Friday, April 14, 2006

Xbox 360 NHL 2K6

Hockey is back in our world again, and NHL 2006 brings that ice-skating fun to your XBox 360. The realism in this game is really pretty impressive, and gameplay is fun.

The textures really shine when you watch this game. The soft reflections off the ice, the flashes of ice when a player skids to a stop, the shine off the protective glass, it all looks photo-realistic. You can see accurately "warbled" reflections of the ceiling banners down in the icy depths. You even get ice trails from fast skating players that highlight their moves.

The animations are smooth and believable. When players spin, dodge, or race to a goal, you really believe these are skilled hockey players working as a team. The quality of the face models in replays is pretty impressive. You do get a sense, when the skaters move, that these are massive, powerful guys carving through ice, and not an ice hockey puck just sailing monotonously on a bed of air.

They do a good job with highlighting the players and puck. Your current player has a yellow circle around him with a black arrow showing his direction. An inner arrow shows your boost, if you put on a kick of speed to get clear of nearby people.

Crowds in these games are usually cookie cutter people waving arms. In this case they do get more excited when their team is doing something interesting. It's not great - but it will be a while before we have a console system that can give unique movements to every character in the stands.

Gameplay itself is pretty fun. You have quick access to a variety of moves, plus you can take manual control to give that individual tweak to a situation. An Enforcer, marked with a big red E, is able to add some bashing power to your game.

The soundtrack is OK, but customizeable from your own library so it doesn't really matter. The commentary isn't stellar in "enthusiasm", but the comments do actually line up pretty well with the gameplay. The guys chime in with discussions about hat tricks, butterfly stances and other details when it's appropriate. Since you tend to tune out any discussion after playing a sports game for more than 15 minutes, it really doesn't matter much. The puck hits have a loud force to them that feel real.

We've had problems with other XBox 360 games freezing and crashing, but we didn't have any issues with this one. We are pretty lenient with brand new consoles and games that we test, because it's always hard with fresh releases to have all the kinks worked out.

Well recommended if you're a fan of hockey and want HD widescreen fun!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Robitaille announces he'll retire at season's end

Luc Robitaille managed to keep his emotions in check while thanking the Los Angeles Kings and their championship-starved fans at his retirement announcement Tuesday.

He began ticking off his favorite moments during 14 seasons spent with the Kings -- his first game in 1986, the team's improbable run to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals and becoming the club's career goal scorer earlier this season.

"My teammates clapped for me," he said, recalling the night he passed friend and mentor Marcel Dionne.

Then he lost it.

Robitaille's eyes teared up and his voice broke as he struggled to spit out the words in a room crowded with current and former teammates.

"Oh, it's tough," he said, looking down.

He gripped each side of the podium and quickly composed himself.

"When your teammates respect you to a certain degree, that's the memory you never forget," he said. "As a player, the thing you cherish the most is your teammates."

Robitaille, a member of the Detroit Red Wings team that won the 2002 Stanley Cup, will play his final home regular-season game Saturday against Calgary before the Kings end the season Monday at San Jose. With three games left, they are all but out of the playoff picture.

"I just know it's time," he said. "When reporters keep asking you for the past three years, you start thinking about it."

Robitaille had been kicking around the idea of retirement during the last month in conversations with his wife, Stacia.

"It's definitely a decision we made together," he said. "She's made so many sacrifices throughout the years."

His wife and two sons weren't present Tuesday, but they will attend his final game at Staples Center. He will retire as the NHL's highest-scoring left wing

Robitaille turned 40 in February and is on his third stint with the Kings, the team that drafted him in the ninth round in 1984. He made his NHL debut two years later, scoring a goal in his first game on an assist by Dionne.

He was 19 and newly arrived in Los Angeles from his native Montreal. He spoke French and was naive to the ways of living on his own.

Dionne took Robitaille into his home during the teenager's rookie season, advising him to learn English and helping him buy his first car.

Robitaille marveled at how far he's come in 19 NHL seasons, including stints with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers.

"I can't believe I'm saying all those words in English," he said. "I remember looking at a map and seeing how far Los Angeles was, and now this is my home."

Later, Robitaille mentored his younger teammates, including fellow Quebecer Eric Belanger, now in his sixth season with the Kings.

"Luc took care of me. He's more of a friend than a teammate," Belanger said. "He was a lot of help getting my career started on an easy note. He said to enjoy it because it goes fast."

Kings captain Mattias Norstrom said he'll miss Robitaille more away from the ice. The two often roomed together on the road.

"Every single player, especially the young guys, should look at the way Luc carries himself," Norstrom said. "He comes to the rink with a smile and most times, he leaves with a big smile. He really has a love for the game."

Hockey fans in Los Angeles immediately took to the always smiling, always accessible player nicknamed "Lucky." They loved that he stopped and chatted and signed autographs until everyone was happy.

"Every day I gave everything I had," he said. "I wasn't great every day, but I know I made sure I was ready for every game. I have no regrets."

Robitaille won the Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002, then brought the huge silver trophy back to Los Angeles and shared it with Kings' fans.

"It was just more of a thank you to a lot of friends that had been behind me throughout the years," he said. "I had more friends at the time than I thought I knew."

This season has been a mostly forgettable one for him, though.

Robitaille has 15 goals -- the second-lowest single-season total of his career -- and nine assists in 62 games.

He missed nine games in October because of a broken bone in his leg and got benched in December for three games by coach Andy Murray, who was fired last month. Robitaille was benched three games last week, too.

"It's time to go," he said. "It didn't feel right anymore."

Robitaille doesn't know what he wants to do next, other than help his wife with the charity they set up in September to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

"It has been a great, great run for me," he said. "I was just this little kid that had a dream and I got to live my dream."
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