Game Review: NHL ’09 vs. NHL 2K9

Launching on the same day, with the same demographic, this year’s offering of NHL Licensed games are a mixed bag.

Which game (if any) is worth your time and money?

Find out inside.

I could use this space to wax poetic about the wonders of hockey, and how I look forward to the start of the season… but you want to know about the games. Here it is, head-to-head.

Presentation

From a technical standpoint, it would appear that NHL 2K9 has the advantage. While EA’s game is limited to 720p (HD resolution), 2K9 supports 1080i and 1080p.

If it were only that simple.

NHL 2K9 suffers from an extreme case of the ‘jaggies’. Anti-aliasing is so bad on this title that it’s hard to believe it was created for a current-gen machine. Nearly every moment of the game is plagued by the ‘marching ants’ effect around the edges of objects.

Player animations aren’t much better. Although the back of the box boasts that 2K9 has raised the amount of animations used for players from previous years, you wouldn’t know it from observation. Players change direction with little-to-no frames of animation, and player movement (especially during celebrations) looks wooden and unnatural.

In contrast, NHL ’09 features fluid motion, great detail, superior camera angles, and ZERO jagged edges. The game is simply beautiful.

Both games suffer from occasional slowdowns, although NHL ’09 appears to limit the framerate drops to replays, not effecting gameplay.

Commentaries are wildly different in each game, with 2K9 taking a shocking backwards leap in technology. Announcers in 2K9 frequently repeat themselves, and much of the dialog sounds like a cut and paste mad-lib.

‘This is a great matchup between the PITTSBURGH PENGUINS and the BUFFALO SABRES. I think the game is firmly on the shoulders of SIDNEY CROSBY.’

I thought this kind of stuttering, ridiculous audio was solved in 1997?

Much like last year’s EA hockey game, the commentary on NHL ’09 is varied and seamless.

Gameplay and Features

I think you’re going to start seeing a pattern here.

EA’s ‘stick control’ system has been adapted for defense this year, and body checking has made a triumphant return (you could do it last year, but it was difficult). Controls are tight and responsive, and newcomers will be pleased to know an easy, yet effective, control tutorial is included. For those who are old school purists, an option to switch controls to ‘Classic NHL ’94’ mode is available. D pad and 3 buttons. I guess it’s cool, if you’re into that.

2K9 has tried to emulate PART of ‘stick control’, but hasn’t quite got the knack. While not broken or miserable, things defintely have room for improvement. 2K9 also allows the ability to use ‘Classic Controls’, but only reaches back one year; you can use last year’s button layout and stick configuration.

Both games feature robust online play, with up to 12 simultaneous players, however EA’s servers periodically wet themselves and go home for a nap.

I’d call online play a draw between the two games, except for the Be A Pro and EASHL (a virtual hockey league with real players).

Be A Pro allows you to roll play (leveling up) a custom player, in any position, then take that player online to compete in the EASHL. The EASHL is much like an MMO, with clan support. Leagues of up to 50 players can compete using teams of 6. And here is where your custom character can really shine.

Conclusion

If NHL 2K9 were the only game in town, I would recommend it for Rent, and only for hardcore hockey fans looking for current team rosters. NHL ’09 is certainly the best hockey game to date, and quite possibly one of the best sports titles ever.

With such a disparity between titles, there is no real decision to which you should purchase:

NHL 2K9 – DODGE IT

NHL ’09 – BUY IT

Matt Ellis is a co-founder of Bag Of Mad Bastards, co-host of the podcast Drunken Monkey Tech, and a lifetime Pittsburgh Penguins fan. To reach him, send an email to: matt@bagofmadbastards.com .

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29 Comments

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