Before 2007, the 2K series of hockey video games was tough to match. It seemed 2K had a perfect sense of gameplay, physics, and true-to-life NHL action. When EA Sports revamped its franchise in NHL 07 by introducing the Skill Stick and a new game engine, the tide immediately turned.
With the 2009-2010 NHL season fast approaching, both hockey games look to improve on their respective formulas. While each game tries to create an accurate hockey simulation experience, only one title is able to deliver a winning combination.
Critics have not been kind to the 2K series over the past few years. After EA Sports made the jump to the Skill Stick, 2K Sports responded with "Cinemotion," a game mode that was supposed to bring out the dramatics of a hockey game with an orchestral score and new camera angles.
In 2K10, there are a lot of welcome additions to the game that complement its overall sense of realism. For instance, the title does a better job at recreating arenas over NHL 10. Plus, the player's photorealistic faces are beyond what EA has to offer. Players will get tied up in the faceoff circle, as will right and left wings awaiting the drop of the puck.
Where the game shines most is its overall presentation. Unfortunately, these satisfying moments don't transfer over once the game actually starts. While some animations look good, others are very clunky and inaccurate. The arcade feeling that the franchise has been criticized for isn't as abundantly apparent as it was in years past, but it is definitely an underlying issue.
2K10 still does an impressive job with puck physics, but that is where most of the excitement ends. You do have the option to use the game's version of the EA Skill Stick, but it feels unpolished and wild. What's left is an inconsistent, frustrating experience with scattered moments of solid hockey action.
At least the game does offer the chance to drive a Zamboni during both intermissions--a surprising fun mini-game that lets you clean the ice in preparation for the next period.
Since NHL 07, the franchise has made a change for the better, with the series undergoing a complete overhaul. The games that followed have consistently provided improved additions to the overall package, giving the player more options on offense and defense.
While the improvements in NHL 10 may seem minor, any fan of NHL 09 will immediately notice updated gameplay--all of which are welcome refinements. Most notable this year is board play, where in addition to pinning skaters against the boards, a player can also kick the puck left or right to a teammate.
Passing has been tweaked this time around, with more of an emphasis being placed on the direction in which you aim to pass. There are various new animations this year, as well; players will catch pucks and drop them to their sticks and swat pucks out of mid-air. The crowd has become a major component of NHL 10 too, with fans actively booing rival players and reacting to in-game events more accurately than ever. For the first time in a hockey game we've seen, the home crowd will simultaneously jump out of their seats right after a goal is scored.
A first-person fighting mechanic has been introduced this year, slightly reminiscent of Fight Night's control scheme. While we have no problem with two players going at in the NHL, we wish it wasn't attempted as much on the video game side of things, as it tends to break up the action.
NHL 10 is easily the best hockey game available, but this year's game isn't as groundbreaking as previous releases. While these animations and detail-oriented improvements sweeten the overall package, EA Sports may have to introduce something just short of the Skill Still to make NHL 11 really pop.