NHL 10, the latest edition of EA's rejuvenated NHL series, is set to hit stores on September 15. Both NHL 08 and NHL 09 received a healthy dose of critical acclaim from gamers and reviewers alike, so, needless to say, expectations will be high for this version. So without further delay, here's a look at what's hot and what's not in NHL 10.
EA's introduction of the skill stick in NHL 07, followed by the new skating engine implemented in '08, drastically altered the gameplay in the NHL series. In NHL 09 the gameplay changes (stick lifting, defensive skill stick, etc.) were decidedly more subtle. This year the development team has promised a couple gameplay refinements that should fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum in terms of impact.
Precision passing, the 360-degree passing mechanic that promises to give players full control over both the direction and speed of their passes, should introduce even more realism to the series. The tape-to-tape, laser-like passes the NHL series has always been known for should now be a thing of the past. This is a welcome development, as it will go a long way towards helping the game mirror what NHL hockey looks like in real life.
However, as unrealistic as the old passing mechanic was, in many ways it was a necessary evil because firing perfect passes from player to player was the only way to maintain possession in the offensive zone, particularly on power plays. Luckily, another promised gameplay alteration for NHL 10 -- improved board play -- should offset the impact of the odd errant pass. By shielding the puck along the boards and kicking it to teammates, teams in the offensive zone should now be able to maintain possession in a manner similar to teams in the real NHL.
The goalies in NHL 09 were susceptible to a couple of exploitable goals that could make online play frustrating at times. Thankfully, EA took note of those exploits and has pledged that the goaltenders in NHL 10 will be significantly better at stopping the cheap goals, while at the same time remaining vulnerable to genuine scoring opportunities.
It remains to be seen whether or not new exploits will be discovered (they will be), but it's encouraging that the development team recognizes cheap goals as a problem worth addressing.
More Gameplay Modes
The feature set for NHL 10 appears to be decidedly robust. In addition to Be a Pro, the EASHL and the modes included last year, NHL 10 will add Be a GM mode, a multi-user season mode, playoff mode and Battle for the Cup mode.
Gamers have been clamoring for the return of season and playoff modes for awhile now, so it's nice to see those implemented, but it's Be a GM mode that might be the most interesting. Essentially a fleshed out dynasty mode, Be a GM will add little things that NHL fans should appreciate, like draft-day trades and deadline deals. In this mode players will try to work their way towards becoming a legendary GM by completing GM tasks like upgrading the roster and winning on the ice.
The mode will also assign you a reputation, which is based on your dealings with other GMs. Presumably, this will mean you'll quickly become a pariah if you're constantly trying to make lopsided trades with the CPU, which will make trading both more difficult and more realistic.
Our 2008 Game of the Year Returns to defend it's crown, does it have a chance of a repeat?
First off, let's be clear: fighting is a part of hockey -- and an entertaining part at that. But fighting in hockey videogames has never been particularly interesting, and moving it into the first person isn't likely to change that fact.
The inclusion of a new first-person fighting engine as one of the bullet points in NHL 10 says one of two things about the game and the development team: Either the existing foundation for the game was solid enough that it afforded the team time to play around with secondary aspects of the gameplay like the fighting engine; or the team has yet to stumble upon the next revolutionary idea for the genre (similar to something as important as the skill stick), and is therefore biding its time tinkering with lesser components of the game.
Given the track record of the NHL team in recent years -- and the quality of the finished products -- we're inclined to give the developers the benefit of the doubt and say it's the former. Nevertheless, first-person fighting strikes us as little more than a novelty at this point.
EA is touting the fact that NHL 10 will feature new, flashy ways to score, including players shooting from their knees and batting the puck out of mid-air -- that, in and of itself, is a good thing. The concern is that whenever a new gameplay element like this is introduced to a series there's a tendency in the first year for the element to occur far too frequently or simply be too effective. A player scoring from his knees is a relatively rare occurrence in real life, so hopefully it won't be something that happens every other game in NHL 10.
EA released the demo for NHL 10 on Xbox Live last week, and you all have been very vocal on OS about what you think about it. PSN users should get their chance to be vocal as well when the demo hits the Playstation Store later this week.