52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 39
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Developer: EA Canada
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Every year, EA releases a new version of every major sport game with the exception of baseball (thanks to 2K Sports semi-exclusivity to the MLB brand) prompting an annual debate on whether I should pick up the new title or not. Many times the new title features very little actual gameplay enhancements year over year with the only real benefit of being a roster update. I have never had this debate with the NHL series of games as I would automatically purchase the new title each year, indifferent of any actual changes or not. I am a true Canadian after all. Some years I got burnt by my impulsive nature, other years not so much. NHL 09 was without a doubt the best hockey game ever released, so was NHL 10 worth the purchase. I say yes, and this is why.
After picking up my copy of NHL 10 at midnight, I rushed home and quickly started my first game of NHL 10. The first thing I noticed was how little little different is was from NHL 09. Even the pre-game presentation was identical to the previous version. The graphics were spectacular however so where the ones of its predecessor. Some of the in-game animations looked a little more refined, mostly those of the goal tender, but again nothing spectacular and not worth $69.99. It was not till half way through my first game did I notice what I had paid for. My player was making his way down the ice following a dump and trying to recoup the puck, a play I have made countless times without any problems, but this time he was promptly accosted and pinned against the boards by my opponent (the game’s artificial intelligence in this case). Not knowing how to respond, I lost control of the puck and the CPU was rewarded with a shot on goal for its efforts. At first, I did not like this new board play. It added nothing to the game in my opinion. The only other obvious game change, the first person fighting system was equally as useless. A quick change of the gameplay settings removing fighting ensured I would not need to endure the fighting again. There was no such option to remove the board play, so for the rest of the game I endured this new “feature”, even thought it slowed down the pace of the game substantially. Over the next 30 or so games, I learn to live with the board play, and even start to use it to my advantage. Now when I play a new game in a series of games, I sometimes like to return to the previous title to allow me to refresh my memory of the game to provide more accurate comments. I returned to NHL 09 and something felt off, not entirely correct. It was then I noticed the board-play feature I did not care for actually made the game more fun, more realistic. Previous hockey titles really focused on the speed of the game which often resulted in a team speeding towards the net, taking a quick shot that will most likely result in a puck turnover and the opposite team doing the exact same thing. This is now how the real game of hockey is played (not outside of junior levels that is) and board-play is an important reason why. Proper board play can change the flow of a game and it is an important part of hockey. I really did not notice it missing till it was given to me, and then taken away.
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Aside from the board play, NHL 10 did many other tweaks. The passing has been greatly enhanced, making it easier on easy levels, but more complex and precise on higher difficulty levels. Now it is possible to get into a skirmish once the whistle goes, fans are also way more interactive this year with a greater model variety. There has been many tweak made to the AI. The glitch from NHL 09 where everyone would leave the puck alone has not reproduced itself in this version. The AI will also have a tendency to dump the puck in a lot more (making Don Cherry a very happy camper in the process). Goal tenders are also much smarter to identify and react to plays. There are still some minor AI problems, such as players getting stuck along the boards, but these appear with less frequency than in past iterations.
The colour commentating remains untouched from 09 with the exceptions of new names recorded. There are still very questionable comments made, such as thinking the opponent could mount a comeback when down by twelve goals and only forty seconds left in the game and Stajan is still being called “stay-yan”. I do have to admit that after playing over 30 games, I have yet to hear “He made good save made” so there was obviously some improvements done.
The controls for the game have changed little from ’09. The game continues to use the very successful dual analog format, but still allows for the option of using buttons controls as well and the NHL ’94 controls scheme is so the players chooses to utilize this method (there is even an achievement for doing so).
NHL 10 gives gamers the usual assortment of game modes, such as quick play, season, franchise, Pro Mode and new this year is the GM Mode. Think you can do a better job than Brian Burke? Prove it! GM Mode allows would be managers to control everything relating to a hockey team by taking on the role of not only the General Manager, but the coach as well and there is even an option to play the actual games. Playing GM mode gave me more respect for the job done by general managers around the league as performing a simple trade is not an easy task when you factor in trade values, wants & needs, contract styles, duration of contracts, age of player and or course the all important salary cap. I could have opted to remove the cap, but that would not be very fair now would it.
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All is not well in the land of EA. Collision detection is still a very important and troubling area. The problem is that just as in previous years, only specific equipment parts and the puck appears to have any type of collision detection on them. All too often a goal gets scored by rushing the net and pushing the puck past the goalkeep by the puck going right through his body without touching his skates or pads. Or other times players’ sticks go right through opponents bodies allowing them an underserved shot on goal. In the worse cases, the puck can slip into the net right through the net. This last case only occurred once and may have been a fluke, but this should still not happen.
Another annoyance is the NHL Be a Pro mode. I really do not understand what the game wants as I played two games in the NHL, scored 16 goals and 12 assist (yes I was playing on PRO difficulty level) in two games with an A+ rating in both games and still got sent down to the minors. I have spent another 10 games in the minors, on the 3rd line even though I now have over 60 goals and 30+ assists with a +/- or over 75 and an A+ average rating. What gives?
Not all new features in NHL 10 are good. One particular feature, the ability to purchase a super team, is downright game breaking. NHL 10 features unlockable equipment that contains slots which can be filled with stat enhancements. For a stick can be unlocked that contains 3 slots with can be filled with stat bonuses, some giving 5 bonus stat points to a particular skill. The equipment can turn an average player into a superstar in no time. Even more powerful are team bonuses that will affect everyone on the team. These stat bonuses and equipment do have rather extensive unlock requirements that can take gamers days to months to complete, unless they have a few $$$ to spend. EA has allowed all unlockables to be purchased from the XBLM for a fee. For the first time on consoles, gamers that want to spend anywhere from $1 to over $500 (to unlock everything) can have a clear advantage over their opponents. Very uncool EA. This has turned me off of playing online completely.
Greed aside, NHL 10 is a spectacular hockey game that has once again upped the ante for all other hockey games to follow. I shall fully enjoy it till NHL 11 is released.