Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Co-op: 2-4 Players
Online: 2-12 Players
Online Co-op: 2-6 Players
13MB game save
Game content downloads
After a long hot summer the annual Canadian pastime is once again rumbling itself awake. The mild evening breeze has begun to turn cool, and here in Vancouver the rain arrives with little fanfare. Also in Vancouver, Burnaby B.C. to be exact, EA Canada has been quietly preparing the newest incarnation of its highly popular and excellent NHL series, NHL 11. One would think after NHL 10 you couldn’t do much more to an already fantastic game. Well EA has promised fans over 200 new additions to NHL 11. So does this years game hit the back of the net, or does it ring of the crossbar and miss the mark?
Most will agree that the NHL series has really looked pretty much the same for the last several outings. I like that EA has steadfastly stood behind its very solid engine, while tweaking the aesthetics as they go. This year EA has promised us some new goalie and player animations. While most of goalie ones are easily seen, the regular players moves are not as prevalent, but they are there. The goalie now seems to have more area in which he works. He lunges and stretches across the crease quite frequently, sometimes batting the puck into his own net. As for player moves, there are some new celebration moves for the forwards after a great play or scoring goals. Each of the controllers face buttons correspond with a different celebration, from a simple fist pump to actually riding the stick. As well, the new physics engine results in new hits and falls.
As for the graphic engine, as always it is rock solid. I think NHL 11 has the best framerate we have seen yet, with no clipping at all. All the NHL arenas are well defined and colored while the fans are looking their interactive best. For example, you can see the wave in some shots as it spreads around the rink. The teams jerseys are also all well implemented, with the basic ones available right off the hop and 3rd jerseys being something to unlock. I’ve always liked EA’s rendering of its hockey’s players as each one looks identical to their real-life counterparts. That being said, coaches and GM’s still need some work.
The new stick breaking feature looks great in the game. It doesn’t happen too often but when it does it adds that little bit of realism. Players can break their sticks by taking huge slap shots, blocking shots, and sometimes by hooking or high sticking other players. Seeing one of those graphite sticks break is really cool and it is not just for visual show as it can affect the pucks movement and what other players do. Heck, you’ll see a player skate over and grab a new one in an effort to get back into the game. On a side note, I still haven’t seen any broken glass yet. Overall, this year’s game is an indication EA continues to put forth a great effort to provide a beautiful looking hockey game.
NHL 11 sounds just as good as it looks. Yo are going to find an all new in-game soundtrack, which spans from the old hockey arena classics to some very heavy metal. You can also inject your own custom soundtrack off your hard-drive; this could have some interesting results depending on what you have on your 360‘s HDD. Hearing Slayer and Beethoven in my favourite teams’ arena would be a first given that this is some of the scope of my own music.
The commentary team of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement are back. They do an admirable job although they continue to have the same type of script. It’s a bit annoying to hear the same stuff over and over, but this is of a minor gripe given that it happens in a lot of sports games as a whole.
The game’s sound effects are still top notch. The crowd is very loud and interactive, protesting bad calls and roaring if a goal is scored by the home team. I noticed a lot of pucks clanging off the post in NHL 11, each time ringing out with amazing clarity and bringing a smile to my face. The game’s sounds are very authentic whatever the puck hits. I even noticed that sometimes you can hear players cry out in pain if it hits them. The players are also very vocal on and off ice as they cheer on teammates from the bench or call for the puck while on the ice. Very well done indeed!
While on the surface most may think that NHL 11 is just a retread of NHL 10, in actual fact NHL 11 has a whole host of new modes tweaks and gameplay options. The games basic control scheme is unchanged, with some minor additions for the new face off system and fighting added. I’m going to go through a few things I have noticed as I played.
First off is the new Real Time Physics Engine. This engine has been built from the ground up and used for the first time ever in an EA hockey game. You are going to find that every hit is different because reactions are no longer bound by the limitations of animation. Physics not only affect the players being hit, but also the player throwing the hit. Because reactions are not animation based you can now drive guys backwards with hits, sometimes up to four or five feet depending on the size of players involved. Of course this opens up ice and skating room for players with the puck, just like real life situations.
The new physics engine also recognizes puck physics as well, so pucks will bounce differently depending on what they hit. For example, pucks will bounce off goalies pads harder than they will off their chest protector. Also in the equation is the type of shot taken. If you are using a slap shot the velocity will be greater than a wrist shot or backhand.
This leads me to broken sticks. As noted earlier, sticks can break from shots, slashes, and blocked shots. Higher impact shots, like one timers and slap shots, will have a greater chance in resulting in a stick breaking. I found the broken sticks affect the puck too. If the puck hits the broken stick lying on the ice it will go in another direction depending on how it hits the broken stick while the stick itself may skid into play or off into the corner.
I’ve never been able to use NHLs dekeing system effectively as I would have liked in past games. EA has overhauled its deke system this year making dekes more accessible to all skill levels of gamers. I found the new dekes a great way to counter big hits in open ice or along the boards. A quick deke is as simple as holding the Left Bumper and flicking the Right Analog Stick left or right in the way you see fit. Use the quick deke to the right and to the left to get around a defender trying to line you up in open ice or against the boards. Initially I had some difficulty with the new deke systems timing, as I would zig instead of zag, but I figured it out after 30 mins or so and then I found myself turning d-men inside and out even putting pucks between their legs and blowing by them. There is also a secondary level of complexity to quick dekes as you can pull off new moves such as toe drags, kicking off the side of your skate, pulling it between your legs, etc.
The new face-off engine in NHL 11 gives you total control in the face-off circle. I really like this new system; it helps with the realism of the game mirroring hockey’s fundamentals. It works by treating the Right Analog Stick like your hockey stick. Before the puck is dropped, you can select a forehand grip (holding the Right Analog Stick out to the forehand side) or a backhand grip (holding the Right Analog Stick out to the backhand side). When the puck hits the ice, pushing up on the Right Analog Stick as the puck is dropped will try to knock the other player’s stick. Holding the Left Bumper and pushing up on the Right Analog Stick will try to deke the puck between your opponents’ legs. Pulling back on the Right Analog Stick will try to win the faceoff cleanly, which is not nearly as easy as it was before. Pushing up on the Right Analog Stick without changing your grip prior to the puck being dropped will try to shoot the puck right off the draw; this is an effective way to catch defenders off guard and perhaps opening up a teammate for a chance on net. Pushing up on the left stick will try to tie up your opponent so your wingers can come in and take the puck before any others can get it. I’m finding this tougher than I thought it would be, as timing must be excellent or you’ll get a frown from your coach on your bench for losing too many face-offs. All in all the new faceoff system is great and adds to the realism of the NHL 11.
Another notable addition is disallowed goals. If the puck goes off your body, or is kicked in, the referee will make a call on the ice then go to the scorer’s table before making a final ruling on the goal. This also occurs for goals when the stick is near the height of the crossbar. I’ve seen this only once and it again adds to a more enjoyable realistic experience.
One subtle change, but yet useful change, that I have seen in NHL 11 is the boost button. For years EA believed that the boost button did not belong in their games. I never thought it was unrealistic as long as you could not keep it pressed down for infinite boost. NHL 11 adds the ‘Hustle’ this year and is a great addition. By clicking a certain button your player will have a slight boost of speed. This is great for races to a puck or trying to pull away from back checkers on the rush. You can use it only for a bit of time as it drains slowly fatiguing your player once it has run out.
One of the biggest additions this time around is EA’s new Ultimate Team mode. You will become part of the biggest online dynasty ever made. You are given an expansion team in the EA Ultimate Hockey League and are vying to become a champion. The EAUHL consists of preseason, regular season, Playoffs and Offseason.
By playing the preseason, or the demo of NHL 11 which includes a preview of Ultimate Team, you earn a free pack of virtual cards for your Ultimate Team. These packs will be available to the you once you purchase NHL 11. Within the retail game there is a special code on the back of the games manual, input this code and receive another booster pack of virtual cards along with other specials for Xbox LIVE gold members only. If your game has a code that has already been redeemed or it is missing, you can of course buy one for small charge.
You compete in the EAUHL with your card made team through the regular season to the playoffs. There are three divisions for the playoffs: Amateur, Pro and Elite. Champions will be crowned in each division. Champions of their division will have a banner raising ceremony every time they play a home game to let the other user know they are playing an EAUHL champion. As well there will be a championship logo on the ice stating they are a current champion in the EAUHL, bragging rights if you will.
The offseason for EAUHL consists of picking one or two free virtual card packs during a 2 day window at the start of each season. The cards packs are a Free Agent Pack, which includes 3 free cards, 2 players and a contract card, and a Draft Pack, which includes 3 free cards, 1 player and 2 training cards. The EAUHL has a salary cap that all teams must adhere to. You will also earn EA Pucks to buy packs and purchase players through auctions. You can groom your players into superstars by using special training cards over their career. You can also hire head coaches to improve your teams on ice performance, and you will be able to tweak player performances as well. The amount of depth and thought here is outstanding; some of the card playing people and die hard hockey fans will really like this mode.
There are many types of Cards in Ultimate Team, in fact there are over 4100 players from 10 different leagues in the game to collect and use in creating your Ultimate Hockey team.
So in card playing lingo, there are over 500 rare players to collect within the set. These cards will show up in rare card packs, not readily available. Furthermore, logo and jersey cards allow you to personalize your team’s look while arena cards allow you to choose which size rink you want to play in (International or NHL size). A fast team might want an International rink as it provides more space while a tough and physical team may want the small confines of an NHL sized rink to play in.
Some newbie’s to card based games may get lost in the intricacies of this new mode (like myself) but stat freaks and collector types should love the added customization. I like the idea in theory as it can be a real interesting way to collect and build your team. That being said, I have never been a fan of card based games and I can’t help but feel that it has cheapened the otherwise stellar reputation of the NHL series bringing it down to a Pokémon mentality, which I see as hurting it. Regardless, this is just my opinion and you may love this new aspect, so take my opinion for what it is, my opinion.
Another big inclusion in NHL 11 is the introduction of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). With the integration of the CHL this year’s prospects game that is found in the “Be a GM” mode will allow you to play with real life CHL players like number one draft pick Taylor Hall among other up and coming stars. For the first time ever players from the CHL, and any players from European leagues whose rights are owned by an NHL team, will be imported to the “Be a GM” mode. You also have the ability to draft real life prospects from the CHL and all five European leagues. You will be able to retain the rights of unsigned rookies for 2 years and you now have the ability to trade the rights of unsigned rookies to other teams. It is the first time in any hockey video game that the mode has been added, and with such impressive user controls. It’s like being an actual GM and it mirrors the NHL side of the game perfectly. Teams jerseys and arenas have also been included making the game the most well rounded of any in recent history. The CHL mode has all of the NHL’s modes to work through.
The Be a Pro mode is back this year with a few tweaks. Players can start off in the Memorial Cup where you start as a twenty-year-old undrafted player that is trying to make his last impression to the NHL scouts at Major Junior hockey’s biggest stage, the MasterCard Memorial Cup. You will be able to pick anyone from one of the three CHL leagues (WHL, OHL, QMJHL). This mode is quite exciting as you want your player to do well, but they clearly are not of NHL calibre yet. In essence they are maturing with every game. They will gain experience points based on the way they perform on the ice in each game. These experience points will be the basis on which the player will get drafted and where. The more experience points, the higher the he will go in the draft.
Once drafted, you will be able to make it to the NHL before the season starts by making an impression during the preseason. Again players will gain experience points based on the way they perform on the ice. These experience points will be the basis on which the you will be graded. The more experience points, the higher probability that you will remain on the NHL club and not be sent back down to the minors. The likelihood of staying up with the big club is also determined on draft position. If a player is drafted 1st overall they are given more of an opportunity (ice time, what line mates they play with) versus someone who is picked 210th overall. I like this idea as it does differentiate good players from average or below average ones. You can decide to help below average players but the investment in time is huge.
As with NHL 10 you can buy booster packs in order to help you player boost his attributes. I’m not a fan of being able to once again use micro-transactions to further your player; however, you can choose to go the old fashioned route and build up his EXP to get them. This does take more time, but you will be learning along the way.
Playing online is fun with people who don’t use cheater moves (e.g. glitches, holes in the A.I.). In fact I think EA’s skill matching has improved greatly. I got to play many online games with mostly very good players that never tried any exploits or quit just because they were losing. I did find however that sometimes the onling games would have some bouts of lag and or lost connections. I think over the few years this has been greatly reduced as the majority of my sessions were trouble free and only a few had issus. As well, I did play prior to the games official launch, so the servers were still being tweaked.
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