52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 13
Release Date: September 10, 2008
Developer: EA Canada
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
For this week, my game pick was NHL09. This game was not on my original list of games, but I choose this game for a couple reasons; the first being that hockey is the most recognizable symbol of everything Canadian, but mainly because I already played the heck out of the game and I could focus my playing time on Mass Effect (stupid addictive game).
NHL09 is just about the best all-round hockey game ever created. How is that for short and to the point. Wait, the whole review is not that short as I must now validate my statement.
Graphically there is little to not love about NHL09. The visuals are quite stunning. The various arenas are very detailed and most of the players are actually recognizable. For those who played NHL 08, there is not much of a difference between the two, but the polish applied is noticeable. The game presentation is very well done, but again not very different from NHL08. Am I the only one that misses those great intro videos that started up when you inserted the disc?
The controls of NHL 09 continue to build on the dual analog stick scheme introduced in last year's game. What is not broke should not be fixed and EA did abide by this philosophy, but they did tweak ‘em a bit. A few new tricks have been introduced, such as the capability to lift opponents stick, zone clearing flips, dumps passes, improved poke checks and new one handed dekes. Just in case you did not like the dual analog controller layout, EA also included several other popular controller scheme such as the standard button scheme and the ever popular 2 button approach of NHL94.
NHL09 delivers plenty of games modes that will satisfy both single players and multiplayer aficionados. For the single player, NHL 09 offers not only the standard quick game, season and franchise modes, but an all new “Be a Pro” mode. In Be a Pro game mode, the gamer creates a new hockey player from scratch to play during his entire career. The catch is that the gamer only controls that one players, from the 3rd line on a AAA team all the way up to the first line for an NHL franchise. the gamer also has no control over what team he will play for beyond the selection of the initial farm team. At any time, a player can be traded to another team, destroying many dreams of playing for the Maple Leafs or the Canadians. But hey, that hockey life my friend.
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Multiplayer fans will love the online season mode. Here up to 32 teams (I have to look up to find out who are the other 2 teams) can compete in a season with the top ranked teams making the playoff and a chance to win a coveted virtual trophy (does not have to be Lord Stanley’s either). The downfall of this online season mode is the lack of any real seasonal calendar, just the obligation to play each other player x amount of times. The online season mode should have a calendar in which if a player is not present to play the game they are scheduled for, they will forfeits the game, if both players are not present, the AI decides the winner of the game. Worth mentioning is the great lobby system EA has in place for the NHL franchise. It’s simple and gets the job done.
As usual, some of the best improvements within a game are not always visible. The artificial intelligence running behind the curtains has been greatly improved. Team-mates do a much better job at recognizing an opportunity and responding to on-ice situations. Also gone is the problem of line changes in the middle of a rush (unless manually selected). Opponents will now play more intelligently to break up a play instead of just taking out the body. Another area of improvement is in collision detection. The puck appears to bounce and deflect more realistically, hits appear harder and more punishing and the linesmen are now obstacles that must be accounted for when playing.
I have laid plenty of praises on NHL09, but the game still has it’s share of problems. The game’s AI has been enhanced, but there are still areas where improvements are greatly needed. One such problematic area is when a goal tender stops a long shot, and all opposing players start retreating and the gamer then pass the puck to no one (easily done by doing a pass towards and empty spot on the ice surface). Now take control of the players closest to the puck, but do not touch the puck. The AI will kind of freeze-up and do nothing. Team-mates will not attempt to scoop up the puck as they are waiting for the closest player to do so and the opponents will not attempt to steal the puck for an easy shot on net. The end result is that everyone is on the ice skating small circles, but ultimately doing nothing. The bug does not happen all the time, but with practice I was able to reproduce it enough times to be able to use it as a method to waste away the final period once I had established a lead. Very effecting when playing on All-Star level.
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EA Canada has placed a lot of emphasis on their skills stick and they will reward players who uses the skill stick to deke opponents with plenty of goals. This is fine, but scoring in any other method other than deking is now an exercise in futility. There is little point in trying to setup a fancy play at the point when only about one shot out of 50 will result in a goal. Scoring in NHL 09 has been reduced to deking the opponent and crashing the net and hoping for the new improved collision detection system to redirect the puck in the net.
While on the subject of the collision detection system. The game does a superb job of tracking collisions between the puck and everything else, but not such a great job of tracking collisions between the hockey stick and other stuff. I have been victim (and occasional recipient) of many goals where the hockey stick, with puck firmly attached to the blade, passes through a player, the goaltender and even the side of the net to deposit the puck past the goal line and register as a goal, as long as the puck itself did not touch anything.
The play-by play commentary has also been tweaked, but "he made good save made" still comes up as a comment made by Bill Clement and Gary Thorne.
NHL09 is not perfect, but it is about as realistic of a hockey game you an get without having your two front teeth knocked out (maybe in NHL10?).