NHL 2K6 Hands-On

Intimidation with a capital "I." We check out the enforcers and improved goalie controls in the latest puck game from 2K Sports.


The good folks at 2K Sports dropped by recently, bringing along two things of interest. The first was Dallas Stars goalie and NHL 2K6 cover athlete Marty Turco, and the second was an updated build of the game itself. We hadn't seen 2K6 since our all-too-brief time at E3 in May, so we were eager to get our mitts on this build to see just how things have changed since last time around.

The most obvious addition since our last look at the game is the newly introduced enforcers. As anyone who loves hockey will tell you, enforcers are a part of every team in the NHL. And few great teams exist without them. Enforcers, just as their unofficial titles suggest, are the players on the ice with whom nobody wants to mess (unless, of course, they happen to be enforcers themselves). They're the players who are known for getting rowdy and physical, all while trying their best to shut down the stars on the opposing side of the ice through sheer intimidation.

In the game, enforcers are noted on the ice with an illuminated "E" icon as they skate. They have one main purpose: to get out on the ice and put the fear of Gordie Howe into your opponent's star players. You'll want to play physical hockey with your enforcers, as the rougher you get, the more success you'll have. You may even notice the refs going easy on you when it comes to getting away with hooks and roughing calls. Of course, you won't be able to completely go Marty McSorley on someone, because the rules of the game will still apply. As a result, the refs will still be calling hooks, cross-checks, and roughing penalties. However, there will just be a bit more leeway for the Tie Domis and Matthew Barnabys of the game.

Intimidation is the name of the enforcer's game, and if you play your position correctly, your opponents players will suffer ratings hits as they become intimidated through your tough play. You'll even see a little "i" pop up to signify that your opponent is spooked. The computer-controlled players, for example, will be more eager to pass the puck than take the biscuit to the basket themselves. Furthermore, you may even save yourself a goal or two by simply getting up in the artifically intelligent players' faces and letting them know you mean business. According to NHL 2K6 producers, the entire idea of introducing the enforcer concept into the game was for players to pay attention to their entire lineups. Most players, they said, are so intent on scoring goals that they forget there's some value to be had in their fourth and fifth lines, where the bruisers typically reside. With the enforcers now in the mix, producers hope gamers will be a bit more strategic in choosing which line to put out on the ice, instead of merely cycling through in order or (worse yet) letting the computer handle line changes automatically.

Think you're going to get one past Turco's glove side? Think again.
Think you're going to get one past Turco's glove side? Think again.

The aforementioned Turco will be starring on the NHL 2K6 cover this time around, and it's only fitting that some new goalie controls make their way into the game in celebration. The new system, known as maximum goaltending, uses the right analog stick to give you more control than ever for when and where your puckstopper makes his move. By moving the stick left or right, your goalie will dive in the appropriate direction. Meanwhile, moving up will execute a poke check, and for getting down into the butterfly stance, you press down on the right stick. Save attempts will be as simple as pressing the Y button.

Seems to Me It's Chemistry

The development team at 2K Sports overhauled many of the goalie animations using Turco as their motion-capture athlete. So alert players may notice animations very specific to Turco, such as his overhand method for controlling the stick with his glove hand. In fact, many of the animations in the NHL series have been completely revamped for this new game, creating some interesting new scoring opportunities--including a deadly efficient wraparound goal shot that both looks and feels great (unless, of course, you're the one being scored on).

Enforcers like Tie Domi like nothing more than making mincemeat out of pretty-boy shooters.
Enforcers like Tie Domi like nothing more than making mincemeat out of pretty-boy shooters.

While there are still secrets left to discover about NHL 2K6's franchise mode--secrets we will uncover in the coming months before the game's release--we do know there are three main areas of focus for the franchise mode this time around: more involvement with your coaching staff, an expanded team chemistry system, and practice modes. When it comes to coaching, you'll be getting more feedback from your staff than ever before, including more-detailed scouting reports on opponents and suggested lineups for every game you play. Presumably, these lineups will take into consideration the team chemistry options in NHL 2K6, as producers told us that lines will develop chemistry as they play together over the course of a season. Provided you have the right combination of players on each line (a good mixture of scorers, playmakers, and enforcers) those lines will even enjoy a slight ratings boost as their chemistry improves. If you're a hands-on-type coach and prefer to set your lines yourself, the beefed-up practice mode will be your best friend in NHL 2K6. It will let you set up free practices, establish individual routines for specific positions, or play full scrimmages to try out your different line combinations to your heart's content. Have a good practice and you might get a fatigue boost; work too hard and you might wear your guys out before game day.

Like the franchise mode, new features in 2K6's online play still remain largely a mystery. We do know that online leagues will continue, along with the ability to keep track of your league via a Web page (lack of ESPN license be damned). In addition, a new lobby system is promised: one that will better help you find players of your specific skill level. It's safe to assume this new lobby system will be part of the overall redesign of the 2K series now that the ESPN license has been jettisoned. The menu design we saw kept things simple and straightforward. Broadcast-style graphics illustrated a team's possession time in the offensive, defensive, and neutral zone, and the intermission menus showed highlights from the previous period. Hockey Night in Canada announcers Bob Cole and Harry Neale will handle booth duties for 2K6, and they bring a decisive Canuck feel to the game's audio track, which is never a bad thing, eh?

Mercy? You beg for mercy? You picked the wrong sport, bub.
Mercy? You beg for mercy? You picked the wrong sport, bub.

Party games will make their return in 2K6, and we saw a handful in action in our time with the game. Two new additions to the roster of party games are capture, which is sort of like capture the flag on ice, and stay on target, which has you controlling small color-coded targets on the ice while your opponents try to both control their own zones and knock you out of yours. Just like last year, the minigames support a maximum of four players both online and off, and the more people playing, the more fun you'll have.

NHL 2K6 has a tough act to follow in last year's game, as 2K5 was widely regarded as a puck masterpiece. With an emphasis on enforcers, revamped goalie controls, and expanded franchise options, the 2K Sports team is looking to deliver an even better puck product with this year's game. We'll have more information on the game's franchise and online options in the coming months, so be sure to stay tuned.

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