Reviewing a sports game that people might spend the best part of a year with isn’t a precise science. Sometimes it takes a long while before a game’s problems become apparent. Take last year’s NHL – while it was the best implementation of hockey we’d seen at the time, the stat-tracking on our save file began creaking to a halt after the first full season of Be a Pro. That’s more than 80 games, at half an hour a pop.
After about 200 games it flipped all our top performers to a rating of -254, permanently botching the career mode. Cheap tricks in the online mode forced EA to introduce a patch that awarded punitive penalties every time you so much as looked at – let alone touched – an opposition player.
While long-term frustrations, such as the ones we’ve been waiting all this time to vent, can’t possibly be addressed here, the menus, options and stats in this year’s edition do look scarily similar to last time out. But as soon as we slid back on the ice, we fell head over heels (in love) all over again. NHL 10 is an absolutely storming hockey game – and the various tweaks and fixes they’ve added make it an even more enjoyable simulation of the sport.
Our favourite new feature is the ability to play the puck against the boards. You can sacrifice a player as a human shield, forcing the puck against a wall until you can kick it out with a skate. Defenders can use a similar tactic, squeezing their man up against the side of the rink to halt an attack.
Scrapping is also improved, with a first-person view making brawls more impressive to watch. Alongside the usual player categories you can become a ‘tough guy’, with objectives such as scoring a certain number of hits every game. Strangely, duffing people up isn’t one of the requirements. The referees are pitched somewhere between pre- and post-patch NHL 09. You don’t get penalised for breathing on somebody but you can’t get away with flattening everyone in open ice. Spoilsports.
Some people will have a problem with the new hockey store, which offers stat-boosting items at a price to players who can’t be bothered to earn them through normal play. We say you’re unlikely to notice much difference either way. Also, the commentators repeat a lot of the same phrases from last time out, which sounds a bit cheap(skate).
So while there’s nothing properly revolutionary here, NHL 10 remains not only the biggest and best hockey game but also one of the finest sports games of any type. Hope those bugs don’t rear their ugly heads this time.
Sep 17, 2009