by Jeff Gates
reviewed on X360
Day at the Rink (cntd)
The graphics haven’t changed much from a season ago either, which isn’t really a bad thing. The character models are still just as good as last year and the ice glistens like a frozen pond on a brisk Canadian morning. The player’s faces have been given a slight upgrade while the faces in the audience still look the same. The models are fine but a sprucing up would have been nice. Additionally the arenas don’t have much personality. The historic but dated Melon Arena in Pittsburgh is indistinguishable from the Devil’s brand new arena in Newark. Outside of the glass and ice, the Arena’s all look the same to me.
The sounds of NHL 11 are fantastic. The music – both in the arena and in the in-game menus – presents a much greater hockey atmosphere. Nickelback is out the window and replaced by tunes that hockey goers will know well. Stadium anthems and masterworks of the organ replace the distant feel of the rock music from NHL 10. While some fitting modern music still has a place in NHL 11 it doesn’t detract from the “day at the rink” feel of the game.
A non-gameplay addition to the game that is worth mentioning is Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) which is a trading card game similar to the ones kids play in schoolyards all over the country. I got a flash of nostalgia ‘holding’ a stack of trading cards, wondering how to approach my trades. The majority of the cards consist of player images and information. Gathering the cards can be tough in the early stages of the game as there are not many to choose from. When you have enough, you string them together to make a team that you can then take online.
You can buy packs of cards with real money playing online which helps to complete your collection but also unbalances the online card battles somewhat. It does detract from the fun to take your team of mid-level players into a match against the NHL’s best forwards, bought and paid for by your online opponent. Still, the HUT mode is a great deal of fun and offers a serious grab bag of things to do.
I was not as pleased with the Be a Pro mode, my main reason for buying NHL 10 last year. Maybe it was because there was nothing really wrong with it that made EA decide not to make any changes to it. Many have made a big deal about how you start out as a player in the Canadian Hockey League battling for the Memorial Cup and being scouted by NHL teams. I however did not find this to be a significant enough change to the mode to hook me on playing it extensively. Be a Pro is still as playable as last year but the lack of improvements keep it from being immersive a second year.
The Coolest Game on Earth
Some minor grievances aside, NHL 11 offers some major improvements over its predecessors. The meat and potatoes of any game is its gameplay and this is where NHL 11 shines. The game looks and plays more realistic and checking has become a real challenge. Breaking through the defense takes practice and finally putting the puck in the net is overwhelmingly gratifying. The game is as unpredictable as the sports it depicts which is brilliantly illustrated by the game’s tendency to break hockey sticks that have taken too much of a beating.
The controls, the physics, the music and even the game modes present a very “non-sterile” approach to a sports-sim that I haven’t seen since 989 Sports’ NFL games of my youth. Whether you are playing Hockey Ultimate Team or hip-checking a mate in an online match, this game feels like good old-fashioned ice hockey.
NHL 11 is a blast and very addictive, offering incredible gameplay with a plethora of game modes and an entertaining ambiance. Hoisting the Cup into the air may just cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up.
The most authentic gameplay I have ever seen in a sports-sim.
A few minor issues, overall no major downsides.