To coincide with the launch of the Xbox 360, 2K Sports published a port of NHL 2K6 for the system in a fairly quick-and-dirty fashion. Sure, it retained the excellent gameplay of the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions that had been released a couple of months prior, but it also retained practically the same visuals and features of its Xbox counterpart, leaving you with a three-times-as-expensive update of a game you probably already bought. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief that with NHL 2K7 for the 360, they haven't been dealt another cheap port. 2K7 is a game that seems to have been developed specifically for the 360 hardware, and it revamps the presentation of the game significantly, both on the ice and off. However, while presentation is the name of the game this year, the gameplay is mostly the same as it was last year. That's hardly an indictment, since for the last few years, 2K hockey has been the gold standard in this regard, but with so much emphasis on the presentation and with the competition making long leaps forward with its gameplay engine, NHL 2K7 won't offer you too many surprises.
The biggest, most elaborate change involves the excellent new on-ice presentation system. Titled "cinemotion," this optional feature strips away the normal game-time TV broadcast setup and audio commentary in favor of a more dramatic interpretation. A rousing orchestral score pipes up from the moment the game begins with the coach delivering his opening pep talk to the team. From there, it moves to the ice, changing distinctly in tone depending on what happens. If you're well behind in the game, the tone is more somber. If you're on the comeback, the music kicks in to higher gear. And if you win, you get the sort of happy, inspirational score you'd expect from the end of a good hockey movie.
While the music might sound a touch cheesy, it's added subtly enough that it never seems over the top. It's more Miracle than Mighty Ducks in its tone and delivery. In fact, if anything, it could stand to be a little more in-your-face. The default audio levels for the music are rather quiet, and sometimes it's tough to hear the music over the din of typical on-ice action. It's not a volume issue so much as understated musical sequences. But when it swells up at the key moments, you notice it, and it's an interesting and cool change of pace from the typical TV broadcast. It makes the on-ice cutscenes more entertaining, too. If for some reason you really miss the commentary but don't want to give up the music, you do have the option of turning the commentary back on via the options menu.
On top of the cinemotion feature, 2K7 also includes a new default camera angle that might just be the best one ever put into a hockey game. This parametric camera comes down at more of an angle than the typical top-down camera view, and turns and zooms ever so subtly depending on where you are on the ice, and what's happening. It's the sort of thing that casual fans might not even notice or take note of initially, but dedicated players should certainly appreciate this change, since it gets you just that much closer to the action without sacrificing any level of control or visibility.
These are all great changes, but from there, the additions begin to get fewer and further between. On the gameplay front, just about every feature from last year's game, including the crease control, icon passing, enforcer, and on-the-fly play-calling systems return once more, and they're all basically the same. The few additions to the gameplay engine include a new drop pass button, and the new pressure control scheme. The drop pass is assigned to the right bumper, and by pressing it, you'll pass the puck back through your legs to a nearby player. With the pressure control system, if you find yourself having particular trouble with on individual opponent, you can order your teammates to pressure them by holding down the left bumper and pressing the right control stick in the direction of that opponent. You can set the level of pressure via taps of the left bumper. A single tap applies light pressure, a double tap applies more physical pressure, and repeatedly tapping sends your players in for a very hard check. You can cycle through opponents easily enough by simply tapping the right stick around while holding the bumper.
The new parametric camera angle is excellent, putting you closer to the on-ice action without creating visibility problems.
These new controls, much like many of the previously mentioned gameplay control systems from last year's game, aren't exactly amazing by themselves, but when combined with the wealth of other available options, they help make NHL 2K7 one of the smartest games of hockey around, if not the flashiest. The basic gameplay engine hasn't really changed dramatically in the last couple of years, and those familiar with how 2K hockey plays will find yet another game of 2K hockey in this year's offering. Of course it's hard to call that a bad thing, since the depth of play, especially in the defense and core strategies of the game of hockey, is unmatched by any other available hockey title on the market. But when it comes to some of the faster and more exciting aspects of hockey, like scoring, offensive moves, and fighting, little has changed, and these aspects of the game engine are starting to show their age.
2K7's feature list is also quite familiar. Party mode returns with a familiar roster of hockey-based minigames; mini rink and pond hockey provide similarly goofy yet enjoyable distractions; and the skybox once again houses all sorts of unlockables, statistics, and other fun things. All the usual in-game skybox challenges are still on hand, though they mostly do not correlate with the game's achievement system. Fortunately, the achievements are a little better this year, and more are available. There are 17 in all, with the five from last year's game appearing once again, as well as several new ones, ranging from scoring a penalty shot on all-star difficulty or higher, to winning 100 games. You won't get many of these achievements without working at it, though there are a few fairly easy ones, too.