It seems redundant and unnecessary to complain at this juncture about sports game publishers giving the short shrift to PlayStation 2 versions of their games. The PS2 is waning in relevance as more and more people jump to current-generation consoles, so it's expected that developers wouldn't put a ton of resources behind developing these games. NHL 2K8 on the PlayStation 2 is entirely predictable in this regard. It adds a couple of the new features from its current-generation counterparts, bypasses a number of other ones, and leaves it at that. If a PS2 is the only console you own, this is probably the best option available to you for a new hockey game, though that distinction is incredibly meager. Still, for only $20, you're not exactly breaking the bank by picking up this minimal update.
If you played NHL 2K7 on the PS2, you'll have little trouble diving right into this version. That's because none of the arcane control changes from the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of NHL 2K8 have found their way into this version. The control scheme is pretty much untouched, save for the addition of superstar moves. These new moves give high-rated players the ability to pull off some nifty puck acrobatics to fake out the goalie and hopefully put the puck in the back of the net. The moves themselves are pretty cool, with crazy double-dekes and Marek Malik-style through-the-legs shots, but the trouble is that they're incredibly difficult to pull off unless you're on the breakaway or in a shootout. Any defender in front of the net can usually check you out of your skates before you even get a chance to finish the button combinations required to engage the move. That brings up another irritation. To pull off one of these moves, you have to hold down the L3 button and then press two of the face buttons in succession. The L3 button is kind of an awkward one to hold down for any length of time, but especially when you're also pressing the left analog stick forward to skate toward the net. Again, the moves are cool, but you'll rarely be able to use them effectively.
Beyond that, you're looking at the same gameplay functionality of NHL 2K7. However, one area you'll really wish 2K had given equal effort to in this version compared to its counterparts is scoring. 2K8 on the 360 and PS3 finally got scoring to a balanced level where the game didn't feel completely reliant on the one-timer to score. The PS2 game does no such thing. The wall-of-death goalies are in full effect here, and though the superstar moves are a bit more effective at faking out goalies than the standard dekes, again, those moves are a pain to pull off. If you've put in the time required to get your one-timer moves down to a science in 2K hockey games, then you'll do just fine in 2K8, but it would have been nice if this year's game felt more balanced in scoring.
As far as features go, 2K8 is 2K7 with an updated franchise mode. Granted, those franchise updates are solid. You get the biggest and best change from the 360 and PS3 versions in contract negotiations. Whenever you want to re-sign a player, pick up a free agent, or sign a member of your draft class, you're going to find yourself initially quite far apart in terms of money. A meter dictates where your owner wants the contract to be versus where the player's agent wants to be. Your goal is to try to get a player for as cheaply as possible while still giving some leeway to what the player wants. It's a tug-of-war that actually feels really authentic, right down to how you or the player can just up and walk away from the negotiating table when either side feels things aren't going right. Knowing when to walk away is, in itself, a skill to be learned, considering that at times players will simply cave and ultimately agree to your terms when you opt to walk away. The mode also includes the restricted free-agency system from the current-generation versions, though this incarnation of it is a bit less confusing to figure out. In addition (perhaps "subtraction" would be the better word choice here), none of the crazy player-progression menus from the 360 and PS3 versions made it into this version. That's not really a bad thing, because that stuff was practically indecipherable.
Beyond that, you're looking at the same minigames, the same fringe modes (such as pond hockey, minirink, season mode, and so on), and the same online play as before. At least online play works reasonably well. It's not painfully difficult to find a game, and if you get someone with a decent connection, lag isn't a pervasive problem. League play, tournaments, leaderboards, and downloadable rosters are all still available, just like last year.
The presentation hasn't seen much alteration, either. Graphics look nearly identical to last year's game, save for some new animations here and there, primarily with the superstar moves. Player models and arenas look decent, though whatever graphical bonuses the game has are negated somewhat by the rather choppy performance. This has been an issue for a while in 2K hockey games on the PS2, and it hasn't been cleaned up at all here. The game never seems to go above 20 frames per second, and it tends to dip as well. Commentary is practically untouched and features the same generally flat and unenthusiastic lines from Bob Cole and Harry Neale. At least the soundtrack is decent.
Again, for $20, NHL 2K8 isn't exactly a rip-off. It does offer some notable improvements to its franchise mode, and the superstar moves are neat, if slightly useless in most situations. You're certainly better off with one of this year's current-generation hockey games, but for PS2 owners not looking to drop their cash on a 360 or PS3, this isn't an altogether bad substitute.