Two titles are facing off to be this season's top National Hockey League video game: "NHL 08" from EA Sports and "NHL 2K8" from 2K Sports.
"NHL 08" is a real fan and player's dream game, whereas "NHL 2K8" serves in more of an arcade-type capacity.
Graphically, you can't compare the two. Developers of "NHL 08" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, $60; PlayStation 2, $30; PC $40) paid a great deal of attention to detail, giving the game some of the smoothest in-game animations.
You can see things like the dirtied and scuffed up plastic around the rink. Even the user interface is graphically superior.
"NHL 2K8" (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 $60; PlayStation 2, $20) does use some cool camera angles and effects when replaying parts of the game, but that doesn't make up for the subpar graphics used the rest of the game.
The controls also set the two apart.
EA Sports improved the skill stick function, which gives players the ultimate amount of puck control to take a shot or move your way around the opposing team using the right stick on the controller. You also have the option of using the buttons to control your skaters.
In "NHL 2K8," the controls are mainly buttons and toggles to pass, shoot and check players.
There's also a bit of borrowing going on between the franchises.
"NHL 08" now gives players the option of facing shots while controlling the goalie, something standard in past 2K Sports incarnations. And "NHL 2K8" now allows for right stick control over a skater's hockey stick, but not for shooting.
With a revamped artificial intelligence system, every "NHL 08" game is truly different.
The computer adapts to your technique and capitalizes on your weaknesses.
"NHL 2K8" has a similar system, but it doesn't seem to work as consistently. You can even practice custom plays that the computer will learn and then automatically implement in gameplay.
Both titles let gamers create players and teams. They can control many aspects of a player's equipment — colors of pants and socks, brand of gloves and sticks, and whether they wear a visor on their helmet.
But "NHL 08" goes further, allowing you to choose things like the flex and pattern of sticks, how a player's skates are sharpened or whether they have a battle scar from a check into the boards they will never forget.
For a title that puts you right in the action, minus the ice and the bruises, "NHL 08" is for you. Its controls may be a bit more complex, but it makes the game that much better.
"NHL 2K8" does, however, have some merit and is certainly worth the test drive for those looking for an arcade-style game.
Three-and-a-half stars out of four for "NHL 08"; two stars for "NHL 2K8."