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Review: NHL 10

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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NHL 10, as expected, is very similar to NHL 09.  However, it does have some nice additions that I felt made the game more well-rounded but also some that are just fluff.  With the oxymoron that is a “new” sports game, does everything add up to another yearly purchase or can you just hang on to your copy of NHL 09 and be satisfied?

The answer to that probably depends on how much you like hockey.  I’m a hardcore fan who is just as willing to write about my sport as I am a video game, so I might be leaning more heavily in a certain direction.  All in all though if you like it enough to contemplate this purchase we’re probably more or less on the same page.

As far as the modes the game offers, everything from ’09 is here with a handful of notable additions.  You can now play a single season as opposed to a full-blown franchise.  It’s about as thrilling as it sounds, and since this has been an option since oh, 1992 we’ll leave it at that.  There’s also Battle for the Cup mode, where you take any team of your choice through a seven game series in hopes of hoisting sports’ greatest trophy.  It’s a nice touch I suppose, but my friends and I used to simulate Cup battles on our old copies of NHL ’94.  These two modes don’t offer much in the way of innovation, but I suppose something is better than nothing.

The real meat of the game however, is in the Be A GM and Be A Pro modes.  This is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck and where the game really shines, even if it is pretty similar to last year’s version.

In Be A GM mode (essentially “dynasty” mode), you can pick any team to start with or do a fantasy draft and build from scratch.  The fantasy draft is in snake order, which it should be, and the computer actually drafts with incredibly real-life accuracy.  They favor younger players as opposed to aging veterans, so you really get the sense that everyone is starting over and has long-term goals.  

You’re also in control of everything involving player contracts, scouting, and of course playing the games.  There’s a brief but helpful tutorial (voiced by color analyst Bill Clement) that familiarizes you with some of the menus, but it would have been nice for it to simply explain everything.  For instance, I still haven’t figured out how to dole out scouting assignments.  The screen just doesn’t make sense, and it would have been nice for some guidance.

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Using your BlackBerry is how you swing deals and draft players

 Nevertheless, Be A GM mode boasts a ton of control and you really can’t get a better NHL experience.  One downside I would point out is that you can’t really just play the games and not…..well, be a GM.  You can turn the salary cap off, but you’re still left with scouting and without the cap it’s not exactly a realistic experience.  All in all you’re pretty much forced to do everything or just simulate all the games and treat it as a GM sim.  I’m sure a lot of people would’ve liked some sliders as were offered in NCAA Football 10, as opposed to the all or nothing approach this game takes.

Be A Pro mode is where the NHL series delivers, and it really does argue that this is two games on one disc.  Create and customize your player including everything from name, hometown, playing style, and equipment, then either choose your favorite team to play on or toss yourself into the NHL draft and see where you land.  The basic concept has been brought over from last year, but with some great improvements.  There’s more of a “leveling up” feel here than there was last season.  Every game earns you experience points in three categories:  offense, defense, and athleticism.  You can spend these points on any of the 8-10 skills listed under each category like speed, shot accuracy, checking, and endurance.  Each time you level up it gets harder to earn enough points to do so again so you’re not going to become a superstar overnight, but that’s the way it should be.  There’s also skill boosts that can be unlocked or purchased online.  The game makes you earn your keep and it’s as close a representation of a real NHLer’s progression that you’re going to get.  

The new board play system is "meh"

You can also take your player online just like last year, and create a team with friends to play other teams created the same way.  This is a breakthrough that hasn’t gotten its due in the past year.  It’s exactly like a pick up game in real life, transferred into a virtual experience.  The only problem with NHL 10’s online experience is the length of each game.  It’ll take you about 45 real minutes to complete one, which is a lot to ask in my opinion.  Meeting up with your buddies online for a three hour NHL binge will net you a total of……four games.  What doesn’t help is the extended waits between whistles.  The game already extends that time due to its pimping of the game’s new fighting system, which is okay but online it takes a very long time to get to the next faceoff when you wait a few extra seconds, wait for everyone to press A to skip the replay, then allow the game to catch up.  

The new fighting system is one of the key gameplay additions this season.  If you or an opponent go at it enough where one of you presses the Y button, you can respond by pressing Y as well to enter a first-person perspective.  Using both joysticks you can dodge punches, throw them and tug at the opposing player’s jersey.  I don’t fight very much in these games but I like the new system.  It’s an improvement that isn’t too complicated, just throw some punches and move on.  

The fighting is improved but still kept simple, as it should be

The fighting is improved but still kept simple, as it should be

Another addition is the new “board play,” which aims to replicate what happens on the ice in real life when a puck is stuck on the boards.  One player will be pushed and held against the boards by their opponent (done with Y as well).  Other players hit RB trying to knock the puck loose.  When I first heard of this it sounded like a great idea, and when you see it in action at first you might feel the same, but in the end it just doesn’t work very well.  It feels just a tad forced, and while I applaud EA for trying to get away from a more arcade-like experience this is one sim feature that didn’t really hold water for me.  It’s not offensive enough that you can’t get over it, but I’d either improve it or remove it and work on something else for next year.

In general, the gameplay is good however there’s a couple things I really feel regressed somehow from last year.  First, your AI teammates aren’t incredibly bright.  If the puck is deep in your zone say, behind your own net, your defensemen always fail to move it quickly enough and you end up with a turnover.  Also, if you’re controlling a forward your linemates aren’t very adept at spreading out.  For example, oftentimes they’ll insist they stand in front of the net with you even though they have no business there.  Also, it seems much harder to score in Be A Pro when you’re just starting out.  Your starting player rating is about 5 points lower than it was last year, which I don’t mind at all because it’s more realistic but I’m not sure more casual players wouldn’t get frustrated and simply give up.

The only thing that wasn’t improved from last year that I thought would have been spectacular was the camera in Be A Pro.  The default camera was and still is just a few feet above the glass, giving you a nice view of the ice but still doing a good job of putting you “in” the game.  The only problems were only seeing half the ice as you rush the puck and occasional wild swings of the camera.  I’m sorry to say the camera hasn’t changed a bit, forcing you to use the overhead view we’ve all become accustomed to since NHL’s first iteration.  That’s fine but it’s just not the same in Be A Pro mode, where you want to feel like you’re part of the team and have a distinct role.  In the overhead view it just seems less personal, and it’s harder to pick parts of the net to shoot at.  

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It might seem like I’m disappointed by NHL 10 but that’s really not the case.  Just because I’m not a fan of many of the tweaks they’ve made doesn’t mean the game doesn’t retain its core value and fun factor.  The minor changes made to the dynasty, I mean “Be A GM” mode are critical in my eyes and it’s a full blown simulation with no stone left unturned.  Be A Pro has been improved as well, with more customization and a more realistic progression curve.  My complaints are minor, but as with most EA Sports games I can’t help but feel like this is a slightly improved version of last year’s game.  I guess that’s the nature of the beast, but the point still stands that if you’re a fan of the NHL or sports games in general, this is as good a time as any to jump into the series and you won’t be disappointed.  I guess sometimes that’s all that matters.

8.0 out of 10

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