Just by looking at the back of both NHL 2K8 and NHL 08 boxes, it's readily apparent that EA and 2K are back at war with one another. What with both games launching at nearly the same time, there are a lot of similarities between both games on the outside, as well as the inside – the inside being the gameplay. So what decision do you make when you've come down to making the daunting decision between picking up either NHL 08 or NHL 2K8? Well, that's actually something I can't answer, unfortunately, as both NHL titles are pretty spectacular titles, with their fair share of problems and issues here and there.
Of course the one thing that's made EA's NHL a standout is its Skill Stick feature – an aspect of the game that allows you to control puck handling, dekes, and shots with the right analog stick. It's back in NHL 08, and continues to deliver that precision and feel of authenticity that's made it such a success in the first place. Now the quirk with the Skill Stick is that it's not intuitive or user-friendly, and so it becomes very time consuming to master.
You'll likely have to spend a ton of time practicing and training before you can regulate shots with confidence, and the frustration from the learning curve can really get to you. You still have the option of taking the classic route, and having your shots mapped to buttons, which is a good move. But EA really dropped the ball on allowing the game to customize his/her own controls, something that NHL 2K8 provides.
That said, the Skill Stick will become almost necessary to master if you want to play the game properly on difficulty levels above Pro. Because if you're not utilizing it in conjunction with the left analog stick to aim the shot, then you're in a world of trouble.
Dynasty Mode is the big mode for NHL 08, seeing as how it was poorly executed last year. While not quite as deep as NHL 2K8's Franchise mode, Dynasty still offers a plethora of depth that'll surely have you entertained for a very lengthy time. Some aspects such as draft picks have been ironed out, and negotiating is finally far more realistic than it was before.
When you're not playing the Dynasty Mode, you'll be able to partake in the EA Sports World Tournament, ShootOut Mode, Practice, or go online. What's a little bothersome about the game modes is that if you want to play a season, it seems as if you absolutely have to play Dynasty Mode. So those of who are looking for a standard season mode will be disappointed.
Now where NHL 2K8 falls hard, largely due to its poor online framerate, NHL 08 shines. Take NHL 08 online and you'll realize that the framerate remains largely the same when you're playing against someone else. There are a variety of online modes to play form, such as Team Play, Ranked ShootOut, Versus Play, and Online Leagues. You can create a league featuring up to 32 teams in NHL 08 (International and AHL teams allowed), and take it online.
As far how the game plays, I really do like the new adaptive A.I. feature the game's got now. Your opponents will begin to adapt to your playing on the fly, as they'll notice your patterns and adjust accordingly. If you're the straight-on center kind of guy who doesn't do much to variate his lines, the A.I. will position themselves closer to the goal post. You have to prevent the A.I. from constantly reading your game, so dressing up your plays will be a key segment to scoring, and ultimately winning. In other words, just keep your opponents on their toes. Now, as solid as the artificial intelligence may be to adapting to your plays, you'll often find your teammate standing still as a puck slides by him, or if it just so happens to have struck his stick. I like to call this quirk the lack of having a 'go-getter' mentality – you'll see this often in NHL 08, and it'll bother you quite a bit.
My biggest gripe with NHL 08 is how helpless you can feel when you're defending sometimes. Checking is a chore to pull off. You'll frequently find yourself attempting to strip a puck from the carrier in desperation, as he is making a run towards your post. You can be inches away, and no matter how much you try to check or pull off any physical action, it simply won't happen. I understand the idea of not wanting to exploit checking, but to have you feeling helpless during times is absurdly frustrating. I'm not asking for a gigantic collision here, a shove or something, just to get the skater to lose control of the puck. So as you can imagine, stealing can become a bit of a pain.
Neither NHL 08 or NHL 2K8 have better gameplay. It all comes down to preference. NHL 2K8 will give you fantastic controls, the most gameplay content in terms of modes, and gameplay that allows for better use of checking. Meanwhile NHL 08 features terrific online gameplay, superb A.I., and the super realistic (though frustrating) Skill Stick.
On the other hand, visually, there is no doubt about it that NHL 08 is far superior to NHL 2K8. Where as NHL 2K8 features acceptable player details, NHL 08 features fantastic player details. You'll notice during the replays how super smooth and high-res each athletes face looks, where as NHL 2K8 looks rough and blotchy. Beautiful textures on the faces of each player really makes EA's NHL such a stunning game to look at – you'll appreciate the replays and highlight shots just that much more, thanks to the graphics. Jerseys are, too, spectacularly detailed, but remain motionless when the action is underway. I especially love the touches of lighting that take place during the replays, as the lights from the stadium glisten on the helmets of each player, and jerseys will often cast a slight glow around them – a very beautiful effect.
Reflections on the ice are cast better than they are in NHL 2K8, and so the visuals continue to look more impressive in NHL 08. The framerates between both games are fairly even, but, as mentioned before, NHL 08 maintains consistency when its online. NHL 08 also renders at a maximum of 720p, and it doesn't feature an overscan fix either. But, it seems like the overscan in NHL 08 is marginally better than NHL 2K8. Still, not giving us either upscaled 1080i or an overscan fix option stings a bit. Lastly, animation is pretty solid stuff. It appears to be a bit better and smoother in NHL 08, and it's especially noticeable during the replays. The crowd in NHL 08 is also top-notch, looking more detailed than the blockier crowd found in 2K8. The entire audience is three-dimensional, which is unusual, seeing as how EA's NBA Live 08 has a pixilated paper audience past the fourth row (for the PS3 version, that is). In any case, it's nice to see that visuals efforts were kept quite high for NHL 08. Kudos to EA.
The audio is basically exactly what you'll find in any other hockey game. Commentary is delivered with primarily play-by=play updates. Color commentary is lacking, but at least the play-calling is on the money and quick. I just wonder, with all of this extra space in medium, when are we going to see more in-depth, realistic commentary out of our sports games. Sound effects are the general slap-stick effect, puck hit, punk hitting the post, etc. It all sounds decent. What I do love is how loud and crazy the crowd gets during tense and exciting moments – that I found really awesome.
All in all, along with NHL 2K8, NHL 08 is also a fantastic hockey game. Each game has its ups and downs and trade-offs. Ultimately, I encourage you to play both. I'm not saying to buy them, it'd be crazy to spend $120 on two baseball games. But I highly suggest you spend a few bucks to rent both to decide and see which one suits your tastes more. Gameplay is just about equal between both, but if you're the type where visuals make or break a game for you, then you may want to sway towards NHL 08. Otherwise, run, don't walk, and check out both. You'll be happy that you did.