It’s finally September again and for sports gamers that can mean only one thing. It’s time for hockey fans to go one-on-one to decide which sports franchise is going to claim hockey stardom this year. Last year, with 12 Sports Game of the Year awards, NHL 10 was the irrefutable winner for sports game of the year, let alone hockey title of the year. With NHL 2K10 putting out a shoddy performance once more, it’s looking as though NHL 10 will defend its crown gracefully. However, we can’t crown a champion just yet, because the season is long and injuries to happen, right?
As a kid, I grew up playing the NHL series from EA Sports, so it has always held a place in my heart. Last year’s title was reminiscent of some of my fondest memories. Sadly, once NHL 2K dropped, it was all 2K Sports for me up until recently with the release of NHL 08 and then 09. So, with this year being the 10th Anniversary Edition of NHL 2K and the umpteenth edition of the NHL franchise, I was very excited to see which one would come out on top. Let’s just into the game segments and I’ll break it down into categories.
Ever since NHL 08, I’ve gotten the impression that EA Sports has devoted a lot of development time into making the game play and feel like a NHL title. One of the biggest gameplay and feature challenges that the NHL franchise is facing this year is living up to the Game of the Year awards it received last year. Obviously, a lot of us gamers expect innovation and change from year to year or installment to installment, so receiving a title like NHL 10, which isn’t really full of new changes is a little disheartening. Then again – Should the developers really try and fix something that isn’t broken? I guess it really depends on how you want to look at it.
The core gameplay mechanics have gone relatively unchanged, which is a sigh of relief for the millions of us that enjoyed last year’s iteration. One of the newest additions to the franchise is the all new “Board Play” mechanic. This allows users to finally scrimmage against the boards to fight for loose puck or positioning. By pressing triangle, your player will push up against the boards with the puck and have the ability to either move up/down the boards or pass it to an awaiting teammate. On the other hand, as a defender, you can utilize triangle to push the offense into the board where you can trap him and try to force a turnover by pressing R1 to poke check. This does add a nice strategic element to the game so long as it’s being used, but online, I doubt many gamers will take it into account.
Another fun addition to the gameplay was the ability to make highlight reel goals by batting in pucks from mid-air. While these do happen very few and far between, when they do, they’re a thing to marvel at. I was able to land one of these goals during my extensive time with the title and I must’ve watched the replay 20-30 times at least. It’s always nice when a game can impress you with how you play it yourself. However, not all of the gameplay additions are going to be crowd pleasers. The bruisers out there may be disappointed with one of the bigger changes to the title.
This year, Electronic Arts decided to add in a first-person fighting mechanic that allows the user to fight from the first-person perspective. You’re able to bob and weave with your controller and throw punches, but it all feels very empty in your hands. It doesn’t feel like there is any weight to it or that you’re really in a fight. To be honest, this is a very gimmicky addition and it’s not one I welcome with open arms. If this is something you do enjoy though, the easiest way to engage in fights is with the new “Post Whistle Play” option.
The PWP allows you to make contact after the whistle while the refs take notice. This means it can result in penalties and consistent fights breaking loose. Unfortunately, this mechanic has some ironing out needed before it becomes what it needs to be. Most after the whistle hits are then treated with a lot of random checking from both teams to each team’s players. It’s more awkward looking than anything and most of the time the refs don’t seem to really care about it.
I know you’re probably thinking this game has got to be lining itself up for a repeat of last year, sadly, you’re correct when it comes to the issues that have been plaguing the game for awhile. The artificial intelligence still has a lot of dumb moments. I’ve experienced many times where the AI will pass the puck between itself with two players that are almost side-by-side one another for 5-6 passes. It serves no purpose other than to aggravate the user to an extent. Your own teammate AI is also very average in Be A Pro mode as they make very awkward decision when passing the puck as well (Never pass it in front of your own net!).
I understand that I may be coming across a little harsh with my negativity, but it’s only because I expect so much from this game every year. When it boils down to it, it’s undoubtedly the best sports game of the year thus far (still waiting on FIFA). However, outside of the random freeze issues, NHL 10 is still a great game from head-to-toe.
Much like NHL 2K10, very little was changed this year in terms of game mode additions. While the game does proclaim some modes to be “new” marked by asterisk, they really aren’t. Adding in modes for “Stanley Cup Battle” and “Playoff Showdown” are really just ways to split the season mode aspect up and offer things in different packages. It’s fun for the user, but they’re not really new modes that we haven’t come to expect already. The two modes that truly matter to NHL 10 this year are without a doubt Be A Pro and Be A Gm.
Be A Pro takes everything that the game did fantastically last year and improves upon it. Now, players can unlock better equipment for their Pro to use while also adding special unlockable boosts to help them out. There are three tiers of equipment, which with a different slot amount (1-3). These slots allow you to place boosts in them in order to increase any of your attributes by one, three or five rating points. It’s a nice addition to the game and allows your play to get an edge early. Another fun addition is the NHL Entry Draft.
At the start of Be A Pro, you’ll play in the prospect game that allows you the opportunity to show scouts what you’re made of. Depending on your performance, you’ll be sent to the draft with either high or low expectations. This is where the fun is because it allows you to be drafted to an organization rather than just picking your favorite. Outside of these small changes, the mode has stayed relatively the same.
Be A Gm mode has added in the AI logic to notice when you’re consistently screwing over other teams in shady deals. If you continue to trade players that don’t pan out for the other organization, they’re unlikely to do business with you again. This means your reputation as an owner is very important and you may be forced to take the short end of the stick to set things right. GMs are also tasked with milestones to complete in order to progress your career much like in the Be A Pro mode. Other than that, it’s the same meat underneath the skin when it comes to this mode.
EASHL has made its return to the game and is relatively the same. You can expect the same performance issues as last year, but the game mode itself will keep you playing for an unknown amount of time. The lag in single-player matches doesn’t seem to be an issue either, resulting in a pretty smooth experience all around.
Graphics and Sound
I’m combining these two elements in this review because they go hand-in-hand for a sports game like NHL 10. EA Sports has delivered an amazing looking detail that has paid attention to even the stitching on the jerseys. Much like last year’s version, this title’s character models are head and shoulders above the competition. Combining this great authentic look is only complimented by the presentation and sound it comes with.
Gary Thorne and Bill Clement return to call the action on the ice and keep up with it pretty well. The lines are well drawn out and there isn’t as much repetition as you’d expect from the two. The commentary combined with the sounds of the ice make for a great experience that any hockey fan should enjoy.
Electronic Arts have continued to roll out the goods this year in the sports genre. First with Tiger Woods 10, followed closely by NCAA and Madden, with only FIFA and NBA Live to go, the year’s sports lineup may be the company’s best ever. NHL 10 delivers on every level for hockey fans and users will find themselves losing hours in the Be A Pro mode just like last year. I have no doubt that this titles has a future slew of Sports GOTY awards to win.