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NHL 10 Preview (Xbox 360)

During E3 I got a chance to sit down and play an unfinished version of NHL 10. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to write about the upcoming hockey title until today because of an embargo. But now that the embargo has been lifted, I can finally talk about NHL 10.


After my initial session with NHL 10, it’s safe to say that the NHL 10 team didn’t do anything crazy to ruin an already amazing gameplay experience. Instead the developers are taking the necessary steps to refine and tweak what’s in place. That refining and tweaking applies to things like goalie and passing controls, additional animations for goalies, additional moves for skaters, modified artificial intelligence and the overall modification of the core engine to create a more realistic hockey simulation. But enough with this overall outlook nonsense, let’s get specific.

Stick-to-Stick Passing? What’s That?

I must start off by talking about the new passing controls, because they are what I noticed first when I picked up the controller. Essentially, the new controls add more user control to the equation and remove the automated nature of the current passing system—a system that has more or less been in place since the beginning of the NHL series.

The new passing system gives the user more control because now you will be able to aim a pass to any spot on the ice. You will be able to do that because the developers have added a 360-degree passing mechanic that allows you to use the left analog stick to aim to a spot on the ice. This means you can lead a player with a pass, pass a puck off the boards to a teammate, or you can simply throw a pass towards the crease when nothing else seems open. There is a little leeway in terms of aiming the pass towards a teammate, so you shouldn’t be severely penalized if your aim is off by a couple of degrees.

The automated nature of the current passing system will clearly be affected by the 360-degree passing mechanic, but it will be shattered by the other element of the new passing system: touch. In other words, the trigger you use to pass the puck will now be pressure sensitive. If you want to hit a streaking player that is far away, you’ll need to push down the passing trigger far enough to get enough power behind the pass. If you want to do a little finesse pass, then you will have to tap the trigger more gently.

 

However, if that sounds too intimidating, there will be three passing levels to choose from: casual, normal and hardcore. The casual level is similar to the way passing works in NHL 09. The normal level will allow you to aim your passes, but the game will control the speed of the pass. And the hardcore level will leave you in complete control of your own destiny.

I chose to play on the hardcore level because it gave me the best chance to be creative. Since there is also a new drop-pass mechanic (hold left trigger and right bumper on Xbox 360), the amount of control I had while passing the puck was incredible. Of course I made a lot of errant passes with these new controls at my disposal, but that’s the way it should be. For every beautiful high-risk pass I make, there should be many more that are off target or intercepted. Essentially the new passing system makes those cross-crease ho-hum bullet passes in NHL 09 seem rewarding in NHL 10. But the new passing system really could do so much more than that.

Assuming the passing system is hard to master, it will slow down the end-to-end action present in NHL 09. Assuming the new passing system is hard to master, it will make users think twice about making risky cross-ice passes, instead playing it safe by dumping the puck or making a pass along the boards. I write “assume” because while neutral-zone play was a bigger deal during the one hour I had time to play the game, I don’t know how the system will hold up after a 100 hours on the sticks. Plus, users could simply scoff at this new level of control, deciding instead to use the old controls so they can continue to make pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass.

Regardless of the final outcome, the new passing system should help make great passers and the “playmaker” player style stand out on the ice. For the unaware, the “playmaker” class is one of the core player styles that were implemented last year.

Beware the Enforcer

In addition to the player styles that were implemented last year, there will be one new player style introduced this year: the enforcer.

But that news tidbit should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the early coverage for NHL 10. After all, the development team has already talked about first-person fighting, after-whistle scrums and intimidation tactics. I don’t have much to say about first-person fighting or intimidation tactics as of yet, simply because I did not have enough time to get a feel for them. I got into a few fights, but I really didn’t know the controls yet so I just flailed about. Intimidation tactics were even harder to gauge because that mechanic will be all about balance over a long period of time. After-whistle scrums, however, I can talk about a bit.

Now I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I took a ton of dumb penalties during these after-whistle scrums. I also would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I was as giddy as Ray Emery when I performed my first face wash on Sidney Crosby. But the point is that I really enjoyed myself during these scrums. While the scrum situations are certainly not completely realistic, and I didn’t really see all 10 players gather en masse in front of a goalie after a dead puck—more one-on-one scrums than anything else, which is disappointing—I get excited thinking about the possibilities of having 10 user-controlled players on the ice just getting in each other’s faces after the whistle.

Of course during the first few weeks NHL 10 is out, there will no doubt be epic amounts of penalties. Fights will be breaking out all over the ice, and some gamers will be slashing each other while others cross check each other at full speed. However, assuming online gamers get tired of sitting in the box, the after-whistle showdowns should become more subtle and nuanced over time. This means a user might slash an opponent to try and draw a retaliation penalty. This also means that a user might try to draw a penalty after the whistle to avoid a looming power play. And this also means you will have to play some mind games and have a little talent when it comes to mastering the after-whistle scrums.

It’s sad to say, but I can’t wait to be a Sean Avery type of player online. Seriously, I can’t believe I just wrote that.

Board Play Finally Means Something

All this talk about scrums and enforcers also leads nicely into talking about the new board-play system. When near the boards, you initiate board play by pressing a single button (Y on 360, triangle on PS3). You then get glued to the boards and battle for the puck with a member of the other team—only two players can be involved in a board-play scrum. The third-party that comes in will take the puck. This leads to a two-fold mechanic of sorts. The third player that joins in the scrum will be able to grab the puck, which means you will have to support your teammates when they are in these scrums. This also means that you need to support your teammates by being ready to receive a pass along the boards, because if your teammate has control of the puck along the boards, he can pass it with his skate by pressing the standard passing trigger.

The board play can also be initiated by either player. So while you will see a defender push the puck carrier into the boards a lot of the time, the puck carrier can press up against the glass when in trouble. During one instance, I carried the puck, and then quickly pressed “Y” to initiate board play and avoid the looming defender. Then once I was against the boards, I was able to press “Y” again to leave the boards with the puck still on my stick, leaving the defender to chase me once more.

The crowd is also noticeable when two players are grinding it out along the boards, because you will see members of the crowd banging against the glass, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, a lot of the other presentational elements are just ho-hum.

Presentation Still Needs Work

I think it’s great that there are 20,000 fans waving towels around their heads. I also like that the crowd is smart enough to boo star players on opposing teams. (Also, here’s a cool little aside about the crowds. Within the franchise mode, if an opposing player injures someone on your team, he will be booed by your crowd when he touches the puck.)

But as nice as those touches are, I was underwhelmed by the presentation in the demo. The crowd did seem dynamic, but it does not seem like much else has changed on the presentation front. The same pregame intro still occurs before the game, the postgame seems to be unchanged, there still is not much going on after the end of a period, and celebrations after goals still look like basic canned cut scenes. Simply put, there wasn’t much there that wowed me from a visuals standpoint, at least in terms of presentational touches.

Can’t Forget the Goalies

The goalies were iffy in NHL 09. They were sometimes super-human and all-knowing, yet other times they were flailing disasters between the pipes. While some of the goalie issues cropped up because of artificial intelligence (AI) deficiencies, other problems occurred because of faulty goalie animations.

Thankfully the NHL development team has added a bunch of new goalie animations to this year’s title. I saw all types of new goalie animations, but the ones that caught my eye the most were the blocker and kick saves. These stood out because I watched the goalies make some kick saves where they redirected the puck towards the corner—the same goes for the blocker saves. Those types of saves are significant because the goalies in NHL 09 almost always covered up the puck or left a big juicy rebound in front of the net—there was very little divergence from those two scenarios.

In addition to the new animations, the developers are also promising that each AI goalie will behave differently in terms of aggressiveness and style, but I can’t really comment on that yet since I didn’t have enough time to really dig into that element of the game. I did, however, notice that there are still some leftover goalie animations that worry me a bit, namely the cover-up-the-puck animations. I hope the developers continue to iron out those animations because I would hate to see goalies still lunging to cover a puck, only to miss it entirely and then be caught out in no-man’s land.

Either way, I’m not too concerned about specific animations because the goalies are no longer frozen objects when they begin to make a save. A classic frustrating situation in NHL 09 occurred when your goalie would go post to post to make a desperation save on a one-timer, only to sit there frozen in the split position as another player came in to put in an easy rebound. But now goalies will be able to go into new animations from previously unenviable positions. So when your goalie goes post to post to make a save, he will still be able to stop rebounds from the seat of his goalie short-shorts.

As a final note about goalies—and really this is just a tease more than anything else—I just want to mention that gamers who love to play the goalie position will have to get used to some new controls this year. I don’t have all the specifics yet, but I just thought I should let the goalies out there know that more control will be in your hands this year.

NHL 10 Will Be Just Fine

I think it says a lot about a game when I feel like I could write another article on just the stuff I didn’t mention within this one. I barely talked about some of the new stuff you can do with the puck (fake shots by pressing in the R3 button), as well as the fact that your players will now automatically grab floating pucks out of the air. I also didn’t talk about the modified puck physics, or the fact that the puck can now be batted out of the air during rebounds—the puck doesn’t need to be glued to the stick to initiate a shot anymore.

If anything, I think that proves that even if refinements and tweaks are the name of the game this year, there still will be plenty to talk about.


NHL 10 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 jacory12 @ 06/16/09 10:31 AM
I first got a NHL game this year and I loved it. Reading this article makes me want to continue buying from this series. Great post.
 
# 2 BigPoppa17211 @ 06/16/09 10:45 AM
Great preview! Loving the changes so far!

Maybe you could do a part 2 on some of the things you can do with the puck and the physics?

Can never have enough info, right?
 
# 3 onlybygrace @ 06/16/09 10:52 AM
sounds f'n awesome...thanks
 
# 4 onlybygrace @ 06/16/09 10:53 AM
Part 2!!! Part 2!!! Part 2!!! Part 2!!!
 
# 5 ohyeahbaby123 @ 06/16/09 10:53 AM
Kinda disappointing about the scrums, but overall was a great preview!
 
# 6 bonannogiovanni @ 06/16/09 11:04 AM
Chase, do you know by chance if the broadcast camera angle has been overhauled to look like real broadcast? (Reading your thoughts on presentation I bet not )
 
# 7 Bumble14 @ 06/16/09 11:18 AM
Actually, SI belive Steve Avery, former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves was a solid hockey player back in the day.

Bummer on the presentation side of things. EA really needs to step up their game when it comes to this- I miss the days of the Octopus being shown at the Joe, and the giant Shark head in San Jose.
 
# 8 joker75 @ 06/16/09 11:26 AM
Steve or Sean ..... it is not important... S.Avery is his name

Great preview ,thx Chase.

I have still one question : Which button is for pokechecking now? Because Flyermania sad there is any change for this... You can do pokecheck move front of the player without tripping now I hope....

And... When you send us some answers from the questions thread ?
 
# 9 GrandMaster B @ 06/16/09 11:39 AM
The playoff logos on the ice is a nice touch to the presentation factor.
 
# 10 CarryTheWeight @ 06/16/09 11:58 AM
"Hardcore Passing"? Amazing. If it's as precise as the preview says, we could be having a fun time with this game, it seems like it could really ramp up the creativity factor and present some interesting plays.

I'm pretty disappointed, however, in the apparent lack of improvement in the presentation department...however, I'm not going to put my foot down until I see some video. The game is still in the early stages (I think) so many more features could be implemented down the road. It's one area 2K completely demolishes EA in, so I'm really perplexed why the presentation hasn't (apparently) been fixed to match the huge improvements 2K9 made in that area.

Overall, though, what Chase said is pretty encouraging. Can't wait to see what additional info comes out in the next few weeks.
 
# 11 sharks @ 06/16/09 12:59 PM
Who's Steve Avery?
 
# 12 ChaseB @ 06/16/09 01:10 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by BigPoppa17211
Great preview! Loving the changes so far!

Maybe you could do a part 2 on some of the things you can do with the puck and the physics?

Can never have enough info, right?
Ha, I probably won't do part 2, but I'll certainly talk about the game more on here -- assuming you guys want to know more. Simply ask questions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bonannogiovanni
Chase, do you know by chance if the broadcast camera angle has been overhauled to look like real broadcast? (Reading your thoughts on presentation I bet not )
My best guess is no. I asked about new camera angles and was told there are no new ones, so I doubt they overhauled any existing ones either.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bumble14
Actually, SI belive Steve Avery, former pitcher for the Atlanta Braves was a solid hockey player back in the day.
Ha, yeah true story, I wrote most of this while watching the Braves the other today on MLB Extra Innings. So, that will teach me to write about hockey with baseball on -- I had to see Tommy Hanson though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joker75
I have still one question : Which button is for pokechecking now? Because Flyermania sad there is any change for this... You can do pokecheck move front of the player without tripping now I hope....

And... When you send us some answers from the questions thread ?
Right bumper is still the poke button, but once again I could have talked about stick lift and poke check a bit. I think you'll see less of those weird poke check and stick lift penalties when you are in front of an opposing player who is coming towards you. I also think you'll see many more penalties when someone goes for a stick lift from behind a player, or at least that's the goal and I did notice some change.

And I'll answer Qs (the ones I can) after this post.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RealmK
Nice preview Chase. Loved what you said about the passing, can't wait to try hardcore out. couple quick questions, did you notice any more stat overlays at all while playing? Also from the little bit that you played do the goalies seem to be smarter? Will they come out and challenge more when appropiate?
You know it's been a bit since I played so it's a little tricky to remember, but I do know the stat overlays are a bit tweaked in terms of how they look. I feel like I would have written it down in my notebook if I noticed new stat overlays popping up during a game though.

Hard to say about the goalies after such a little amount of time with the game. I certainly liked just about every new animation I saw while playing. At this point my only complaint would be that some of the old animations are left over (namely desperation and cover-up saves) and those were the ones I think that could be abused by players at points.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RealmK
I'm wondering if its more one of those "if we're going to majorly overhaul it, lets wait and do it right.
From what I gather, generally that is the NHL team's philosophy: either do it right or don't do it at all. I admire that and do think it's better to go that route, at least from a reception standpoint. I did talk to David Littman about the presentation a bit, and got the impression that when changes occurred on the presentation front, they would be big rather than small. In the mean time, I wouldn't want them wasting time adding one or two new cut scenes if it took away from focusing more attention on the gameplay.
 
# 13 ohyeahbaby123 @ 06/16/09 01:15 PM
Hey Chase could you expand on the puck physics more? And also, how is the hardcore style of play different than say the regular style of play?

Thanks!
 
# 14 mdgoalie37 @ 06/16/09 01:20 PM
My big concern is collision detection - just too often woudl players' sticks, skates or the puck would pass right though my stick, skate or leg. I think this really became apparent post patch when you had to play more positionally instead of hitting everything in sight. I hated when I got my guy in positions and my opponent went right through me, literally.

Any notice if this was addressed?
 
# 15 Matt Diesel @ 06/16/09 01:21 PM
It would be nice if they showed cumulative stats for OTP during league games so you know how is dangerous and who you should keep an eye on. I hope hardcore passing is the default for OTP.
 
# 16 Shockgeez04 @ 06/16/09 01:26 PM
Thanx for the preview Chase, can't wait!

2 Questions:

1- How often did you get penalized for doing the new postplay scrum stuff? ... i.e. facewashing, and/or knocking someone down with a check

2- Did you try shooting on the goalie after the whistle? If so did anything happen, they mentioned a CPU player might come after you.
 
# 17 buzzguy @ 06/16/09 01:32 PM
Drool! Can't wait for September to roll-around!

Too bad about the presentation, though. Especially the crowds...are there even female fans in the arena yet?
 
# 18 shakeable @ 06/16/09 01:51 PM
Since they have changed passing to be pressure sensitive. Is it still possible to do a one time pass?

If so is the speed of these one time passes automatic to reach the intended target or is it still possible to choose the strength of the pass?
 
# 19 sharks @ 06/16/09 02:01 PM
I was playing a game yesterday and dove out from behind to swipe the puck away from a player on a breakaway. Rather than trip him or poke the puck away, my player's stick went right through his skates and the puck. Then, he shot it over my goalie's shoulder and scored. Ridiculous.
 
# 20 ChaseB @ 06/16/09 02:36 PM
If you check out the E3 questions thread, you'll notice I also answered some questions in there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bigwill33
Are you allowed to say if you know anything about Online Franchise or Playoff mode? Or if you can have multible users in offline franchise?
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigwill33
Are you allowed to say if you know anything about Online Franchise or Playoff mode? Or if you can have multible users in offline franchise?
You know BW, asking the same question in the span of 30 minutes doesn't help your cause.

Anyway, I was playing the game within a new mode of sorts, but I don't believe I am supposed to talk about it at this point. Otherwise, they weren't talking about new modes as of yet so I am not keeping anything else as a secret.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt Diesel
It would be nice if they showed cumulative stats for OTP during league games so you know how is dangerous and who you should keep an eye on. I hope hardcore passing is the default for OTP.
I agree on both fronts. I mentioned having cumulative stats for OTP while talking with David Littman, but I don't believe it will make it in this time around. I also hope hardcore, or at least normal, is the default when playing online because it will be messed up if one team is playing with hardcore controls while the other team uses the casual controls. It would completely tip the scales and probably force many players to use the casual passing controls to keep up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shockgeez04
Thanx for the preview Chase, can't wait!

2 Questions:

1- How often did you get penalized for doing the new postplay scrum stuff? ... i.e. facewashing, and/or knocking someone down with a check

2- Did you try shooting on the goalie after the whistle? If so did anything happen, they mentioned a CPU player might come after you.
1. All the time. I took some running charges at some players, while other times I simply kept slashing players on the other team. After a bit of the novelty factor wore off, I started to just face wash guys and try to draw instigator penalties rather than hurt my own team -- I didn't get called for penalties during those instances.

2. Yeah, I shot at the goalie a few times, which got the other team angry. I also shot the puck at opposing players (Alfredsson style circa the Stanley Cup finals against the Ducks), which also got the other team chapped.

Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzguy
Drool! Can't wait for September to roll-around!

Too bad about the presentation, though. Especially the crowds...are there even female fans in the arena yet?
Yeah, female fans are in the game now.

Quote:
Originally Posted by shakeable
Since they have changed passing to be pressure sensitive. Is it still possible to do a one time pass?

If so is the speed of these one time passes automatic to reach the intended target or is it still possible to choose the strength of the pass?
Oh yeah, absolutely. What's cool is you can play the puck to an area and have the other guy skate to the puck and rip it in one motion. The same goes for something like a drop pass. Just drop the puck and let someone come up behind you and drill the puck.

And no, the speed of the one-timer is no longer automatic on hardcore because now you control where the puck is going, and at what speed, at all times. It's all about how much pressure you put on the passing trigger.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sharks
I was playing a game yesterday and dove out from behind to swipe the puck away from a player on a breakaway. Rather than trip him or poke the puck away, my player's stick went right through his skates and the puck. Then, he shot it over my goalie's shoulder and scored. Ridiculous.
Fascinating!
 

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