, and they aren't afraid to lay into you if you leave yourself open. Playing with the manual goalie controls will be a test of your skills with the analog sticks and your reaction times. Interestingly, if you pull your goalie while manually controlling him, you'll have to skate yourself off the ice, and then play as the sixth skater who comes on to replace him.

For those players who are worried that the create-a-play feature will give away their best strategies in multiplayer matches, it should be noted that you can choose to turn off the illuminated lines that show up on the ice when you are in the correct position to trigger a created play. Your players will still move to the correct spot once you get into the trigger zone, and it will be up to you to run the play as you designed it. Unfortunately, you won't be able to bring your created plays into online matches, but we expect that, if the feature proves to be popular, you'll be able to do so in next year's game.

Slowpokes need not apply: Manual goalie controls will test your skill with the sticks and your reaction time.

Hockey purists looking at videos of NHL 08 and wondering where the all-new Reebok NHL jerseys are will be pleased to note that they are in the game but, due to licensing issues with the NHL, they won't be immediately available. Instead, once all of the NHL teams have introduced their new-look uniforms, a code will be provided on the EA Sports web site that, once entered into the game, will unlock the new uniforms for use in your matches.

With a host of new multiplayer features, EA Sports seems to be taking online play seriously with its hockey series. Are the days of full six-on-six online gameplay in fully formed leagues that far away? Time will tell, but if NHL 08 is anything to go by, things look to be heading that way, and quickly. Expect a five-on-five demo (Ducks vs. Sens, naturally) to be up on both the Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network in the weeks leading up to the game's September release. In addition, we'll be bringing you more information on the game in the near future as well.

In the meantime, we'll be taking your questions about the game in our dedicated NHL 08 forum.

Discussion

105 comments
VladimirIon
VladimirIon

Leafs .... :D.... i guess it a Joke! They just gujuju....just suuuuuuuus

something1257
something1257

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

something1257
something1257

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Cordeiro17
Cordeiro17

Flames HA! Leafs are gonna take it this year. Rangers'll come close though.

grand17
grand17

the flames wont win with keenan, better luck next year

jeffroscc
jeffroscc

Anyone know if you can still use the old button mashing controls? I just couldn't get used to the analog stick scheme in 07. If I want realism in my controls, I'll fire up the Wii.

cheese_krackers
cheese_krackers

lol penguins?? come on man, what a joke. The Calgary Flames are gonna take it this year, we are stacked with players. Good luck to everyone else cause they are gonna need it.

hockeygamer17
hockeygamer17

This will also be the first EA hockey game I have bought since 2004, 2K has had my support for a long time. To me they were superior but they haven't changed and because of that I think EA has finally passed them and made major strides to creating the most realistic hockey game to date. I have it on hold now and I look forward to playing it, I hope I'm not disappointed.

PbrghSteelers86
PbrghSteelers86

Go Penguins.. buy this game...I got PGH is the league!! wooo! See you all online!

cf2012
cf2012

i already ordered NHL08. This is the first time since 2002 that i bought EA hockey. If it sucks I will just trade it in and buy 2k8

GamersNightmare
GamersNightmare

Online leagues is a huge imput this year. Just might have to get this over 2K8.

hockeygamer17
hockeygamer17

Not saying they will win the cup this year but... THIS IS THE SEASON THE AVALANCHE RETURN TO GLORY! Hopefully EA made the game as strong as possible on both the PS3 and X-Box 360. After reading the Madden reviews, it sounds like EA really dropped the ball when making the PS3 version.

devilsfan13
devilsfan13

I'm new to the new platforms and I've only played XBOX 360 and im thinking of buying a PS3 is the NHL games the same for both or is there a difference. if someone can answer me if they played NHL 07 on both systems, thank you, u can e-mail me on MSN, Justin_13_tv@hotmail.com, thxs again

virtuetek
virtuetek

please....you all know it's the RANGERS year!

harm0n1ca
harm0n1ca

Looks like EA maybe pulling its finger out and giving us a finished product instead of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, which could have been their motto judging by last year (and this spring's) releases!

VenDaler
VenDaler

Where is NHL hitz? Does anybody know if this game will have cool, non-serious player/team creation like NHL Hitz had? I really liked the hard hiting and customization in that game. By the way, these new features sound like the kind of features that should be in a modern day internet multiplayer game. Sounds cool.

bobskutter
bobskutter

What about the PC version. The greatest gaming platform has been shafted the last few years. Who cares if the 360 or crapstation3 is good. bottom line is.....PC rocks their sox in any form of gaming hands down...yet EA just gives us mega crap. We haven't had any online upgrades for 5 years. and in 07 we were shafted even more by the online component being screwed up. So do what they will with the consoles...but for gods sake make a freaking solid PC version too. Also....give us new online or at least update the damn thing!

littlestreakier
littlestreakier

i'm happy to see EA putting more effort in online. i think online is essential for sports games

hockyjocky4
hockyjocky4

this will be the year the sharks DON'T choke in the playoffs!!! ya!! ...or maybe not...

pleasurengineer
pleasurengineer

I resent the fact that Xbox360 maxes at 4 player cooperative while PS3 maxes at 6. It's very dumb to limit the Xbox360. I could hardly believe the powerful processors on the Xbox 360 are limiting performance. Is it becuase only 4 controllers can connect to once Xbox? But then what about 6 different Xboxes 360's connected to Xbox Live. By the way, just so I can alienate more people, this is the dumbest Comment's forum I've ever seen - with all of you cheering for your team. How about commenting on the game! Anyway, EA has made me feel like a 2nd class citizen with my Xbox 360. They are going to pay for this by not making any money from me if NHL 2K8 offers better features. Berneer

dendae_2
dendae_2

Go Devils Go show 'em who is the boss of the Atlanic division

PattyBoy31
PattyBoy31

GO HABS GO haha, our comments are well thought out. PRICE!!!!!!!!

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

6 people per ps3 is insane. that is awesome. i never thought it possible. i hope the goalie position is fun cauase it'll end up being 5 per console then lol. the ps3 is pushing the max players.

Coactane
Coactane

I'm not the biggest hockey fan, hell I don't even know what the rules are but I'd buy this game the multiplayer features sounds great.

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

This online stuff is awesome! leagues... and multi player games from DIFFERENT systems is totally ROCKING!!! But I think the NHL and retard Gary Bettman should start SHOWING these new Uni's/Jerseys already!!! Start creating some buzz for your league Bettman you know nothing A-hole! Man this guy does NOTHING to help the NHL whatsoever. Moving from ESPN to 'VS' was a total brain fart! Hockey and Yak hunting go together like Butter on an english muffin right Bettman? Quit! Get OUT! PS- Let's Go RANGERS ---- clap clap ------ clap clap clap!!!

playstation_wii
playstation_wii

Wow! 6-om-6 games and leagues is going to be amazing!

RoliOwns
RoliOwns

OILERS ALL THE WAY!!!! wOOt!!!!!

Parker82
Parker82

GO FLAMES! AND RANGERS!!

sabres6122
sabres6122

Go Sabres...It's Miller Time baby! Ps: Tim Connelly will have more points than Daniel Briere

Canuuk
Canuuk

GO SENS GO! GO SENS GO! GO SENS GO!

pgerv
pgerv

GO HABS GO!!! ALL THE WAY BABY!

Konfusion
Konfusion

Go Habs Go, heck yeah. But anyway, anticipating this on my 360... can't wait.

Philadendron
Philadendron

gicenter27 : I'd like to think so, but our roster is....lacking.