NEW YORK - With the return - finally - of the National Hockey League comes the new video-game versions. And once again, "NHL 2K6" by 2K Sports skates circles around "NHL 2006" from Electronic Arts. Both are visually stunning renditions of the real thing, but "NHL 2K6" offers superior game play and more realism.
Both E-rated games boast online play, enhanced audio and loads of enjoyable extras. In the PlayStation 2 versions I played, all the NHL teams are accurately portrayed, all the rule changes for 2005-06 can be implemented and current rosters can easily be updated.
"NHL 2006" has an in-depth take on franchise finances and front office upgrades. "NHL 2K6," meanwhile, adds a dose of the daily NHL grind with daily practice sessions within the franchise mode.
Players can experience individual practices, free skates and scrimmages on days the team doesn't have a game. While these sessions can be monotonous, the benefits to your team in the next game are worth it.
"NHL 2006" ($39.99, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox and personal computers) plays like a car chase. It's the game for college dorms and head-to-head tournaments, where stats mean nothing and bragging rights are everything. Sure it's fun, but it's not true to the sport.
Ridiculously high scores of 13-12 were common, even when I played at all-star level, one of the toughest difficulty settings. There just isn't much you can do to stop the offensive onslaught.
Goalies such as Marty Turco, Martin Brodeur and Nikolai Khabibulin have a flair for the spectacular, but even they can't escape the game's overriding flaw: Net minders are forever leaving their feet.
They sprawl all over the place and are usually out of position because they overcommit on passes and drop to their knees on every shot. It's frustrating and mars the experience.
EA has introduced yet another way to render goalies useless with the "Skill Stick" feature. It's an all-too-easy way for players to become Mario Lemieux, letting them tap the right analog stick when near the net to score some unbelievable goals.
With "NHL 2K6" ($19.99, PS2, Xbox), gamers have to work for everything they get.
Players get knocked off the puck with force, passes are intercepted with regularity and goalies stand their ground and anticipate everything.
That's not to say every game will end up 2-1. Cycling the puck will lead to goals, as will feeding the slot from behind the net and along the boards and pushing the play to create odd-man rushes.
While "NHL 2006" doesn't allow for serious difficulty adjustments, "NHL 2K6" is all about making things fair. Just about everything in "NHL 2K6" is adjustable, from shot speed to passing accuracy to penalty frequency to goalie attributes.
In this battle, "NHL 2006" ends up a goal or two short of "NHL 2K6."
Three and half stars out of four for "NHL 2K6" and two and half stars out of four for "NHL 2006."
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