NHL 2K10 Review (Xbox 360)
It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly 10 years since NHL 2K debuted on the Dreamcast, but nonetheless here we are, celebrating the 10th anniversary of a series that, at various times in its history, has been considered the finest hockey videogame available on consoles. While many will argue the 2K series peaked around NHL 2K7, or perhaps as early as NHL 2K3, 2K Sports and developer Visual Concepts are nevertheless here with their latest hockey offering, NHL 2K10.
Is this the game that puts the 2K series back on the top of the hockey videogame mountain? Maybe not, but if nothing else, it represents an interesting alternative for those looking for a fresh take on the sport.
There are two ways to look at the NHL 2K10 gameplay, and the way you approach it will likely depend on whether or not you’re the sort of gamer who minds tweaking sliders. Out of the box, there are some gameplay nuances that detract from the overall quality of the product -- assuming you’re looking for simulation hockey.
For instance, the default player speed and acceleration both seem off, particularly on some of the lower difficulty levels. Meanwhile, the speed burst seems exaggerated, leading to a situation where, if you don’t use the speed burst, most players take too long to get up to speed -- even at top speed, most players don’t feel as though they’re moving fast enough. The speed burst helps to address this, but on the default settings (particularly on anything below the Hall of Fame difficulty level), the duration and effect of the speed burst is too great. You can take a player, hold down speed burst and skate the entire length of the ice.
To some this might be fine, and there are obviously different schools of thought on whether speed bursts should be used at all in sports games, but I don’t have a problem with them in principle. I just happen to think that a speed burst should be a very brief burst players use to gain separation or chase down a loose puck, not something you hold down perpetually just to get any sense of speed.
There are some other areas where the default settings seem a little off, such as shot speed. Whether flicking a quick wrist shot or hammering a slap shot from the point, almost every shot in 2K10 travels at warp speed. This leads to situations where players score on quick snapshots or even backhands that they have no business scoring on. It also creates the sensation that the puck has no weight to it.
Passing speed seems more realistic out of the box, but unless you’re playing on Hall of Fame, most of the passes are far too accurate. It’s not that NHL players completely miss on their passes very often, but there should at least be instances where players have to make adjustments to handle the pass. On the default settings, far too many of 2K10’s passes are of the tape-to-tape variety.
Another area where the default gameplay needs some work is in the checking department. I saw far too many thunderous hits on default, and even on the Hall of Fame level. Every player seems to have the checking ability of Scott Stevens, and the type of check you might see once every couple of games in real life happens two or three times a period in this game. And while there are many body checks, there is not much board play to speak of. Ditto for play in the neutral zone, where it’s far too easy to weave your way into your opponent’s zone.
It’s a shame that the game doesn’t play better out of the box because many people aren’t going to get past that initial impression. For those who do, however, 2K10 has a lot to offer. Of all the gameplay oddities I’ve mentioned on the default settings, most -- if not all of them -- can be fixed or assuaged via slider adjustments.
The player speed and acceleration can be adjusted, the speed burst can be tweaked to your liking (or turned off altogether), the shot power can be lessened, the checking can be toned down and the passing accuracy can be reduced. And while I haven’t come up with a perfect recipe yet, I’m optimistic even some of the AI deficiencies can be addressed via sliders.
From a controls perspective, there are multiple control schemes available, so whether you prefer using the face buttons or the right stick, you should be comfortable. It’s worth noting, however, that there are instances where you’ll feel like you’re fighting the controls. This seems to stem from animations that simply have to play out before the game will let you do anything else. You only lose control for a split second, but in a fast sport like hockey, losing control for even a split second can be frustrating.
One final gameplay note that deserves to be mentioned relates to the faceoffs. NHL 2K10 features some of the best faceoffs I’ve seen in a videogame. Not only do you have the option to tie up your opponent or jostle for the puck -- in addition to the traditional swipe move -- there’s also the added bonus that not every faceoff is cleanly won back to a teammate. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re faced with a faceoff deep in your zone during a late-game situation, having to actually battle for a faceoff really contributes to a more realistic flow and creates some genuine tension.
It's Hockey time in...Ottawa!
Graphically, there’s not a lot to complain about in NHL 2K10. The arenas look very nice, complete with most of the details you would expect to see, including Stanley Cup banners in the rafters, retired jerseys and other touches. The same goes for the ice surface itself, which degrades realistically over the course of a period. The player models also look great, with very realistic faces and even nice little details like playoff beards.
If you were looking to nitpick, the goalie models would probably be the most obvious target. While decent, the goalie masks are simply disproportionate to the size of a goalie's body, which gives each goalie a sort of "big-head" appearance. The other areas of minor annoyance are the transition animations, of which there are too few, and the fact that occasionally -- particularly during the pregame skate -- it appears as though the players aren’t actually skating on blades because they will slide laterally in an unnatural way. But these are minor quibbles as 2K10 is a very nice looking game.
Lastly, in terms of graphics, it should be mentioned that one of the nicest ways to show them off is with the game’s side cam, which is simply spectacular. The camera very accurately mimics a real broadcast camera, and once you adjust to playing from that perspective, you will realize that the view does a fabulous job reflecting what you see on TV.
The sound design in 2K10 is a bit spotty. The crowds are quite well done, reacting appropriately to the game situation (meaning that if you’ve just fallen behind quickly at home, the crowd will fall notably silent for at least a moment or two). Conversely, if you throw a big check or score an important go-ahead goal, the crowd will rise to the occasion. Likewise, the PA announcers and ambient arena sounds (organ music, etc.) are well done and realistic.
However, the on-ice sound effects sometimes fail to ring true. For example, slap shots that hit a goalie’s pads are too loud and inauthentic. In fact, without tinkering with the presentation sliders, most of the on-ice sound effects are too loud.
Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda handle the commentary once again, and while 2K10 likely won’t be in the discussion for best commentary of all time, the duo does a decent job keeping up with the action and describing what’s happening on the ice. There’s also some game-specific commentary thrown into the mix -- during these particular situations the announcers will refer to things like the fact that you’re in game three of a playoff series.
The arena's and player models are both pretty darned good, perhaps the best around.
As with the sound, 2K10’s presentation is a bit of a mixed bag. The arena intros look nice and they do a decent job setting the tone for the game. You’re also treated to a reasonably informative and entertaining statistical summary and highlight package between periods. And perhaps the nicest touch is the picture-in-picture feature employed at various times during the gameplay to draw your attention to things like on-the-fly line changes, injuries and when the opposition is pulling the goalie. It’s a small thing, but it really contributes to the broadcast feel of the game.
On the other hand, there are several areas where the presentation is not up to snuff. Let’s start with the general lack of on-screen graphics and statistical overlays, particularly prior to the opening faceoff. It would be nice to see things like line combinations, goalie records, notable players and other information common to most hockey broadcasts in the early moments of a game. It’s also baffling that the overlays displayed after a goal is scored fail to show who assisted on the goal. Finally, the end-of-game presentation is quite lackluster. You get the same sort of highlight package as you do between periods, but it doesn’t single out any turning points or key plays throughout the game. Instead, you simply get replays of the goals and big plays, which is fine except that they’ve essentially stripped away the entire context from each play.
In addition, the game’s three-star presentation is bizarre. Instead of having each star do the customary wave to the fans, what you get is a highlight package with all of the crowd noise stripped away -- as though each play happened in some sort of void, which is very strange.
What are you looking at punk?
2K10 offers a wide range of offline modes, including the requisite exhibition games, season and playoff modes, practice mode and even pond hockey and mini-rink hockey. The meat of the offline modes is, of course, the franchise mode.
2K10’s franchise mode is once again robust and full featured. Users can control multiple teams, determine whether they want to play with or without a salary cap, enable or disable CPU trading, override CPU trading, etc. At the start of the franchise mode, each team is assigned a label such as “rebuilding,” “buying,” “selling” or “steady” to reflect the overall willingness to make trades. In testing, the CPU will propose a reasonable number of trades throughout the course of the season, and most of the proposals seem plausible. In fact, I only encountered a couple of trade offers that truly seemed lopsided.
Simulated stats seem quite realistic, with the leading scorers generally topping out in the low hundreds in points and leading defensemen scoring in the fifties and sixties. CPU goaltenders play a realistic number of games, with workhorses like Evgeni Nabokov and Roberto Luongo playing close to 70 games a season while regular starters settle in with a somewhat lower amount of games played. Goals-against averages and save percentages all seem accurate as well.
While it's not a classic, NHL 2K10 can hold it's own.
2K has gone to great lengths to build online play into just about every mode in the game, including franchise mode. So if you want to invite your buddy to play one of your franchise games against you, that’s now an option. It’s certainly never a bad thing to have more options, but considering many offline franchise players are obsessed with realism and proper stat-tracking, it’s debatable how keen they would be to have a friend potentially skew the stats in a two-player game. As such, this may not be a popular feature in 2K10.
On the Ice: If you don't tinker with the gameplay sliders, 2K10 comes off as a little too wide-open and arcade-like. But for those that do mess with the sliders, there’s a decent payoff.
Graphics: One of the nicest looking hockey games in recent memory. Excellent arenas and solid player models, marred only slightly by less than perfect goalie models.
Presentation: Nice arena intros give way to merely adequate in-game presentation, which could have used more stat overlays. However, picture-in-picture is a welcome addition.
Entertainment Value: Those with patience should be able to squeeze a fair bit of value out of the franchise mode. The other gameplay modes also serve as a nice distraction from time to time.
Learning Curve: Somewhat steep, given that most will need to spend some time massaging the sliders to arrive at a gameplay level they’re comfortable with.
Online: Smooth and essentially lag-free. Without the ability to tweak sliders online, versus games are wide-open affairs for the most part (as expected).
Score: 7.0 (Good)