Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thoughts / NHL 11

After last years buggy NHL 10, I swore off NHL games for awhile. Then a few weeks ago I played the NHL 11 demo and it completely changed my mind. Which I guess I should of expected, I'm a sucker for hockey. I didn't find that NHL 10 offered that much more compared to NHL 09. NHL 11 however, I feel has reached the peak of what a hockey video game can do. I honestly have no idea what they can do to improve this franchise on our current generation of consoles. NHL 11 does everything almost perfectly. The only reason I say "almost" is because nothing is perfect. Honestly though, I can't find anything wrong with this game, but I've only had it for a couple days so maybe there's some glitches or gameplay issues that other people have experienced. It's just been a perfect experience for me so far.

Let me start off with some of my favorite music tracks from the EA Sports Trax list. Most NHL games have been pretty meh for me in the music department. This year's track list is full of music you'll most likely hear in an actual hockey arena, during goal celebrations and powerplays, etc. And some of the songs just plain rock. Lastly, if you get tired of the track list, you can always customize the tunes to play whatever is on your hard-drive.

I'm going to go through the main menu and try to write about most of the features, new and old. The first option is Play Now, which let's you jump right into a Battle for the Cup match, as well as an Online Versus Play button to get right into that if you want. This must be for those impatient people that don't care about what you can do with the game, they just want to get to a hockey game already.

Next up is Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT). This is probably my favorite new addition to the series, and I really hope it's relatively popular so they keep enhancing it with future entries in the series. HUT almost feels like a massive multiplayer online game. When you first start it up you pick a team name and abbreviation. You then are given a massive booster pack of cards, that's right, cards. They consist of arena's, coaches, players, and trainer cards. With these cards you create your team, while trying to keep chemistry as high as possible. You do this by putting these cards (players) together on different lines of your hockey team. You need to try to keep players together that are from the same team or league, and are in the correct position they should be in.

Once you've put your team together, you can use the trainer cards to boost up your players stats. Which increases their overall rating, making them better players. Each card has a contract though, and can only play so many games before their contract is up. Thankfully, you can also obtain contract cards to increase their contracts. The reason why I think this mode feels similar to massive multiplayer games is because of the online options. Not only can you play matches online, but you can trade and sell your cards online as well. There is an auction house where you can place bids on cards, buy out cards, or put your own cards up for sale. It all seems to work great, I've probably played this mode more than anything so far, it's quite addictive.

You can take your created team of hockey cards into single player or online matches. There are also tournaments as well, if you win so many games in a row you win a cash prize at the end. The currency in this mode is lamely called EA Pucks. With this currency you can buy cards online, place bids, as well as buy new booster packs to find new (and hopefully rare) cards.

Enough about the Hockey Ultimate Team mode. Next up on the main menu is the online EA Sports Hockey League. I wasn't able to participate in NHL 10's EA Hockey League (and so I missed out on all those trophies) but this year I've been invited to a team. The Ice Dogs. I haven't played a game yet, but I see we have a fair amount of active members and I'm hoping to play a game or two in the next week or so. I tried setting one up but there are a lot of options and things to figure out before getting into a game. I'll do it some other time I guess.

Be A Pro Mode is next on the list. This has been my favorite mode in the NHL series for the last couple years. You create yourself as a player, throw him into the NHL entry draft and see who picks you. Then play out their full career. Last year you just got to play a single hockey game with a bunch of nobodies before getting drafted. The better you did in that game, the higher you'd get picked in the draft. This year however, it's much more fleshed out. The OHL (Yeah Sarnia Sting!) is now included and so you actually play the playoffs for the Memorial Cup as your favorite Canadian Hockey League minor team. Excellent stuff. Your agent tells you how much experience points they expect you to need to get picked in the 1st round of the draft. So you play a bunch of games to try to win the Memorial Cup and then right after get drafted to a team. Also, I noticed that you play the pre-season games now, which is definitely something new to the series. Pre-season games are used to determine which players will play with who on the ice, which players will stay in the NHL, and which will be sent down to the farm teams. It seems to work pretty well as I found myself playing with some NHLers and a few AHL players as well. The coach was trying to see where we all fit together on the team, as well as who would stay in the NHL for that year. That's as far as I've got in the Be A Pro mode so far.

After Be A Pro mode is an option simply called "Game Modes". I'm not sure why some of these things are thrown in here, rather than on the title screen, perhaps they are less popular. Be a GM Mode is in here, which I was never a big fan of, but I might try the NHL 11 version of it eventually. Playoff mode, where you can just play a complete playoff run I believe. Season mode, same thing I'm guessing, but you play an entire season with a team. Tournament mode, where I'm guessing you can go as Team Canada and play for a medal. Create Play mode is here, where you can create your own plays, obviously. Practice mode, where I spend a lot of my time practicing 1-on-1 with my favorite players. And shootout mode, where you can play a shootout match.

Lastly I'm going to talk about the new additions that I've noticed in NHL 11. Some I've already commented on when I played the demo, but I've noticed a couple more things that are new and not really talked about much. Let me list off the features that are new to NHL 11.

  • Custom camera angles during game-play. Excellent addition to the series!
  • Sticks can break on the ice. Debris even get left behind
  • The hitting has significantly been altered. Hits are much more realistic this time around
  • Locking your controller to a certain position on the ice finally works, yay!
  • Faceoffs have been completely redone and work great, lots of control and options now
  • You can press R3 to do a double-cheek hip check
  • Pressing L2 while rushing with the puck gives you an extra bit of boosted speed
  • You can pass the puck either hard or soft depending on how long you hold R2
  • Doing the dekes with L1 work much better. They've also added a couple new moves
  • Disallowed goals! I've included a video that I recorded below as an example.

I'm pretty positive that I'm forgetting some things, probably some giant new additions that I'm used to now and so totally forgot. Most of it is there though I think. NHL 11 is a huge advancement over NHL 10. If you skipped last years, or weren't too happy with the changes they made, try NHL 11. At the very least give the free demo a try. I'm curious how they will enhance it for next year though, there doesn't seem to be any game-play missing anymore. I can't believe how far we've come from NHL 94, when I first started playing.

Did NHL 11 give you everything you wanted in a hockey game? What else could they add for next years game? Thanks for reading and if you have any thoughts at all, please comment below.

Edit: Also, I forgot to mention something interesting. NHL 11 (at least on the blu-ray version for PS3) it comes with a free 3-on-3 Arcade Game. Too bad I already own it though. Bought it a couple years back when it came out.