NHL 2K7 Hands-On: Crease Control and Sixaxis

Game on! We check out the new Sixaxis functionality in 2K Sports' upcoming PS3 puck game.

The battle for hockey supremacy has never been any hotter than in 2006. Two solid hockey games were released for the Xbox 360 (as well as the older consoles and handhelds) this year and, with the PlayStation 3 just around the corner, it's probably fair to say that we haven't seen the end of quality hockey in 2006. Today, we got a chance to see and play one of those new PS3 puck games for the first time: NHL 2K7.

As has been the case with previous next-generation 2K Sports games, NHL 2K7 isn't skimping at all when it comes to content. Everything that's playable in the Xbox 360 version of the game will be found in the PS3 game as well, including a full franchise and online modes. Those who cry foul that NHL 2K7 is merely a straight port, however, haven't played the game. The developers behind NHL 2K7 have made a couple of important additions to the game's controls that help keep things fresh, and both center around the so-called Sixaxis controller.

First of all, checking can now be performed by jutting the controller forward when in the vicinity of an opposing player. The kind of hit you put on your opponent is dependent on the positioning of both players and, thankfully, it doesn't replace the tried-and-true checking controls. Whether it was due to the implementation or the fact that we needed some more practice with it, the tilt-control checking never really got under our fingers; as a result, we found ourselves resorting to more tried-and-true defensive methods such as screening the goalie and intercepting passes in order to keep ourselves in the game.

While the checking controls can probably still use some work, the other big Sixaxis control seems to work just fine. Fans of the NHL 2K series on Xbox 360 are familiar with the crease control system, which gives you first-person control of your goalie and lets you manually stop pucks coming your way. With the PS3 version of the game, crease control is now tied to the tilt functions in the controller. Here's how it works: To engage the crease controls, you click the R3 button. Your goalie's field of vision appears as a red or green cone on the ice, which you can move by shifting the Sixaxis controller left or right. Just as in the Xbox 360 version of the game, a green cone means you are in a good position to stop the puck, while a red cone means you need to shift your position.

Once the opposing team shoots the puck your way, the game slows down and a cursor shows up on the screen, indicating where the shot is heading. In the Xbox 360 game, you have a few seconds to aim a "blocking" cursor over the target using the analog stick; in the PS3 version you aim that blocking cursor by tilting the controller in the air in various directions. Because the two movements are so different--the lateral movements of controlling the cone, and the tilting of the controller to move the cursor--playing goalie in the PS3 version of the game takes some getting used to, and we gave up more than a few easy goals trying to get our hands around it. In our experience, it helped to imagine the center front of the Sixaxis controller (where the cord is plugged in) as an aiming reticule and, wherever we pointed it, that's where the cursor would end up. Luckily, both the goalie's field of vision and the blocking cursor seem responsive enough in the game, so, beyond our general lack of skill, there wasn't much to complain about with the new system.

Beyond the new controls, NHL 2K7 for PS3 looks and plays almost exactly like the Xbox 360 version. In fact, discerning graphical differences between the two versions of the game is tough, especially considering we didn't have an extremely long time to spend with the game. The player models and uniforms are all extremely detailed, as are the arenas you play in. If there's one difference we could point out, it's the quality of lighting on the player's equipment--the sheen off the gloves, for example, looked more alive and realistic than in the Xbox 360 game. Still, at first glance, the two games are very comparable in appearance. Unfortunately, the game demos we played didn't have any sound, so we weren't able to check out the cinemotion presentation that bolsters the 360 version or check out the commenting duo of Harry Neale and Bob Cole. As 2K Sports developers spent the morning hanging out with the San Jose Sharks at their practice facility in order to record some audio footage for this game and future iterations, it's probably fair to say that the on-ice audio package in 2K7--including that wonderful player chatter--will be well intact for upcoming games in the series.

Because the PS3 version of NHL 2K7 is more or less the same game as the 360 version, along with a couple of control tweaks, it's tough to imagine folks who already own the 360 game going after this one as well. Instead, 2K Sports seems to be going after the fans who are holding off entering the next generation until Sony's new console hits store shelves. The game is currently scheduled for release on November 17, and we'll have our final word on all the game's features in our full review after its release.

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