NHL 10 improves on an already winning formula

CNET editors Jeff Bakalar and Scott Stein sat down for three periods of action with NHL 10.

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Ask any diehard hockey fan out there and he'll tell you that last year's NHL 09 was close to being the best hockey game ever made. After countless critical acclaim and 19 sports-game-of-the-year awards over the past two years, the EA Canada team is back with NHL 10.

Along with Chicago Blackhawks young superstar Patrick Kane as this year's featured cover athlete, the game promises plenty of improvements, from board play to first-person fighting.

We sat down and played a full three periods in Stanley Cup Final fashion, Penguins versus Red Wings, to find out what's new in NHL 10.

Jeff:
The reason EA's NHL series has been so popular over the past few years is because the title is able to recreate the fast-paced, unpredictable nonstop action of a real hockey game. It was abundantly clear that NHL 10 plans on accomplishing that same sense of controlled chaos just minutes into our demo.

For those concerned about game-play tweaking, there aren't too many new controls that will have you scratching your head. You will, however, need a few practice games to master the brand-new precision passing feature. Instead of that automatic tape-to-tape passing we've seen before, you can now directly aim to where you'd like the puck to go. The pass button is also press-sensitive this year, so a harder push results in a crisper pass. This, combined with precision passing, allowed us to pass off boards and even perform lead passes to where a player was skating to.

Also new this year is board play, a welcome addition that adds a new dimension of realism to the game. You can now tie up an opposing player up against the boards which will either end up in a turnover or him passing the puck along with his skate.

In terms of graphics, we noticed brand new animations for both regular skaters and goalies, in addition to a handful of more satisfying crowd movements. The fans are also smarter this year, reacting to controversial plays and booing certain players. Our fans at the Joe Louis Arena gave it to Sidney Crosby every time the Stanley Cup champ touched the puck.

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

You'll also notice players catching the puck with their gloves then dropping it to their stick blade in addition to the occasional swatting of the puck out of midair. You can raise your back foot to fake a snap shot or one-time a nonpassed puck that happens to flutter to your position. It also appears as if there have been more complex puck physics implemented as well.

Quite a big deal has been made over the new first-person fighting game-play mechanic, and while it looks the part, we weren't terribly impressed with it in action. We're sure there's some skill required here, but we can't see it resulting in anything more than the usual 30-second button-mashing fit. Fighting in hockey games has never been something we've really enjoyed anyway--it's just something that needs to be included.

It's clear EA Canada is sticking with what has worked, and that's definitely a good thing. These tweaks and improvements continue to add to the game's overall sense of realism, ensuring that fans of last year's title will be won over once again.

NHL 10 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hits the ice in September.

Scott:
Even though I have NHL 09, I never really played it that much. And to make matters even more embarrassing, I probably couldn't even name ten currently playing NHL hockeyfolk (or whatever they're called). I'm a fan of the NFL primarily. But I promised Jeff we'd give NHL 10 a try, and so we did.

The nice part of NHL in the last few versions has been the improved analog stickplay, and it felt just as good (and maybe even nicer) here. The ability to start fights was appreciated, and when I was down about 4-1 in the third period I took advantage of the opportunity to throw a cheap punch, for which I was quickly beaten down about as fast as I was in the actual game.

Jeff Bakalar/CNET

Even though I went up 1-0 early on a shot I consider lucky, Jeff came back and we sat tied at 1-1 for a good while. Then the punishment was poured on in the third, ending with a resounding 5-1 defeat capped with hoots from EA's Canada staff. Humiliated though I was, I have to give the game a lot of credit for being truly playable for someone who has little to no in-depth experience with the series before. It's quickly playable, and even fun. It moves well, and the kinetic passing action hasn't been compromised, giving it a quick-fix satisfaction that other sports games can't approach.

It's not football, but it might be the next best thing.

 

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