Hockey fans will be able to play Gretzky '06 without much frustration or duress, but that's really about all you can say for it.
- Wayne vs Wayne mode is a ridiculous hoot
- Nice-looking player models
- Relatively deep franchise mode
- Solid online play.
- Gameplay can't decide between arcade and simulation style
- Bad goalie AI and ugly passing mechanics
- Terribly stilted animations
- Franchise mode has bugs
- Rosters are way, way out of date.
Last year marked a landmark occasion for Sony's sports division: It managed to make a hockey game that wasn't unplayably bad. Throwing the development duties to classic hockey developers Page 44 Studios and digging up the great one himself, Wayne Gretzky, for cover-boy duty, Sony came out with Gretzky NHL 2005, an entirely playable game of hockey that simply didn't stand out amid the competition. Just under one year later, Gretzky NHL '06 is out, and lo and behold, it, too, fails to make a distinct impression. Suffering from the same not-quite-arcade, not-quite-simulation brand of gameplay as its predecessor, Gretzky '06 only manages to fix a few key issues, and tosses in some new ones for good measure. Hockey fans will be able to play Gretzky '06 without much frustration or duress, but that's really about all you can say for it.
Gretzky '06 retains many of the mechanics and concepts of last year's game, including nifty touches such as the manual aiming target icon that pops up in the net whenever you're about to take a shot, as well as a strength meter that builds up the longer you hold down the shot button for a slap shot. Control is generally a bit tighter, and it's a fair amount easier to get quick wristers off than it was in last year's game. The defensive artificial intelligence has also become more intelligent, though almost to a detrimental level. It seems like the developer went and played an awful lot of NHL 2005 after its game came out, because you'll see a whole lot of defenders kind of sucking themselves into you as you get closer to the net. No poke checking, no moderate defensive moves--just cold, hard checks that send you flat to the ice nine times out of 10. Then again, that is a little more forgivable in a game like Gretzky, in which realism seems about as far-flung a thought as Wayne himself coming out of retirement to center for the Coyotes.
Gretzky '06 is far more comparable to something like NHL Hitz than any of the simulation games on the market. The game is extremely fast paced on the default settings--almost too fast, really. The checks are big and overstated, the goal scoring is high, and everybody moves around the ice like a herky-jerky robot. That would be all well and good if Gretzky were simply resolved to being an arcade hockey game. Unfortunately, it takes a decidedly NFL Blitz Pro approach overall, throwing in a lot of simulation aspects that just don't gel well with the lighting speed and ridiculous checking. The game just refuses to lean far enough in one direction or another to really be appreciated on either level.
Goalie artificial intelligence, for instance, is terrible. It's way too easy to launch backhand shots from the blue line and have them magically go in, because the goalie stood up instead of jumping to the side. OK for an arcade game, perhaps, but not for a simulation game. But on the other side of the coin, penalties are called quite frequently. Not exactly overmuch, but because of all the checking, lots of penalties will get called throughout the course of the game. Fine for simulation play, but in a game that moves this fast and requires quick pacing to succeed, this just breaks up the action obnoxiously. And then there's the passing... Computer-controlled players can pull off incredible strings of passes that go between all five players in eight different directions for up to 10 to 20 seconds in what feels like an insidious game of keep away. You, on the other hand, will have trouble pulling off single passes to your teammates, because the auto-passing mechanic will sometimes just throw the puck to the least favorable player, or because your forwards simply refuse to come across the line into the offensive zone quick enough. You basically have to use the icon-passing system to play effectively. This isn't a criticism of the game's inability to pick a side and stick with it--it's just something that flat out sucks.
The one big new aspect of the gameplay in Gretzky '06 is also the one that suffers most from this wishy-washiness. The game employs something of a line-chemistry system, not unlike that of its competitors. Unlike those games, however, chemistry isn't determined by player typecasting, but rather by how much work a given line gets with one another, as well as by specific chemistry ratings given to each individual player. If you've got a guy with a lousy chemistry rating put on a line with two guys with great chemistry ratings, then he'll limit exactly how high the chemistry of that line can go. But, as with real hockey, the more you work a trio of forwards or pair of defensemen, the more comfortable they'll get with one another. Scoring goals, delivering big hits, and other such tasks will build it up even further.
The problem with it all, however, is that because things like scoring and hitting are so easy to do, if you're playing through a season or a franchise, it's incredibly easy to build up chemistry with any line to ridiculous levels, provided you have a halfway-decent roster. Chemistry does not automatically equal wins, mind you, and it's not like you're guaranteed a Stanley Cup simply because you have phenomenal chemistry. But it does beg the question of exactly what the usefulness of building chemistry is. It doesn't seem to earn you more goals or bigger hits or anything of that nature on a game-by-game basis. Ultimately, it's a great idea that simply isn't perceptively interesting or useful enough for you to ever care all that much about.
Featureswise, Gretzky is a marginally deeper package than it was last year. The franchise mode is certainly better than it used to be; it does a better job of keeping you up to speed on the financial aspects of the team and where you stand with the owners. It's also got the full AHL license, meaning you can use and play as authentic minor-league teams, complete with accurate rosters, if so inclined. Unfortunately, no salary cap is present in the mode, and apart from possibly enraging the team's owners, you can basically spend as you please for free agents.
- Player Reviews: 6
- Game Universe:
- Gretzky NHL 06 (PS2, PSP),
- Gretzky NHL (PSP),
- Gretzky NHL 2005 (PS2),
- Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98 (PS, N64),
- Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey (N64, ARC),
- Wayne Gretzky and the NHLPA All-Stars (GEN, SNES),
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey (NES),
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey 3 (PC),
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey 2 (PC),
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey (AMI, PC)
- Offline Modes:
- Online Modes:
- Number of Players:
- Number of Online Players:
2 Players Online