Tech News on G4
Sept 25, 2009
By Ted Kritsonis - G4 Canada
It’s not hard to say that EA really made an impact with NHL 09 last year, arguably the best overall video game hockey experience they’ve produced. This largely explains why NHL 10 isn’t a great leap forward for the franchise, but rather a series of tweaks, refinements and additions that are meant to provide a more well-rounded package.
When I reviewed NHL 09 last year, I wrote early in the review that the gameplay had really only been tweaked from the year before. The same is very much the case here, as you will likely feel right at home when stepping onto the virtual ice for a quick matchup. Pinning on the boards is now a more prominent fixture of the game, which can slow down the flow of the action, but at least it’s been done well. If you’re pinned, you can kick the puck in either direction along the boards, or control a nearby player to poke check it free and gain possession.
Players will react to infractions on the ice a little more, which can vary from skating gingerly to the bench after blocking a shot, to grabbing their faces after getting high-sticked. Exhausted players will bobble or miss passes, and there are now more one-on-one dekes you can try out with your finesse guys.
Goaltending also sees an upgrade, not least of which is because they’ve become generally tougher to beat. Rather than outfit each goalie with a butterfly style, the developers opted to include more acrobatic and unorthodox saves to certain ‘tenders like Boston’s Tim Thomas and the Islanders’ Rick DiPietro. Some saves border on the ridiculous, even at the default Pro skill level, but the unpredictability of particular goalies is a nice little touch.
A lot of hype surrounded the new fighting mechanics and visuals, which basically puts you in a first-person view of the fight. At first, it’s got a novel quality to it, but you then start to notice that there’s not much realism involved. Most fights are too slow, for starters, but the way punches are thrown and blocked just doesn’t mesh well. There’s no visible damage done to an opponent’s face, and the worst you can do is knock his helmet off. Not to mention that most fights will be over after only a couple of punches are thrown, since just about every one lands squarely on the kisser.
Many of the fights typically break out in scrums after the whistle. For the first time, you can cause havoc after a dead play by roughing it up with opposing players. If a couple of tough guys are on the ice, there’s a good chance a fight will take place. Personally, I’m not a fan of scrums in real-life hockey, as I find most of them are pointless, but for those who like a little more sandpaper in their game, it’s definitely you’d like. The referees will sometimes pick a team and call a penalty, and there is the odd time where they’ll tack on an extra two minutes for instigating. But these are pretty rare instances, as the refs will usually let all the fisticuffs go.
Of course, the intensity on the ice should be matched in some way with what’s going on in the crowd. In long overdue moves, jubilant crowds will wave towels during playoff games and jump up and down when big goals are scored. When players are pinned or fighting for the puck along the boards, fans in the front row will press up on the glass and you will even see those isolated fans cheering on the visiting team when they score. Now, if only they can add in some playoff beards for the players.
When it comes to new modes, there’s Battle for the Cup, which takes you straight to a Cup Final matchup between two teams of your choice. There’s also Be a GM Mode, which gives you a virtual BlackBerry and gives you free reign with your favourite NHL club. It’s not bad, overall, but there are definitely some holes that need to be covered. Making ridiculous trade offers will hurt your reputation, thus making it tougher to make deals and sign players, but the AI still makes stupid moves in other ways. Why would the Sharks dump Dany Heatley for only a few draft picks — and after only eight games into the season. If there were storylines attached to some of these big moves, it would make things more interesting, but the randomness is just too laughable. It also doesn’t help that big name players are consistently on the move season after season. There are other little things here and there, but I expect EA will tighten this up a lot for next year’s iteration.
As for online play, everything is virtually the same as last year, though less lag in games is a welcome sight. I’ve seen other reviews that found the online experience to be really smooth, and I do agree with that to an extent. I found it interesting that a 6-on-6 game rolled along fine, while one-on-one matchups with different opponents had varying levels of lag. I’m not sure it’s my connection because I usually don’t experience lag with other games, but I will give EA the benefit of the doubt, given how well 6-on-6 games performed.
At the end of the day, NHL 10 isn’t an absolutely necessary upgrade from last year’s stellar game because it doesn’t offer anything overly groundbreaking. Sure, the new tweaks are great for the presentation side, and the gameplay is great with all the board play, but you still won’t consider this even a major upgrade. It’s a great game, no doubt, but you should feel no real rush to grab it.
Rating: 9 / 10
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