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NHL 10 (PlayStation 3) artwork

NHL 10 (PlayStation 3) review

"NHL 10 is inarguably the epitome of EA’s drive to make the ideal hockey game and at this point, there really is no looking back. My only gripe is that after 09 we had so much more to look forward to."

NHL 10 arrived towing a trailer full of hype. Maybe it’s the fascination around anything that has the number “10” in its name. Maybe it’s because NHL 09 was such a landmark title. But while 09 was quite literally the best next generation hockey game on the market by a long shot, 10 supplants it only by the narrowest of margins.

09 really felt like hockey, at long last. It was nothing if not smooth: skaters’ movements were uniquely fluid. Having them skate with one analog stick and stick-handle and shoot with the other felt intuitive. Camera angles varying from overhead to broadcast captured the action authentically; the pace was quick as simulations go, the goalies were no longer so easily fooled, the AI defense rock solid, the dekes and the plays required to score rang true. Tie that all together with a host of varying play modes and scintillating presentation and you’ve got a very special package.

10 takes that package, adds a few new play modes, sharpens some player models and injects a dose of (admittedly) well-needed grit and calls it a day. Is that enough to warrant a purchase? It all depends on what version of NHL you already have, and whether or not you have an NHL team logo on your pillowcase.

Any gamer with an interest in the sport (not just, “dude, they’re ALLOWED TO FIGHT, EPIC!”) who owns NHL 08 or older would be wise to snap up NHL 10 without hesitation. It is, after all, the culmination of years of refinement. But unless you’re reading this review in your Detroit Red Wings pajamas (sadly, mine are too small for me now), an upgrade from 09 may be a wasteful and unnecessary move.

Play modes that enable you to pick-up-and-play a seven-game series for the Stanley Cup right away, or to decide between guiding your team through the play-offs alone, or through the season in its entirety--are a welcome addition. Character models have enjoyed a noticeable spit-shine, and computer AI smartened up--if only slightly. You’d come up against tough D before, but now your linemates on offense seem to more readily seek hot spots and avoid coverage, though they do remain too dependent on your puck-carrying player to make things happen, sometimes just standing around watching you hog it like the Lakers watch Kobe.

All that being said, the most appreciable advancements have come in the grit department. Agitators can provoke with face washes and not-so-subtle spearing after the whistle, leading to fights. And once the gloves have dropped, we get a new first-person perspective of the fisticuffs. The new fight system offers fairly deep controls, especially relative to fighting’s place in the game: you can tug on your opponent’s jersey, pepper him with jabs, and load up on power shots.

Since I don’t care for the fights much, I’d say the more impressive addition in beefing up the grit and grind of the series, is the board play. If the puck goes to the boards, the first player to the puck can protect it with his body. An opposing player can go after him and rough him up, while poking one-handedly to try to extract the puck. The first player can work to fend the checker off and kick the puck along the boards to a teammate. Thus, for the first time, REAL CYCLING is permitted.

This is a big deal, because cycling is an integral part of today’s game. Regrettably, computer controlled teammates will struggle in helping with the actual execution: often they are lollygagging instead of being in the right places when you’re tied up you’re your face to the glass looking for options--an AI shortcoming typical of the series. Thankfully, you can create your own plays, as before, which helps; and more importantly, you’ll likely scrap solo play and enjoy NHL 10 with buddies over, or buddies online, who have the potential to be far more competent than their CPU counterparts.

When experienced solely with human players so that AI shortcomings are non issues, NHL 10 reaches rare air in terms of its ability to simulate modern, fast-paced, hard-nosed hockey. When your friends are on the same page, you’ll be able to execute true-to-life plays that can start from making a save with your human-controlled goalie, clearing the puck, running a breakout, creating a stretch pass, dumping the puck in, cycling down low on the boards, and finally serving up a saucer pass that leads to a one-timer on net. No hockey game ever made can come this close to putting all the authentic pieces together.

And that brings to mind the odd fact that the option still exists to play NHL 10, with NHL 94 controls, in a continuing homage to what was universally recognized as EA’s most exciting hockey release. Tellingly, while playing with 94 controls feels fast and fun, you’ll feel handicapped by the simplistic button scheme within the framework of 10’s much more sophisticated world on ice. Such are the spoils of advancement; NHL 10 is inarguably the epitome of EA’s drive to make the ideal hockey game and at this point, there really is no looking back. My only gripe is that after 09 we had so much more to look forward to.

Rating: 8/10

Masters's avatar
Freelance review by Marc Golding (October 23, 2009)

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EmP posted October 23, 2009:

I think the most notable achievement of this review is that I didn’t have a bloody clue what you were talking about, but still came away knowing what made it work as a hockey review.

I really like that there’s an earlier game control mode included. We were talking about something like this the other day when playing FIFA. EA tend to sneak it into a fair few of their long running sports games, and it’s a cool touch.
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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

Ha, thanks dude. Yeah, I'm excited to see what they've done with FIFA 10.
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WilltheGreat posted October 23, 2009:


Oh right. This would make, what, six times I've forgotten now that Masters is a fellow countryman?

I salute you sir.
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Halon posted October 23, 2009:

Good review. I agree with the NHL 94 love, it's one game that I still go back to at least once a year. I'm not the biggest hockey fan and it might be my favorite sports game of all time.
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Masters posted October 23, 2009:

As is polite Canadian custom (redundant?), I salute you right back, Will.

Thanks sportsman.
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honestgamer posted October 24, 2009:

This is a great review and exactly what I was hoping for when I sent you the game. Your attention to the differences between last year's game and this year's game, as well as your assessment of that value, was especially appreciated. The description of how grit affects play also was handled very well. Overall, the review was easy to read, understand and enjoy.

Here's a sentence that I think you'll want one of us to change, though:

But unless you’re reading this review in your Detroit Red Wings pajamas (sadly, mine are too small for me now), an upgrade from 09 may not be a wasteful and unnecessary move.

This seems to be saying the opposite of what you intend for it to say. I think you mean "an upgrade from 09 may be a wasteful..." instead of "an upgrade from 09 may not be a wasteful..." in that sentence. If you'd like the "not" removed, just give the word and I'll tend to it.
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Masters posted October 25, 2009:

thanks jason. and yes, can you make that correction?

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