There are two things I have never done. 1) I have never gotten so into a sporting event that I yelled for (or at) a team or player. 2) I have never gotten so into a video game that I jumped up, yelled at the screen, and swore. NHL 10 for the Xbox 360 made me do both, and I have to admit, I liked it.
I’ve never been an emotional gamer, and I’ve never been that much into sports (then again, as a Canadian, I feel there’s a default certain level of national pride we all share with hockey), but when playing as the Toronto Maple leafs and winning 2-1 on game seven against Ottawa for the Stanley Cup and with less than 1 minute left in the third period you can’t help but get a little into it when Ottawa scores the tying goal with seconds left on the clock. Yes, I jumped up, yes my voice got loud and shrill, and yes I did say some things that would make a sailor blush. I think this was the most rewarding aspect of NHL 10, that after 17 past NHL titles, EA still has what it takes to make a casual hockey fan into a raving sports fanatic, and I didn’t see it coming.
Basically what’s new from last year to this beyond some new features such as playing the boards, first person fighting, and last ditch attempts at shots is the focus of the game, which now has a much stronger scope on the intensity and fierceness of playoffs and winning the Stanley cup.
For those new to video games, NHL 10 is a hockey simulator (more so than a game as each year passes) in which you are presented with a myriad of gaming options beyond just playing a game of hockey (oh Blades of Steel, how I miss you). How many game modes you ask? well there’s: Battle for the Cup Now Mode in which you are sent straight to the finals of the playoffs, Playoff Mode where you can take part in any type of post-season play from any of the leagues available (NHL, OHL and more), Season Mode in which you choose a league type customize your season preferences and decide if you want to take part in a fantasy draft with all new full roster control mode. We are also given one of my favourite features, Be A Pro Mode in which you create your own character and control only that player as he is drafted, trained and even sent back to the minors based on your personal performance. I found this mode to be extremely interesting as it seemed to be the most realistic, heck, if you get a penalty you have to sit in the box and watch from the side as you feel shame (Slapshots reference anyone?). Performance Tracker Mode shows off your hockey cards (bonuses and achievements… kind of), stats, and milestones related to your profile career. Tournament mode allows for 8 or 16 teams in a world tournament to see what country is the best, and apparently the Montreal Canadiens Centennial team is the one to beat. Create a Play mode allows you too… well, create a play, Practice mode gives you a minimal tutorial (sure it shows you how to play, but no matter how much I practice, I still suck at the game). Online play mode allows for multiple online variations of the game including league play, My NHL 10 mode allows you to create your own custom player, manage rosters, deal with media via the media hub, and more. My Pro mode allows you to go into the hockey shop and buy new equipment, track your performance, and edit attributes. Finally my favourite mode in the game, Be a GM Mode.
Now, as you can see, there are ALOT of ways to play NHL 10, and as my favourite is the new Be a GM Mode I guess you can decipher that I’m just not that good at the actual hockey playing. I can hold my own (in rookie mode), but for the life of me I rarely ever score goals. In comparison to other sports GM modes however, I found NHL 10′s to be lacking, aside from making trades with your Blackberries (the higher your rank, the more Blackberries you get to use) and drafting there really isn’t much more else involved, you can increase your employee stats but from what I found in the 5 years of being a GM, it doesn’t really make a difference. The good news though, is that if I become the GM of the Maple Leafs, they will win the Stanley Cup in 2014!
We’re not here to read all about the different modes and what I thought of them though, we’re here for hockey! so lets talk about how it actually plays out. The default controls are intuitive, left stick controls your skates, right controls your stick for easy deking and aiming shots. If it gets a little complicated there are many other control schemes to choose from, my alternative favourite being NHL ’94 mode with the only buttons being B to shoot (or check) and A to pass (or switch players), simple. Now otherwise the only other control schemes I think worth talking about in this review would be the wall play and fighting. Wall play if you have the puck and are near the wall push Y and you brace yourself against the wall so that you may kick the puck to a teammate. Alternatively if you are near someone doing just that, you can force a player onto the walls and steal the puck from them. Now fighting is by far my favourite part of actually playing the hockey game, first person fighting, after the whistle action, instigation, it’s all improved in such a way that you can fight almost whenever you want. When fighting you’re brought into first person mode: left stick moves your body, right stick aims your fists of fury; as well you can tug on your opponent’s jersey, perform upper cuts and if you want to chicken out, you can pull both shoulder buttons and turtle.
Graphically NHL 10 is superior to NHL ’09, but then again, isn’t that always the case? Smooth animations, motion captured skaters, reflections and now especially crowd interactions (banging on the windows, swinging team colours around during playoffs and whatnot). This is EA Sports, the annual NHL title, it’s got to be the best of the best, the most polished out there and as such it has a lot to live up to. I’m here to tell you that it does live up to it’s expectations, amazing realistic graphics and not a single glitch to be found.
Music is another story. While NHL 10 has a number of big songs from the likes of Green Day, CKY, and Dragon Force; and they’re all great songs, I found they didn’t really mesh with the game. Especially when playing in non-hockey modes like Be a GM the heavy strong songs just keep playing over and over and while I enjoy the tunes, songs that pump you up for a game, kind of confuse you when negotiating a trade. Grunts and whistles are standard fair but what I feel most players are interested in would be the voice commentary? Is it annoying? Does it repeat often? Luckily the answer to both is no. As Gary Thorne and Bill Clement come back from NHL ’09, NHL 10 has similar banter from great voices in hockey and there are enough specific commentary calls to keep players interested in what they have to say time and time again.
Overall if your a fan of hockey games, you probably already own NHL 10, however, if you’re like me and haven’t really gotten into a hockey title since NHL ’99, this year is as good as any to dive back in due to the many options in terms of difficulty and control. However, I have to warn you, there is quite a steep learning curve for those new to the title, trust me, I’ve been playing for a while now and I still suck (yes, I guess it could be that I just overall suck but… let’s not go there). With a plethora of options, game modes, and online play (I was just invited to an online team for online league play) this title will keep you busy for a long long time… or at least until NHL 11 comes out. Hopefully then the GM mode will expand to something more in depth, more in line with other GM modes like Madden and other GM specific titles.
Replay Value: 5/5
P.S. I’ve never given a game Editor’s Choice before, congrats EA Sports!