NHL 10

EA's yearly updates of the NHL franchise are undeniably one of the most anticipated titles of the fall. Fans anticipating this year's version should be prepared for the best iteration yet.

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EA Games NHL 10
  • EA Games NHL 10
  • EA Games NHL 10
  • EA Games NHL 10

Pros

  • New Be A GM mode is great; commentary is much improved this year; vast amount of small gameplay improvements; new BAP draft option is nice

Cons

  • Goalie desperation saves trigger too easily; AI trades too often and retrade players too frequently; tiered interface is a tad annoying

Bottom Line

I normally hate video hockey games because I don't feel like it truly represents the sport of hockey. But I can't deny that NHL 09 was a fantastic game and it looks like NHL 10 might be even better. Sure, it's not an exact simulation but sometimes, you have to sacrifice some realism in the name of having fun and it looks like NHL 10 is fun personified. I'll be picking up a copy for sure.

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EA's yearly updates of the NHL franchise are undeniably one of the most anticipated titles of the fall. Fans anticipating this year's version should be prepared for the best iteration yet.

Another Year of Hockey

Last year saw the release of what was soon declared as the best hockey game ever put out for public consumption, which was hot on the heels of two previous exceptional efforts. It's no surprise that NHL 10 has had high expectations heaped on it all throughout its development cycle as fans looked to developers to build on the unmitigated success that was last years version, hanging on every scrap of detail in the process. Having had my hands on a retail copy of this years version for well over a week now I can safely say with the utmost certainty that the wait is well worth it. NHL 10 is not only the best game of the series, but quite possibly one of the best hockey games ever made.

Returning players won't spot any huge differences from the last edition, but they'll notice plenty of small changes that serve to tighten the game's mechanics, focus the gameplay, and make the experience more realistic and even more fun at the same time. Also featured is the new focus on physical play in the form of NHL 10's boardplay mechanics, a new fighting system, and the addition of after the whistle intimidations. Though I was initially skeptical of how this would end up affecting last year's gameplay, the improvements quickly become apparent as early as your first game. Using boardplay users can now pin opposing players against the boards, slowing down the play, and gradually working towards getting more players involved in the corners -- previously a deadspace in the offensive zones. By extension, this now allows for dump-and-chase mechanics, an integral part of real hockey but an aspect that has never worked without boardplay. If this didn't ratchet up the physical play enough, the inclusion of the new fighting and intimidation systems offers a larger amount of penalty calls, thus increasing the importance of the powerplay. This also makes fighting occasionally useful as fisticuffs can now be used to increase the energy of your lines -- so long as you win. These are only the major additions though; the game itself is chock full of minor improvements that will be almost immediately noticed by hardcore fans. For example, goalie AI has been noticeably improved and the role of defensemen and the pointshot have been increased in importance.

All of the major game modes from last year return and they've all been improved upon to varying degrees. The first you're likely to encounter is Be A Pro, which you'll get acquainted with as soon as you start the game and are prompted to create your character. Instead of simply selecting what NHL franchise you want to start on (though you can certainly still do this) you can instead choose to be drafted based on your performance in a prospects game. The better you do, the higher you'll be drafted. While BAP is still quite splendid, it still has a bit of space it can grow into, something that I'm hoping will be explored in future installments.

A New Year, A New Game

Also featured are the new Battle for the Cup and Be A GM modes. The first is simply a glorified playoffs mode, but the BAGM mode is what BAP was last year. Similar to BAP, you start as a rookie and attempt to work your way up through a series of ranks by using experience rewards from accomplishing various tasks. The new mode isn't just a casual redressing of the old dynasty mode, as a significant amount of work has been put into making you feel as if you really were a general manager. Events such as draft day now become much more involved as you let other teams know who you have available to trade and attempt to ink deals at the end of each draft round. While its not perfect, players who enjoyed the old dynasty mode will see this as a huge step forward.

Last years EA Sports Hockey League also returns this year, and while we didn't manage to get any multiplayer sessions in under our deadline, it should prove to be every bit as impressive as it was last year, especially owing to the fact that new monthly seasons are set to be introduced and teams are to be divided into casual and pro formats. Near perfect as it is, NHL 10 does a few (very small) problems. Despite a large and extensive improvement to the AI, the computer still has a tendency to pass far too often, occasionally even getting into sustained loops of winger to defensemen. Goalies also resort to desperation saves far too often on long lateral passes, something that has plagued the game for a few years now. Finally, both major game modes are faulted with overeager AI managers who bandy about players in trades like it's going out of style, with little regard for how realistic these trades might be.

These shortcomings, while minuscule, won't be noticed for more than the briefest of seconds. It's now been four years of exceptional releases since the introduction of the skill-stick and every year has been made steadily better, adding more and more features and refining them to such a degree that it should come as no surprise that NHL 10 is by far the best hockey game put out, a clear cut game of the year contender, and possibly the best sports game ever released.

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