NHL 07

Xbox 360

Review by Matt Paprocki

EA Sports


Graphics: 7

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8


While the originality and quality control on EA Sport's other franchises on the 360 can be debated, NHL 07 doesn't fall into that debate. The innovation here doesn't simply end up as a marketing term. The "skill stick" revolutionizes video game hockey.

nhl071360.jpg (60775 bytes)It's a feature that feels so natural, developers of hockey games must be slapping their heads in a moment of embarrassment for not thinking of it sooner. In simple terms, the right analog stick is the on-screen players hands. It logically moves the stick in the proper direction to create specific dekes that flow naturally once mastered.

The skill stick isn't only about taking down a defense though. It's about offense too; from slapping a rapid release wrist shot to a charged slap shot at full speed. The left stick handles the aiming and player movement. Moving the stick side to side on a breakaway only to squeeze in a goal has never been this satisfying.

This takes away the random luck and goalie ratings. Those obviously still play a role, though skill on the offensive side is now of a higher importance. Collision detection is another next generation update, adding greatly to the feeling of success when scoring a goal. Net minders no longer seem robotic, and the wealth of animations ensures you're not seeing the same save repeatedly.

A glove save results in the puck landing in the glove, not clipping through or magically defying physics by becoming stuck to the hand. If they're hand doesn't close down quick enough, the puck bounces off before the inevitable scramble in front of the next begins. The same goes for poke checks and defenders. The puck doesn't hit an imaginary box around the player. It hits the player model, and it makes for some stunning replay work.

Aside from the skill stick, NHL 07 does have its share of issues. Skating still feels stunted, unnatural and lacking greatly in a sense of flowing along the ice. The frame rate is jittery, dropping randomly. Presentation is lacking as well aside from superb commentary. Cut-aways during a stoppage are barely noticeable.

While one-timers have been drastically reduced thanks to the control scheme, shot counts are still higher than they should be. This leads to some unrealistic stat lines. Hits are also handled with the right analog stick, and like the shots, lead to inflated numbers. They've been toned down in power, but they're still far too crucial to winning games.

Off the ice, NHL 07 offers minor league rosters to be tweaked in the dynasty mode. That's it as far as new features go. It's obvious where the time developing this was spent, and this is a fair trade off. ESPN integration now includes ESPN Radio when signed into Xbox Live, though for some reason you're unable to have a download in the background even when you're in an offline game.

Online play is smooth and rarely finds itself in a spot of lag. This is purely for one-on-one competition given the lack of season play over Live. However, a game leading to a shootout is more than entertaining enough to give this one a pass on game modes. The skill stick turns into a showcase of pure talent at that point.

With the base complete, the team crafting EA's NHL franchise can now turn their attention towards the other aspects of play. Usually that leads to a feeling of wanting more, but the skill stick is fresh enough that the entire game around it feels fine in its current form. This is NHL 07's year.


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Last updated: Sunday, November 12, 2006 11:12 PM