by Chris Scott
reviewed on X360
NHL: The War
A war has been waging between EA Sports and 2K Sports. Both publishers strive to deliver the best NHL Hockey branded games and convince punters to buy – their – game rather than the one of the competition. The pendulum has been swinging back and forth. Last year it was set firmly on the side of NHL 09. That game was a fundamental shift for the EA Sports developed series. It changed from being a hockey game that just could not find the proper medium between arcade and simulation styled gameplay to one that got pretty much everything right.
With the release of NHL 10, EA Sports set out to keep the pendulum firmly on their side. For the most part they did an admirable job. The core game from NHL 09 returns and that is ultimately a good thing as its gameplay was the best in a hockey game to date. Yet NHL 10 is more than just a roster update. The game has a couple new additions including board play and first person fighting. The latter is, at best, a a gimmick at that is fun to toy around with. Board play on the other hand, adds tactically to the game and helps to instill an overall sense of realism to the game.
The game modes are primarily the same as NHL 09, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. A new mode called Battle for the Cup makes its debut and pits two teams against each other for - as the title of the mode suggest - a battle for the cup. Playoff Mode and Season Mode return, as do the most content heavy modes of the game; Be a Pro and GM Mode which has been relabeled to Be a GM.
The award winning online modes from last year also return, including the much loved EA Sports Hockey League where players team up with friends to play against other clubs with a maximum of six on six play. The 'EA Sports Hockey League' is linked up through EA Sports World, the EA Sport's online community, and offers a few out of game options that help enhance the overall experience. Along with the online modes come many of the same online issues that the series has suffered from since it went online. These problems generally revolve around glitches that some players feel necessary to take advantage of and ruin the online hockey experience of others. It is a shame that EA did not seek to resolve these issues.
At this point you are probably wondering what exactly qualifies NHL 10 as a full fledged sequel. You would be right to question that. On the surface almost everything looks and plays the same as NHL 09 but NHL 10 does have some subtle tricks up its sleeve. An all new goaltender AI has been implemented and the goaltenders react far more realistically than in any previous game in the series. In conjunction with the goalie AI are the new goalie animations which help to add to the overall realism.
A couple other animation and AI upgrades have been made as well. Players may now attempt to bat the puck out of the air with their stick in an effort to turn it away from oncoming attackers or towards the defending net, depending upon who is attempting to get the puck. While these tweaks are generally appreciated, the new ‘after the whistle’ scrums are a detriment to the game, especially considering that you can receive a penalty for such a scrum regardless of if you were actively participating or not.
Speaking of penalties, the virtual refs do a mixed job of calling legitimate penalties. Sometimes a light tap of the stick will result in a five minute major whereas a violent check from behind is sometimes not even called. Awkward officiating is something gamers have come to deal with but when online matches are sometimes decided by these weak calls, it can be more than a little frustrating. Some would say that being as many real NHL games are decided due to weak calls that this is just EA's way of bringing the ultimate simulation of hockey to gamers but when coupled with some of the online glitches in place it seems like skill is oftentimes a non-factor in deciding a game.
Minor complaints aside, NHL 10 is still the best hockey game on the market and it is still a great virtual representation of the sport that offers something for every level of hockey fan. It does a fine job of balancing between being just arcade like enough to satisfy the casual hockey gamers and offering a tactical game for more hardcore fans of the sport. So the pendulum does indeed stay firmly on the EA Sports side of the line. Better luck next time 2K, better luck next time.
All the great gameplay from NHL 09 returns with a few new additiions.
The game still has some minor glitches and annoyances that have persisted throughout the series for a long time.