First, let’s start off with what’s good in NHL 10.
Fans should be pleased to hear that the graphics in this game are once again solid. While NHL 10 looks identical to NHL 09, and the engine is starting to show its age, the fluid new animations and small details in this year’s game help make these virtual players look much closer to their real-life counterparts.
Players now convincingly settle bouncing pucks with their sticks and skates, glove loose pucks out of the air, and swing their sticks like baseball bats to shoot floating pucks into the net or out of the zone. Injured players now even sport nasty scars, black eyes, and protective cages.
Goalies haven’t been neglected on this front either as new animations depict kick saves, sprawling cover attempts, and flailing behind-the-back arm swings straight out of Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas’ playbook.
The crowds in NHL 10 also look great and it’s apparent the developers spent some time making sure the diversity of hockey fans was finally reflected in the stands of their video game (hey, women watch hockey, too).
Fans now wave towels during the playoffs, rowdily bang the glass when goals are scored, and react realistically to big hits, big saves and hated rivals. All of this adds some much-needed atmosphere that was sorely missing in NHL 09.
NHL 10 Ratchets Up the Difficulty – With Some Mixed Results
Things get a wee bit dicey, however, when it comes to the core gameplay of NHL 10.
For the most part, the game feels and plays much like the previous NHL games (which is a good thing). But the overall difficulty of the game and some of the new brawn-focused gameplay additions may turn off some fans of the series.
One of the immediate differences players will notice is the altered passing mechanics of the game. The new 360-degree passing now means players can bank passes ahead of teammates to help spring breakout plays and breakaway opportunities.
But it also means less frequent tape-to-tape volleys and more interceptions. Passes must now be aimed manually, and more often than not this can result in a lot of missed receptions and, depending on the skill of the gamer, a lot of hair-tearing moments of frustration.
In offline mode, the settings ca be eased to allow more pass assistance, but in online games, players will just have to learn to adapt to the new system.
Upping the toughness factor in NHL 10 is the new board play feature, which allows players to pin opponents against the wall and fight for possession of loose pucks. The strong-arming tactic, like the revamped passing, certainly adds realism to the game but there’s no doubt this mechanic could be abused online – much like the stick-lift feature was overused in NHL 09.
On the plus side, many of the exploit goals that marred last year’s game are nowhere to be found. Shots from the point light up the lamp more frequently and gamers who set up players in front of the net for deflections will be rewarded. The new fake-shot deke also helps freeze goalies on the breakaway, which can lead to some very pretty goals.
EA Sports Gives Enforcers and Goons Reason to Rejoice
Two other new features, first-person fighting, and after-whistle scrums, add some levity to the NHL 10 experience but otherwise feel inconsequential to the overall game.
The new fisticuffs mode, which takes players down to ice level and behind the eyes of an NHL enforcer, especially feels like a gimmick. It’s rather disappointing EA Sports has decided to spend time developing this diversion within its game rather than working on, say, the tired presentation elements, which haven’t changed much from NHL 09 or NHL 08 for that matter.
After-the-whistle scrums are also a bit of a head-scratcher. Just as the name suggests, players now have the ability to face-wash opponents and drop the gloves after the play has been stopped. But this usually deteriorates into comical scenes of players chasing each other across the ice, whacking their sticks at legs looking for the nearest dance partner.
What’s worse is that pacifist gamers with no intention of starting any trouble are forced to wait those few agonizing seconds after the whistle if the computer or an online opponent attempts to stir the pot. These moments only add to the length of each game and generally feel like a nuisance.
Despite Flaws, NHL 10 is Still the Most Realistic Hockey Sim on the Market
Despite the nagging sense that NHL 10 has taken a small step back, EA Sports’ latest continues to be the best hockey video game on the market.
Even with the seemingly gimmicky additions and increased difficulty, NHL 10 is still very fun to play and continues to boast some of the best online features of any current-generation sports game. The role-playing style online team play and EA Sports Hockey League, for instance, remain unmatched.
A revamped GM Mode (which effectively replaces the Dynasty Mode of past games) also provides a deeper hockey management simulation for those fans who would prefer to take care of the business end rather than hit the ice.
While it may not be tailored for casual fans of shinny (2K Sports’ NHL 2K10 appears to have that demographic covered), NHL 10 is still highly recommended for all fans of the coolest game on Earth.