The same happens with every iteration of sports games. Every year, a new one is released and it is heralded “the greatest [enter sports title here] game of all time!” I play Madden nearly every year, so I can actually see the changes between the games and enjoy the progress they are making to become the ultimate sports game. NHL, however, is a series I’m unfamiliar with. I played it a few times back in the late 90s but I haven’t touched it since. I heard whisperings that NHL 10 was the most user-friendly yet realistic NHL title to date. And those whisperings were not wrong.
Obviously, having never played the NHL series enough I came into NHL 10 as a newbie. The terms were unfamiliar to me and I could barely get by on the rules. What I love about NHL 10 is how friendly it is to beginners like me. Before you even start to play the game for real, you’re thrown into a tutorial. It’s only about 6 minutes long maximum but it helps you to grasp the basic controls in the game to help you play. Of course, you can always look up the more difficult controls but having a tutorial right off the bat is a great way to introduce new players into the series.
Once you step out of the tutorial, you’re giving a hefty amount of modes to work your way through. You have the usual “Play Now” mode, which lets you set up a match to your own preferences and just….play now. Be A Pro mode is back, which I’ll look at later, but there are also two new additions to the team. The first of these is the Battle for the Cup, which is essentially a tournament mode to win the Stanley Cup. All a very familiar fare to seasoned NHL players. The second is slightly more interesting. The ‘Be A GM’ mode is essentially a Football Manager-esque mode in which you must sort out your team’s salaries, make sure they are at the top of their game, trade players, keep your staff happy and the victories coming in. There are a lot of stats here, too much for my head to handle, but for anyone with an interest in running the team from the behind the scenes, this is a perfect mode. The problem is however the text heavy ‘Be A GM’ mode is difficult to navigate with a D-Pad. The mouse and keyboard seem to work much better with this sort of game and so the clunky controls can be a bit intimidating to some. Making trades is fiddly especially, so you can end up putting the wrong players out by accident.
The ‘Be A Pro’ mode is back and better than ever. I wasn’t a big fan of the ‘Be A Pro’ mode in Madden because I don’t feel the game style suits being restricted to one player. You just end up picking the Running Back since they seem to do the most. With NHL 10, however, each player has their own position to play but much more freedom. If you don’t understand the position you’re playing as then a handy arrow will show you where you need to be at what point so as to perform most effectively. There is also the addition, this year, of the Hockey Shop, which allows you to boost your stats through what items you wear or use. It’s all very RPG feeling and it’s a nice way to improve your player.
There’s plenty of customisation to be had here. Maybe not to the extent of Madden where literally everything could be changed to suit your style, but there is enough here to satisfy everyone. Do you still want a tough opposition defence, but want the goalie to be less all over the net? Just reduce the goalie skills. It’s all very easy to do and can really make the difference in how much fun you get out of the game. I personally like to play with the default settings, but everyone has their own play style.
One thing being praised about is the first-person fighting system. Someone annoying your star player? Throw your gloves to the ground and get right in there to beat the living crap out of them. It makes for a more personal experience, especially when playing as a whole team, to just follow this one player as he creates a number of bruises (or gains them) on someone else’s face. It’s all very visceral, especially since you are right up in the other guy’s face and you can pretty much see the crunch of fist on cheek. Annoyingly though, this might cost you a whole five minutes in the sin bin. Roughing players up by body checking them is much more fun and much more useful to the actual game. You can push a player up against the wall in hopes of knocking the puck away or just push a player out of the way of receiving the puck.
As with Madden, online is only for the hardcore so I didn’t step into that world for fear of getting beaten to a humiliating pulp. There does, however, appear to be a number of the modes seen in single player with around the same level of customisation available.
The interface, except for in ‘Be A GM’, is extremely simple to navigate and everything is easy to find which, for a newbie like me, is extremely helpful to finding where you need to go. In-game animation is very smooth so it feels like you’re watching an actual game of hockey. There are no half-time stat reports to the extent that Madden 10 had, which I quite enjoyed, but the crowd animation and stadium reconstruction is all very accurate so you at least feel like you’re watching the game. The commentators do seem to be a bit dull and uninterested to the extent that it could be phoned in. More enthusiastic commentators really make the game seem more interesting, especially when just spectating in ‘Be A GM’.
If you already have NHL 09, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal separating the two apart from a few little changes and the ‘Be A GM’ mode. It isn’t a “must have” purchase for those who normally buy the series every year. However, for those who may have skipped a few years (in my case, about 10) then it is well worth picking up, especially for those who are new to the series as it is so easily to get back into the swing of things thanks to the nifty tutorial.