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NHL 2K10 (Xbox 360) artwork

NHL 2K10 (Xbox 360) review

"NHL 2K10 is a flawed sequel. It doesn’t elevate the franchise in the way you may have hoped or expected, nor does it present a package that you haven’t already seen and played a year ago. But don’t skate away just yet – while this might not be the must-have sports game of the season, it is anything but unplayable."

Your first experience with NHL 2K10 may not be spectacular – my own certainly wasn’t. Initially, the game seemed like a complete rehash. With the exception of being able to invite players to join a game online, the mode lineup, which included the likes of Franchise, Exhibition, Pond Hockey and Mini Rink, was the same as last year’s game. The presentation was slicker, the menus were shinier, and the colors looked brighter and crisper than ever before. But the game didn’t feel fresh. It didn’t feel like a new experience.

It did, however, feel very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that a certain Comcast commercial came to mind, causing me to believe that a bunch of DSL-loving turtles had taken over the rink. It was painful, depressing and exhausting – enough to make a gamer want to eject the disc and toss it to the neighbor’s dog.

Although that knee-jerk reaction was not entirely unwarranted, any gamer who allows this to be the reason to walk away will have made a mistake. NHL 2K10 is a flawed sequel. It doesn’t elevate the franchise in the way you may have hoped or expected, nor does it present a package that you haven’t already seen and played a year ago. But don’t skate away just yet – while this might not be the must-have sports game of the season, it is anything but unplayable.

NHL 2K10 is scarily good at capturing the subtleties of the way a hockey puck should move. The puck is loose without being unruly. While skating alone with the puck, it stays close to the player, allowing him to move around the ice with a fair amount of freedom. But once an opponent gets involved, the puck can easily slip between the cluster of legs and hockey sticks as the battle for its control unfolds.

The subtleties go beyond a slip and slide across the rink, and are most distinct when interacting with opponents. Slap-shots that seemed certain to land a goal could be stopped by something as small as the edge of a goalie’s kneepad. On the flip side, if the puck bounces back a foot or two and the goalie is slow to respond, the player can easily step in, grab the puck and shoot again, hopefully hitting the area of the net that was left open by the goalie’s previous block.

Outside of the over-hyped stick lift feature (which allows you to mess with opponents by sticking it to them, literally), players won’t notice a huge difference in the way the game controls. Most of the player moves can be executed with the face buttons, just as before, and you still have the option to utilize the Pro Stick features. While this seems like a missed opportunity for innovation (or at the very least some gameplay growth), it’s not entirely foolish for a developer to avoid fixing something that isn’t broken.

However, players will be bothered – and perhaps even stunned – by the default gameplay speed, which is too slow and sluggish to enjoy. This can be remedied (to a degree) by visiting the options menu and maximizing the speed at which the players move. But even then the game is somewhat lacking. Turbo power, an all-mighty feature that (under normal circumstances) would completely remedy this issue, is too weak to be effective. No matter how many times the button is pressed and regardless of how long it is held, the players never receive a desirable boost. This is a huge contradiction from NHL 2K9’s direction, which moved the series away from simulation territory and closer to an arcade game experience.

Not all simulation aspects have been lost, however. In the area of commentary, NHL 2K10 is very much a simulation sports game, offering some of the quickest and most accurate real-time updates of any game available this year.

Musically, NHL 2K10 is downright shocking. Rather than pummel the game with dozens of songs from a hodgepodge of artists (as most sports games do), 2K Sports produced a soundtrack that is short but very sweet. Most of the tracks come from unknowns; MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” is probably the only song you’ll recognize, thanks to its appearance in the movie 21. But after hearing each track a couple of times – most notably “Feel.Love.Thinking.Of” by The Faunts, “Crowd Chants” by Joe Satriani and “Anything Goes” by Fono – you’ll be eager to search iTunes and other music sites for more form these artists.

On a purely artistic level, NHL 2K10 is successful in re-creating the visual flair that hockey brings to the world of sports, but not to the extent that you would hope from a game that bears the 2K name. As players skate onto the ice at the beginning of the first period, the arena lights are easily the most noteworthy effect, streaking several bright beams across a host of realistic faces. The backgrounds are filled with thousands of lively fans that move more fluidly and cheer with more enthusiasm than before. Individual player detail is only moderately improved from last year’s game, which might disappoint those who expected a massive overhaul. But even if you can’t appreciate the few tiny improvements that were made – such as superior jersey textures that mirror the appearance of real fabric and an improved definition of creases within the lines of player faces – NHL 2K10 is still a good-looking game.

NHL 2K10 is far from the jaw-dropping, evolutionary hockey game it could have been. That said, it isn’t a bad hockey game either. In spite of the flaws and lack of fresh content, if you love the sport of hockey and some of the nuances that make it great, NHL 2K10 is worth a rental – and perhaps for some players, a little bit more.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (November 10, 2009)

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