NHL 10 [Available on, Xbox 360, PS3]
ESRB Rating: E10 +
Players: 1 to 12
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 15th, 2009
NHL 09’s ‘Be a Pro’ mode revolutionized hockey video games. The last time we witnessed something so fresh was with the Xbox 360-exclusive Skill Stick in NHL 07. But in 09, playing entire games as one team member as you really would in real-life was tons of fun. Helping to score goals and prevent them were your responsibilities. NHL 09 was a huge step forward for EA’s annual fall and winter franchise.
The problem lies in the difficulty to implement revolutionary features for each yearly release. This is sadly the case with NHL 10. If you skipped 09 however, by all means run to your local store and make the purchase. It’s a solid hockey game, an excellent one even. NHL 09 veterans may want to avoid this though. But of course if NHL gaming is a tradition for you, then don’t be afraid to continue. This may not be a ‘roster upgrade’, but it sort of feels like it from time to time. I decided to look at Justin’s NHL 09 review before writing this to refresh my memory and was surprised that I could almost copy/paste his text and call it a day. In fairness though, NHL 10 employs a few welcome additions that I’m happy to discuss.
First, NHL 10 finally does penalties well for the series. If you shoot the puck into the stands, you’re slapped with a delay of game. If you start a fight, count on a two-minute instigator, a five-minute major and ten-minute misconduct, just like in the NHL. If you check a player that doesn’t possess the puck, 80% of the time such an action results in an interference penalty. This is probably the first NHL where I was penalized for that, and I’ve owned just about every one since NHLPA 93. If you’re hooked, slashed or obstructed in any way during a breakaway, it’s an automatic penalty shot, which is commonplace ever since the lockout. It can be ridiculous though as you’re granted penalty shots when there’s clearly no breakaway. Often if you steal the burnt biscuit at the left circle and are tripped, it’s a penalty shot to make up for your troubles. I don’t really mind though, as penalty shots are an entertaining part of the sport.
Deflections are also more realistic than ever, and still pretty hard to do, but they’re the most satisfying goals to score. You can even whack the puck out of mid-air now, a move easily done by simply tapping the right stick once the disc is up. Score like this and you have instant bragging rights, especially online. Speaking of which, this is still one of the best games over Live and PSN. Every mode is flawless and lag-free. Shootout is different this year as you have to control the goalie against your opponent. It’s awkward for my taste, but fun nonetheless. It plays a lot like a mini-game anyhow, though there’s a great amount of skill involved. The EA Sports online leagues are still a blast. Create a team and play with friends as you each control up to six players. These are the legs to keep you going until NHL 11 is ready next year.
Not much has changed in ‘Be a Pro’ however’. You still begin a career as a 19 year old prospect and play for an NHL’s team’s AHL affiliate. With NHL 10, your employer grants you time in the season’s first five games to determine if you can play at their level. The system is flawed as you can record as many as eleven points in four games and still be sent to the farm team. EA often touted the new toughness elements this year, but it’s not exactly fun to experiment here. For starters, fighting gets old fast. It’s basically a button masher, except that you use the two sticks. Playing as a ‘tough guy’ also means the sin bin is your second home. While realistic, what’s the fun in watching your team play from a limited view instead of being involved? EA Canada has also reintroduced board play. I remember this in NHL 2K5, but at the time it was way too frequent and dragged the experience down. Here, with a button press you can pin someone to the boards and try to poke the puck free. It’s a simple, but appreciated addition to the franchise.
Battle for the Cup is the flagship addition. If you’d like to jump right into a seven-game series between any two teams competing for the Stanley Cup, this is your mode. It doesn’t hurt to have now, but why wasn’t it present in previous NHL games? The Skill Stick of course remains the main draw. I don’t think anyone misses the face buttons. The option to use them is available, but really, the game controls perfectly without them. EA gets a perfect score here as far as I’m concerned.
Visually, NHL 10 looks very similar to 09, which isn’t a bad thing. The ice is clean and sharp, and skates leave behind a cool residue. The athlete models are the best yet and the animations superb. On the audio side, the EA Trax will grow tired. I swear it feels like there’s a maximum of five songs in the soundtrack. You do have the option to provide custom music, or download new tracks, but that’s ridiculous. I also would’ve appreciated a little more attention-to-detail. Every Habs fan knows that home games start with Michelle Lacroix telling “Accueillons Nos Canadiens!” with loud crowd cheers. NHL 10 simply mimics this in English. Though contracting every announcer’s voice is a bit too much to ask, having all the right cheers would be a strong bonus.
NHL 10 won’t wow like 09 did, but any hockey fan would have a blast playing this, especially with all the juicy online modes from EA. With their current record, it seems that something pleasing happens every two years with the NHL franchise. Hopefully, 11 has a bit more bite. I’ll let it slip this time, as it has to be hard to surpass the 2008 recipient of the ProjectCOE Sports Game of the Year award.
Overall (Not an average): 8.3/10