Reviewed: September 25, 2009
Released: September 10, 2009
I've been waiting for this for quite a few months. The day EA's NHL 10 arrived in our office for review. It certainly wasn't this way a few years ago. I was angry about the NHL players strike/lockout and EA didn't have the best game either. 2K Sports had an amazing NHL game that I couldn't stop playing. But the strike kind of left a bitter taste, so I dropped hockey for a couple seasons.
The past couple years though, EA's NHL series has really reminded me of what I liked about hockey. Hockey was part of my childhood. My Dad took me to see the Cleveland Crusaders and Barons play and later to see Gretzky play exhibitions in Cleveland with the Edmonton Oilers. I guess I can't give up so easily on a sport we used to watch together. Before long, if I wasn't playing the game on my Xbox, I was watching the real thing on Fox or VS. It's just too fast and fun to watch to stay away too long.
EA's NHL 09 was approaching greatness while NHL 2K9 couldn't seem to figure out the difference between a simulation and an arcade game. Let's see what 2010 has for us. Last year NHL 09 received GCM's Editors Choice Award. How could EA improve on a game that got 19 Sports Game of the Year awards? Well, they did. Somehow, EA has again captured the spirit of the thing. There are over 200 gameplay refinements in NHL 10. The improvements range from big things like improved goalie AI – and over 250 new goalie animations - to little things like fans waving towels or banging on the glass.
Once again, I can honestly say that I have never played a sports videogame that has so closely matched the feel and sounds of the real game. Additions to this years version include such innovations as a 360 degree passing mechanic so you can pass to space or bank passes off the boards. Other enhancements include a new board play physic where you can trap and hold the puck along the boards and kick it in the direction you want to play.
New modes in NHL 10 include a “Battle for the Cup” mode which immediately throws you into the Stanley Cup finals. Probably the biggest addition comes in the form of fisticuffs. I'm betting the NHL isn't too thrilled about this new more realistic fight engine being in the game. It doesn't exactly fit with their attempts to be a “family friendly” sport.
But EA has answered the cries of many gamers by bringing first-person fights to NHL 10. How you do in the fight could effect the moral of the team so grab hold and aim for his nose. Unfortunately it is a mixed blessing. As I expected, many of the games I played on Xbox Live with 12 players turned into slugfests. While it can be fun for a few minutes, eventually hockey has to be played.
The “Be A Pro” mode is still worth the price of admission. In “Be A Pro” you create or pick an NHL player and use him the entire game. You play your position on a shift. When your guy gets tired you have to get to the bench in the most advantageous time or you'll team will essentially be a man down for a few seconds. When you get to the bench, you watch the action unfold from the bench while your energy builds up. When you are ready you can demand a shift change or just wait for your teammate to come to the bench. If you get in a fight you sit out your penalty in the “sin bin”. This is the first 'dynasty/franchise' type mode I've ever enjoyed. It's innovative features like this that win the awards and keeps players coming back long after other games are sent to the discount bin.
Just be warned, getting drafted and sent to the minors isn't quite the cakewalk to the NHL like it was last year. It takes a lot of games and goals to get sent up from the AHL to NHL. But that gives more motivation to keep learning.
The teams once again have improved, very slightly. EA is once again walking a tightrope with teams. Once again EA NHL 09 includes a whopping total of 164 teams from 7 leagues. Leagues include the North American based NHL and AHL, plus leagues from Germany, Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. This has increased the market appeal of NHL 09 to a much wider market overseas but there is still a lot more they could do.
Once again EA has chosen to pretty much ignore the wealth of amazing historical teams available to increase the shelf life of NHL 10. Of course EA could license other North American minor leagues like the IHL to increase their fan base even more, but what about NCAA colleges? EA already has the license for NCAA video games. Why not use the license in NHL 2010? There isn't enough of a market to make an investment in an entire game based on NCAA Hockey. So why not put at least the top 25 NCAA teams in the NHL game? It would be a great addition to the “Be A Pro” mode to start your career in college before the draft and signing with a minor league or pro team.
The only classic team in NHL 10 is the Centennial Montreal Canadians (obviously EA Canada has some Canadians fans). NHL 10 would have been the ULTIMATE hockey game if they had just included some classic teams like 2K did in years past. The Centennial Montreal Canadians include some amazing players like Guy Lafleur, “Rocket” Richard, Jacques Lemaire, and the more recent Patrick Roy. But this isn't the usual 'historical' roster where you have to enter in all the unlicensed names manually and tinker with the player attributes to make them look correct. EA apparently licensed the names and likenesses of all 21 players including their black and white mugshot photos! That impressed me, but I was even more impressed when I went to play with the team and the players were not wearing helmets! You can't get any more real! 2K hockey has more classic teams but they (even the old teams) wear unrealistic helmets.
You can make your own teams, but it is limited. Very little has changed from last year. This is one area of customization that 2K Sports' NHL 2k10 outshines EA. It would be nice of EA sent the NHL dev team to talk with the NCAA Football 10 team to discuss how they are handling teams. They have a great “team builder” application where you can create your own teams right down to the stadiums.
Xbox Live gameplay has continued right where they left off last year. They have made some significant improvements with the EA Sports Hockey League. Game modes include going straight to a shootout.
The graphics for NHL 10 are just as amazing as last year with just a bit of added polish. There are not any huge leaps in graphics but it wasn't really needed. There are still amazing little details from the scuffs on the dasher boards, to the new fan animations. The main improvement seen in NHL 10 is a faster, smoother framerate. This year the cutscenes and other animations are much smoother and integrate amazingly well with the on-ice action.
Once again the sound in NHL 10 is excellent. The arenas have some unique acoustics according to size. The fans react to the on-ice action. They even boo their own team if they stunk up a period. The great announcing duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement return. They used to do most of the national TV broadcasts and they know their stuff. There are occasional repetitive phrases, particularly “careful, he's gotta move that”, but I've played over 100 games and still hear new comments.
NHL 10 is one of those games that I can't seem to put down. The shelf life in my household will likely be until next season. There are 40 achievements for a total of 1,000 gamer points up for grabs and they aren't exactly easy to earn. A 14-page quick manual is included in the box for those that read or need instructions.
There are over 200 items for NHL 10 available on Xbox Live. The vast majority of them are basically cheats you can buy with Microsoft Points costing anywhere from 160 up to 240 points. You can purchase a +5 boost for your players or individuals. It's a neat concept – and I'm sure EA is hoping to recoup money they are losing due to piracy.
Hockey players and fans will be thrilled by this game, and even casual fans will find the game engaging, easy to pick up and play, and nearly impossible to put down.. NHL 10 is more of a simulation than a 'game' as such, but they know exactly what needed to be done and when and did it. EA once again gets the GCM Editor's Choice award for NHL 10.