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NHL 10

 

NHL 10

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Sports
 
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Features

1-4 players
2-4 co-op offline
2-12 multiplayer online
2-6 co-op online
HDTV 720p/1080i/1080p
Custom Soundtracks
Voice support
Game Content Downloads
Leaderboards

The end of summer in Canada should be simply known as Hockey season as that is where most of our attention is focused. Training camps have begun to open all over North America with great expectation and fanfare, although the fandom is somewhat subdued in the non-hockey markets. I look forward to this time of year as Canada’s game begins to ramp up toward the ultimate goal in sports, the Stanley Cup. The videogame world also ramps up as the annual release of the virtual hockey games descends upon us at the same time.

EA’s platinum-selling NHL video game franchise has been released to the masses, just as NHL teams hit the ice, with it newest iteration, NHL 10. Last years version threw down the gauntlet with a landmark game which earned it 19 different “Sports Game of the Year” awards. NHL 10 begins a new era with gameplay innovation that delivers a new standard of toughness, the emotion of playoff hockey, and the skill and finesse that every fan sees throughout the NHL playoffs.

Graphics

Visually, NHL 10 looks fantastic with awesome player model details and animations. That being said, it does look like they took NHL 09’s build and cleaned it up. I think the EA Canada’s main focus was to clean up some graphical issues while focusing on the overall gameplay. Unfortunately I still found some of the same problems that plagued last year’s version. At certain times the framerate stutters. This generally happens while online as well as sometimes when I found myself in a scrum in the corner of the boards. To most this may be unnoticed, but for discerning fans of the series you will probably note it right away. It does not affect the overall gameplay, but the powerful consoles of this generation really shouldn’t have problems like this and it can be a distraction at times.

On the plus side there has clearly been several new animations added, namely in how the goalkeeper reacts to tough shots. You will now see keepers spinning around, flopping around on the ground, slapping at pucks in the air, and other great looking attempts at making saves. The game also features an all-new interactive crowd system with towel-waving fans, glass bangers, and great reactions to the on ice action.

As for the player models themselves, well this has been a staple of EA and they once again nail it. All of the NHL’ers look like those they represent in real life. From Sid-the-Kid, Roberto Luongo (even though he has his mask on), to Alex Ovechkin, all the players look like those that we watch on TV. I must admit it, at this point in my reviewing games; NHL 10 is still the best looking hockey game hands down.

Sound

Well done sound and music in a video game can really make the gaming experience that much better, particularly in a sport oriented one. NHL 10 picks up 09’s reins in perfect order. While most of the sounds in the game seem to be of the retread variety, the intensity has really picked up. The crowd noises are fantastic; they ride the wave of action with precision. In the past I often thought they didn’t react to the flow of play well, and sometimes were way too quiet, this year however they react to almost everything that happens on the ice. It’s nice to hear such interaction.

The game is also encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, which also helps to shroud the gamer in all the sounds quite easily. The mix is absolutely perfect. For example, I love how when you are heading out of the dressing rooms that the music and crowd is somewhat muted until you hit the ice, and when start to skate you have a wall of sound fill your room. Other notable sounds that you can clearly hear, such as skates cutting through the ice, pucks bouncing off the wall or glass, or that magical sound off the rubber hitting the post, are all well represented and well recreated in NHL 10.

The soundtrack has been changed up with new bands like Megadeath among others. It works well, but if you have a custom soundtrack I would use it over the disc’s content.

Sadly though, I found the commentary to be just adequate. The play by play is static, seemingly jumping from big play to stoppage to big play again. Everything in the middle seems to be lost. To make matters worse, most of the script is still the same from previous games and I haven’t come across to much new content after quite a few games. If NHL 10 lacks in one area it is in the repetitive play by play.

Gameplay

One thing that gamers should notice right away is the game mechanics are virtually the same as last year’s version. This is a good thing as newbie’s and veterans of the series will settle right into some gaming time. I did note that EA has added and tweaked the core of the button arrangement. They have added a few new moves and abilities without cluttering and or confusing the gamer. The new additions will take a little bit of time to get used to, but I felt pretty comfortable after an hour or so. Winning one-on-one battles for possession of the puck along the boards is now a test of will and skill. Utilizing an all-new board physics engine, players can use their body to shield the puck on the boards and kick-pass it to teammates. Watch bigger, stronger players pin opponents to the boards while fanatical fans bang the glass, just like a real in game situation.

Some of the esthetics of the game has also been tweaked. You can now forecheck defenders and finish checks to intimidate your opponent into mistakes. Players fatigue, bobble passes, and avoid collisions under threat of constant physical pressure. I personally like that I can inspire teammates and change the momentum of a game by the threat of constant physical pressure, and rev-up teammates by instigating scrums, drawing penalties, and mixing it up, all after the referee blows the whistle. A new first-person fighting engine enables players to throw and dodge punches or grab and tug an opponent’s jersey and hopefully land the punch that ignites the fans, and more importantly your teammates. Right after a fight you can see your team’s momentum gauge. It fills up if you win the fight or drops down if you lose. These kinds of changes in a game that is already so good adds a much needed level realism that mirrors the real life hockey experience. While the innovations aren’t completely perfect, I do think they lend very well to the game, and it makes for a much more intense game whether it is against the AI, with friends in your living room, or against someone online.

Overall, NHL 10 boasts more than 200 gameplay refinements that replicate the skill and finesse of hockey, spectacular new ways to score, and improved goaltender intelligence. In fact you can now see how goalies track and stop the puck with sometimes spectacular saves off of close scoring plays. One new feature I have been playing around with is the new 360 degree precision passing mechanic. The system effectively delivers control over the speed and direction of passes so you can bank passes off the boards or play the puck into a space for teammates to skate on to it. I am finding some cool ways to move the puck up the ice and incorporating them into my “create a play” modes. The system is tough to master at first, but once you hit a few passes, it will become like butter in the future.

Here is a run-down of the other new features in NHL 10 that I have not covered, along with a brief synopsis taken from the press material EA provided. I figured this would be the best way for you to understand what is offered this time around.

- New Battle for the Cup Mode – Experience the emotion and drama of NHL playoff hockey. Play with injuries; intimidate the opposing team, line-match to shut down superstars all in from of frenzied towel waving crowds with storylines that carry across the entire series.

- Build a Stanley Cup Champion – The brand new GM Mode puts you in charge of your favorite NHL organization. Put players on the trading block, scout players in the prospect game, make trades at the draft, complete owner tasks, hire staff, and earn experience points to become a Legend GM.

- Be a Tough Guy – Play as your team’s tough guy. It is your job to protect your superstars, fight when needed, and finish all checks. The enhanced B a Pro mode also includes a prospects game before heading to the draft and watching your name appear on the NHL draft board.

- EA Sports Hockey League – The wildly successful EASHL evolves with monthly seasons where teams have a chance to win the Cup each month and earn new unique skater and goalie equipment. Improvements to player and goalie control let you bat pucks out of the air, fake shots, or make spectacular saves.

- Multi-player Season Mode – Replicate the NHL season with up to 30 friends all playing different teams or invite fewer friends and control more than one team, or play against the CPU.

- Improved Goalie Intelligence – Goaltenders position themselves more intelligently, react to shots more quickly and recover from saves faster. Plus 250 new goalie animations, including swatting pucks out of the air, second and third saves and desperation lunges.

- Interactive Atmosphere – Playoff atmosphere pops to life with towel-waving fans, deafening noise and crowds that react and respond to the action on the ice. Fanatical fans bang glass during board play, spring to their feet after big hits, and boo opposing stars when they handle the puck.

Overall, the new tweaks and additions to the game really heighten the simulation aspect of hockey. EA has done a good job of capturing the essence of the game while preserving the fun factor.

This brings me to customization that NHL 10 offers. The game can be categorized into four separate classes: Casual, Default, Normal and Hardcore. Casual allows for lots of big hits, lots of pass assist, and the goalies handle the puck a lot. In Default there is less pass assist, player attributes affect who makes big hits, plays, etc., and there are more penalties. In Normal the gameplay is slowed down, there is even less pass assist and the hitting is harder. This is what the EASHL will be based on. Finally, Hardcore has the gameplay slowed yet another notch, full precision passing is needed, and there are more penalties. The difference between these classes is huge and you will have to really play a few times before settling into what feels good. I like the sim game and I found myself bouncing between Normal and Hardcore to get that authentic NHL feel.

The online component of NHL 10 makes its return and it is very well done. Up to 12 gamers can play online together; they can be all your friends, teams you’ve made, or anonymous people from around the globe. You can also partake in 2-6 player co-op; again it can be a whole team of friends or people who may just wander into the online lobby. I found the modes way more accessible from previous versions. Signing into EA’s servers could be a hit and miss affair with NHL 10, with games being dropped or being unable to connect with madding frequency. That being said I did manage to have some great lag free games after signing in quicker than I can ever remember though. All in all there were some hiccups, but nothing that isn’t usually expected with EA games when heading online. As a disclaimer though, I was playing prior to the games official release so things may be better as you read this review.

One final note worth mentioning is applicable to the Be a Pro mode. This mode has the all-new hockey shop where you'll be able to either purchase new and enhanced pieces of equipment or acquire them through on-ice achievements. I'm not a fan of being able to buy performance enhancing products before you can earn them. I am sure a lot of gamers will welcome this addition which is very similar to the mode in Tiger Woods golf. Personally I find this a bit like cheating and those who want to pay will get a chance to dominate those that do not. Some of these booster packs are not the “pay-only” ones that we have seen from other EA Sports games, but the ability to set goals like scoring three times in a period and then earn attribute boosts through fancy new equipment. Even though this is earned, it is a concept that I’m not 100% comfortable with as it does take away from the true sim aspect of the game.


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