Making an arcade hockey game as superb as NHL 09 created one big problem for EA Sports: sky-high expectations. Last year's game was so good that it created an almost impossible act to follow. Good luck trying to top revolutionary improvements made to the on-ice action, controls, and modes of play. Still, NHL 10 sure tries. This is undoubtedly a better game than its predecessor, thanks to a handful of gameplay tweaks, first-person fighting, and a new Be the GM option, but in the grand scheme of things, this is more of a refinement than a full-blown sequel. Anybody who can name the Original Six without checking Google should still buy this outstanding hockey simulation, although owners of NHL 09 might not feel the need to put it at the very top of the shopping list.
6226797NoneThe Stanley Cup Final gets underway.
You can tell right away that this is a new game on the ice, although the differences between last year's model and this one are limited to a general tightening up of the defense and goaltending, along with a little better offensive flow. As before, you need to understand how hockey works to have any hope of success. Suiting up is a lot like hitting the ice for real, especially when you lock to one position. Positional play is vital in all zones, so it's important to stick to your lanes, cover your man, and so forth. Serious work is required to put the biscuit in the basket because computer defensemen and goalies are always at the top of their game. And since this is not rock-'em-sock-'em arcade hockey, trying to line up a jaw-rattling hit is more likely to land you on your behind or spring a three-on-one going the other way. This really comes into focus when playing online with a full team of friends, because you can do just about anything here that you can do on real ice without the game getting in the way. It may be a bit of a letdown that there are no big-ticket advancements this year, but the game remains an outstanding simulation that just about perfectly blends arcade action with hockey authenticity.
All the developers really need to work on is offense. Right now, computer players are still a little slow on the uptake in the transition game. This causes you to get bottled up in your own end too frequently when you're playing locked to a forward position. Offensive creativity is great once you cross the enemy blue line, with computer players whipping the puck in and out, using the point, driving the net, setting up give-and-go scoring attempts, and so forth. It is a lot of fun just watching them play. But your computer-controlled teammates always sit back a bit when you're on the ice, waiting for you to headman the puck. This is a lot better than having them race forward and forever get caught offside, although right now forwards spend too much time hanging out around the red line. You really notice this when playing a center, because you can't fly up the ice and hit a winger with a quick outlet pass. Well, you can, but it most often turns into a lateral, because your linemate is usually directly across from you or a step or two behind. Another issue is not being able to properly cycle the puck. Right now, play down deep in the offensive zone is a bit slapdash. You can set up in the corner just fine, but you never get much help to cycle from computer players, which leaves you stuck driving the net or looking for a pass into the slot or back to the point. None of these options are great, though, as the defense is so on the ball that you either get steamrolled and stripped of the puck or have a pass picked off.
Last year's modes are joined by a new Battle for the Cup option.
Modes of play are very similar to last year's. All of the main game options are back, but they have been joined by Battle for the Cup, where you play a one-shot series for Lord Stanley's mug, and Be the GM, which turns everything into a management sim. Only the latter is interesting, and yet it isn't everything that it could be, given the issues that a mostly text-based management simulation faces when dealing with a gamepad. Games like this just work better on the PC, largely due to the ability to sift through data with a keyboard and mouse. Simply lining up a trade takes a lot of futzing around with the D pad and various buttons. Also, too many weird things happen for Be the GM to be totally satisfying for the serious hockey nuts who would be interested in playing this way. Computer trades, for instance, can be incredibly goofy. Teams have a weird tendency to dump franchise players at the start of the season. We've seen Anaheim ship future Hart Trophy candidate Ryan Getzlaf to Detroit for picks and Minnesota practically give away Martin Havlat just a couple of weeks after signing him. Depth signings are also strange. Teams will spend big bucks on players they don't need. Montreal, for instance, sure doesn't need another goalie in Martin Biron, yet they seem to ink him every summer regardless. Minor moves, however, are realistic. A lot of second-tier players rumored to be on the move in the real NHL tend to get traded. It was kind of nifty to see a rumor-mill staple like Drew Stafford sent from Buffalo to Vancouver, for instance.
Other modes of play have just been tweaked. The outstanding Be a Pro game where you create a budding superstar and guide him into the big leagues has been altered only slightly. Perhaps the most noteworthy addition is the Hockey Shop, a one-stop-shopping experience where you can alter your player (for use in both Be a Pro and online play) with the purchase of brand-name skates, sticks, helmets, and gloves, along with skill booster packs. There's kind of a role-playing vibe here. You first buy some cool piece of hardware like an old-school Titan stick that has a boost slot or three and then load these up with purchased booster packs. If your stick has three open slots, for example, you can add three booster packs that increase stick skills like slapshot shooting power or wristshot accuracy. All of this gear is unlocked through gameplay achievements or bought with Microsoft Points, which takes the shine off those magic CCM skates you've been eyeing.