EA Sports’ NHL franchise has a distinguished pedigree -- the past two games in the series have earned 19 “sports game of the year” awards from various videogame publications and Web sites, and the games have only gotten better as time has passed. Each year, developer EA Canada has set the hockey bar higher and higher by putting out titles that have been worth buying in consecutive years.
NHL 10 (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
If that was unintelligible gibberish to you, fear not -- NHL 10 is replete with detailed tutorials to explain such nuances as the finer points of salary cap management (as well as just what a salary cap is). Like its predecessor, the game begins with an interactive tutorial that takes players through gameplay basics such as right stick shooting and an all-new mechanic for the series, boardplay. Just like in the NHL, you can now tie up players along the boards and try to wrestle the puck away from them. And if you’re pinned on offense, you’ll be able to pass the puck out to your AI teammates. Boardplay completely changes the flow of the game -- most hockey videogames have been based upon generating shots off the rush, but boardplay shifts the dynamic to a game that’s more conducive to actually setting up in the offensive zone and moving the puck around, which more closely mirrors real hockey.
A major gameplay element that the styles affect is passing. Last year, players complained that it was too arcadey, that passes were too “tape-to-tape.” Now, on Hardcore, gamers will have fully manual, 360° passing to contend with. The left stick controls the direction of your pass, and its speed is determined by how long you hold down the pass button. For the people who can master it, this offers precise control -- you can lead players or bank the puck off the boards. And since passes are less accurate in NHL 10, you’ll have to be wary of defenders, who are much smarter. They have the awareness to take away the cross-crease feed the majority of the time. Goalie AI is significantly improved as well, and it’s helped by a myriad of new save animations. You won’t see them diving in desperation to the other side of the net on a crossing pass anymore. And EA Canada also eliminated every single “money” goal from last year that I tried.
Something that NHL 10 captures brilliantly is the emotion and atmosphere of an NHL arena. The crowd makes its presence felt, whether you’re dishing out big hits or struggling to score. It’s great to see fans banging on the glass when a player is sandwiched against the boards, trying to get rid of the puck. And PS3 owners will finally be able to literally feel that stuff -- NHL 10 includes all the amenities of the 360 version on the PS3 this year, such as vibration, Trophies, and even custom soundtracks (NHL 10 is the first EA Sports game to have this feature on the PS3). Unlike MLB 09 The Show, though, you can’t incorporate your own songs into the game’s soundtrack; you have to choose between your music and the EA Trax songs that come on the disc.
Score: 9.5 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
THE VERDICT - NHL 10
Reviewed by Samit Sarkar
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