NHL 10 (Xbox 360) Review
Posted by Sam Pow on 11.09.2009
EA's latest hockey venture is full of improvements, including several new modes and features. Check inside for the full review.
Title: NHL 10
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Players: 4 (12 online)
Rated: E for Everyone
After last year's excellent installment in the NHL franchise, EA had a tough act to follow. Luckily, NHL 10 takes the formula that made NHL 09 so successful and builds upon it, improving almost all aspects of the game. Brutal board-play, new first person fighting, and an all-new Be a GM mode highlight the new features, but look closer and you'll find that little details are better everywhere. This version is definitely worth upgrading to.
All of NHL 10's major advancements are in the gameplay area. Among the most popular will probably be first person fighting. Now, during play or after the whistle you can drop your gloves and exchange blows with opposing players. Tapping Y near an enemy skater initiates the fight, after which you enter a first person perspective. From here, you'll use the right stick to punch, along with other controls for blocking, sweater pulling, and other moves. The fighting adds a lot of flair to the games, and is a great fun especially in online matches or when playing with friends.
Boardplay adds great new strategy to the game, allowing you to pin a player to the glass so your teammates can scoop it up and quickly gain possession. This works out great for behind the net defending and flip and dump strategies. There's also a certain appealing feeling to slamming someone into the boards and holding them there. Overall, it compliments the other gameplay factors well.
To be able to fully customize your own NHL 10 experience, the options in the game are immense, allowing you to basically fine tune any part of the game imaginable. You can turn up player speed, accuracy, and checking for an arcade experience, or slow down gameplay, turn off pass assist, and increase AI learning for an extremely realistic style of play. The default settings of the game are a little off, though, and to be able to properly enjoy the game, there are a few things you should probably change from the start. For example, the goaltenders are set to be ridiculously good, blocking all but the most skilled shots.
One of the best parts of the game is the sheer amount of content present in the numerous game modes. Beside your basic play now options, you'll find Be a Pro, Be a GM, Season mode, Battle for the Cup, and Practice mode. In Be a Pro, you'll customize your own hockey player, alter his attributes and equipment, and then be drafted by an NHL team. In-game, you'll only play as your pro, giving you a sense of what it's really like to be a professional hockey player. You'll find BAP to be immensely satisfying, as any minor stat feels so much more significant when your pro was the one that accomplished it. If you thought scoring a goal in a normal game was cool, just wait until you pull one off in BAP. As you play you'll accumulate experience points, which you can spend to increase your attributes. You'll also experience real life occurrences, such as sitting in the penalty box, line shifts, switching between minor leagues, and trades. It's all really fun to see happen, and the immersion gives you a small but good idea of what it's like to be an NHL player.
Be a GM mode is new to the series, and builds upon last years Dynasty mode. In Be a GM, you'll take over a hockey team as the general manager, which comes with all the responsibilities of a real-life GM. You'll make trades, manage training, hire staff, edit lines, and keep track of numerous statistics as your make your way toward becoming a legend GM. You'll start off by selecting a team, after which you'll enter the NHL draft, selecting new players, trading with other teams, and hiring free agents. At this point you'll probably also be doing a lot of line switching, moving rookies to the AHL, and communicating with other GMs. Be a GM mode is definitely the best new feature of NHL 10, and makes the off-ice action of hockey just as exciting as the real play. Negotiating trade offers and revising lines may not sound like much fun, but once you try it, you'll start to really get involved, and find just how engrossing it can be.
Controls in the game are spot-on, allowing you to easily switch between multiple players on the fly, shut down enemy offense, and capitalize on attacking opportunities. Once you learn the controls of the game, you'll feel like you're completely in charge of the game, as the varied commands make controlling and moving the puck a breeze. And if something isn't quite how you like it, you can easily open the settings and adjust the controls however you wish. And if you're playing with family or new gamers, you can switch to NHL 94 controls, simplifying the game to two buttons.
The only category in the game that still has a good amount of improvement room is the graphics. While the games visuals are by no means bad, there are just a few weak spots. The general look of things, as well as facial appearance, is fairly good. However, some of the animations in the game are stiff, especially goalkeeper movements and deflections. On the plus side is the crowd, which is a really great part of looking at the game. You'll find a good variety of well modeled fans, all waving towels and wearing home team jerseys in support. As you make plays and score goals, fans will stand up or pound on the glass, making the experience all that more realistic. All the menus are easy to navigate and look at, which comes in handy in Be a GM mode, where you can spend a lot of time browsing through stat screens and trade offers.
All the audio in the game is of an amazing quality, except for a few minor exceptions. One of those would be the pack-in music, which is all pretty generic and/or crap. Luckily, the game is jam-packed with options (as described before), and one of those options is custom music. With little effort at all, you can use music saved to your hard drive to create your own playlists for almost any in-game event. You can apply separate tracks to different occurrences, such as intermissions and goals, for every team in the league. While I'm not sure how many people are going to dive that deep, making custom playlists for every aspect of every team, it's great that it's there, and it shows how far EA was willing to go to make sure your game can be completely you.
Sound effects in the game are top-notch, whether it's the sound of a puck bouncing off the crossbar, or an opposing player getting slammed into the boards. The crowd will make lots of noise, as well as change volumes depending on how you're doing, and even chant home team songs. This is all accompanied by the excellent commentating by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. Play a game without their trademark voices following the plays and you'll realize just how important they are.
In case you hadn't already noticed, this game is fit to burst with content. The addictive value of things like BAP and Be a GM will keep you going, as well as the re-playable nature of sports. The numerous options let you play any way you want to, so even if you've spent months playing the game on default settings, you can easily adjust some sliders and turn it into an action-y arcade style of hockey. Things like this keep it fresh. The multiplayer and EASHL modes could last you forever, pitting you against real opponents in online leagues and teams, battling for a monthly cup, as well as unique equipment for the victors. This game will definitely last you at least until NHL 11 comes along.
If you're a hockey fan, a gamer, or both, this game is definitely worth the money. While there's no absolute need to get this if you already have NHL 09, there are enough improvements and new features that you can safely invest in it and still feel like you made the right choice. New gameplay implements like the fighting and board-play allow for new strategies, and the new modes add even more diversity to an already complex formula. This game took one of the best sports games of all time and did the impossible: made it better.
While the game itself looks good, some stiff animations can be a little annoying.
On-ice action is intense, challenging, and crazy fun. Tons of game modes and options allow you to play any way you want to.
Sound effects, crowd noises, and commentating are all superb. The default music is not very good, but you can upload custom tracks if you wish.
With enough content to choke a elephant, this game could easily last you years. Game modes such as Be a Pro and Be a GM add huge amounts of longevity, and the EASHL multiplayer is extremely replayable.
The truth is, this game is just plain fun. If you're a hockey fan, you will almost certainly love this game, and even if you aren't, it's still easy to get into and enjoy.