NHL 2K10

In 2008, Visual Concepts found itself in the unenviable position of picking up the 2K hockey series in mid-development, with only five months to build and complete NHL 2K9. The critics assailed the game with an average Metacritic rating of 6.8. In response, the company took the beating, focused its new team and built a deep, impressive-looking follow-up that packs a massive array of visual upgrades, customizable options and online features. NHL 2K10 looks like the developer's most feature-rich game in years.

To begin with, Visual Concepts wanted to lock in distinct offensive and defensive moves so that gamers could feel like they had more control. On defense, using the Y button on the Xbox 360 (triangle on PS3), you can lift your opponent's stick in to get into the other player's space and flick the ball away from him.

On offense though, things have changed. One of the big complaints of the last game was that the defense regularly was able to knock shooters off their shot. That, coupled with long animations, prevented a realistic level of continuity and frustrated many fans. NHL 2K10's addition of a mechanic called the “stumble shot” prevents this issue from happening, while adding a new level of grit and determination to the gameplay.

If a defender bumps you while you're in the middle of a shot, your skater will stumble, but then regain composure or maneuver around a defender to return and take the shot. Unless a defender has perfect placement or smartly times a “perfect” move, the offense will always be able to pull off the stumble shot, bringing a new intensity and realism into the goal-scoring aspect of the game.

Visual Concepts has also tweaked every official NHL player to be as close to their real-life appearances and skill sets as possible. The character models are loaded up with distinct equipment and gear, right down to displaying each player’s preferred skate laces. Visual Concepts calls these “signature styles,” and no other player demonstrates this improvement better than cover athlete Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who looks great. (Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks, who did the mo-cap work, looks great too.) If you're a Sharks fan, you'll also be pleased to know that play-by-play is handled by San Jose's Randy Hahn.

With the create-a-player function, you can dig into the attributes of every official NHL player and adjust their skills to best suit your needs. You can tweak 25 different attributes, ranging from speed, acceleration, discipline, stamina and shot power. If you wanted to, you could create a full team of created players…well, if you had a spare 50 hours on your hands, anyway. Going one step further, 2K10 enables players to show off players and rosters for the community using 2K Share. You can manage a blog for your team, or upload highlights and screens to the site for others to see, download and use. Gamers can label the rosters as everything from the most accurate to the most downloaded or even the most heinous, putting the community in charge and giving users a context for each roster.