EA Sports’ NHL 10 hit store shelves in September 2009 to rave reviews from critics and gamers alike. It has been named sports game of the year by many publications with its only competition being the annually superb MLB The Show franchise. But this year’s NHL doesn’t seem to have the same kind of impact as the last few entries in the series.
The main new feature of NHL 10 was the fighting and after the whistle play. EA Canada took a page out of their critically lauded Fight Night Series and introduced analog based fighting maneuvers that emulated the franchise. While there is a sizable learning curve, all in all it accomplishes what it set out to do and made the formerly broken system actually usable and with a possible energy boost, the real life benefit of fighting is in the game as well. The “after the whistle” play is more of a reach for authenticity than anything else. All’s it does is create a real life hockey game atmosphere where any extracurricular activity post-whistle is met with a punch in the face and possible shot to the groin or your back if Sidney Crosby is after you. Again, these set out to introduce more authenticity into the game and accomplish just that.
The EASHL remains largely unchanged, allowing you and your friends to form a kind of hockey “clan” and take on other teams throughout the world. Online has been one of EA Canada’s strong suits and they fail to disappoint again, especially compared to EA confidants Tiburon with Madden and NCAA’s spotty online play.
While Online is some people’s cup of tea, mine always has and always will be dynasty mode. For the unacquainted, one takes over as general manager of a team and builds them throughout years of the National Hockey League. Very little has changed though in this year’s version and that has left the game stale to some degree. The fantasy draft is a welcome change up and one can always change it to some degree by importing Swedish Elite League players nobody’s ever heard of as well as former NHL players that have returned to Europe such as Jaromir Jagr and Alex Radulov, but very little in the mechanics have changed.
The simulation is still relatively slow and can take up to an hour to simulate one whole season. However, this makes the team infinitely more personal than in a game like NBA Live where one can zip through an entire season in five minutes. If Ryan Miller has a bad week, you know it. If Nic Backstrom can’t score without Ovechkin, you’ll find out. If Duncan Keith turns into Bobby Orr 2.0, you’ll relish every second of it. This makes it particularly rewarding to win the Stanley Cup and watch certain players you feel like you labored with hoist Lord Stanley’s hardware.
The only problem with this simulation engine that I can find is that playmaking centers like the aformentioned Nic Backstrom and Travis Zajac seem almost unable to score goals. The big playmakers like Crosby and Geno Malkin have no problem but the next run of guys will put up 40 points a year playing on the top line, and that just isn’t real enough for me. The goal scoring also tends to be a little high but it balances out over time so point totals aren’t completely ridiculous.
All in all this game is about as good as a sports game can be. The new features may not have added much to the game and keep it a little stale while hurting the overall lifespan, but this game and the series’ recent entries remind me of the famous defunct MVP Baseball Series. The two both started with mediocre titles that were just setting up concepts, then followed with the next entry that had so many new features, people were floored, as they were with MVP 2004 and NHL 08 and 09. Then MVP’s swan song prior to EA losing the MLB rights to 2k was nearly perfect with few new features and just fine tuning. NHL has accomplished the same thing: making a game that didn’t blow people away like the previous editions but is nearly perfect when dissected.
But MVP never had another entry after perfection and NHL will, with no competition from 2k which has relocated the NHL 2k series to just the Wii. I for one can’t wait to see what EA has in store for next year. Can one improve on near perfection? We shall find out in September 2010.
NHL 10 – 9.5/10
[NHL 10] – $59.99 ($51 street)