NHL 10 Review (PS3)

Another year, another slew of sports updates filled with reams of all-new features vying for your attention and a chunk of your cold, hard cash. We’ve already reviewed the latest FIFA and blathered on about how it compares with closest rival PES, so in the interests of breaking precedent, we’re not going to ramble on about how EA Canada’s NHL 10 compares with NHL 2K10, because we’ll be reviewing 2K’s competing title very soon.

NHL 09 was widely acclaimed as the finest ice hockey game around, despite a glitch that enabled you to cheat. Instead, for NHL 10 there’s a new feature where you can purchase equipment that boosts your player’s attributes via Xbox LIVE Marketplace or the PlayStation Store. So, now you can buy your cheats at a modest price. Kind of.

"Pull my finger!"
"Pull yourself together, Dave. She’s not worth it."

Anyway, glitch or no glitch, it didn’t stop the game from scooping awards left right and centre, garnering huge critical praise for it’s impeccable representation of the slippery sport. And so, one might ask, where can the franchise go from here? NHL 09 pretty much nailed the hockey sim, so all NHL 10 can really do is refine and polish, right? Well, yes actually. But the degree of lustre that’s been lavished upon the latest iteration is immense.

The ice is shinier, the likenesses are more accurate, the realism quotient has been amped up considerably and a glut of spanking new game modes have been crammed in. Yet having neglected to play an NHL title since EA shook up the control system, mapping the shooting and body checks to the right stick - the revamped ‘Skill Stick’ - it took us some time to reacclimatize to gracefully gliding across the rink like a puck-juggling angel.

The absence of a sprint button is the most jarring change, your inability to muster an additional speed boost to blast past an opposing player when you’re going for goal takes some getting used to. Having pass and change player mapped to the right trigger just feels plain wrong too, so if you’re anything like us - that is stuck in their ways and resistant to change - you’ll want to switch the controls straight over to ‘classic.’

Using the classic configuration, the controls seem far more intuitive. The Skill Stick is still available should you decide to resort to it for precision dekes and shots, but you have slap and wrist shots mapped to the face buttons to launch hair-trigger attempts at goal on the occasions you forget the stick is there, which actually happened to us fairly often. So, classic it is for us then, but you might find that surrendering control to the Skill Stick is a preferable option if you’re willing to master the art of managing the triggers to pass and push the puck around manually.

That’s the controls covered then, but what of the core gameplay experience? Once you get used to the fact that you’re bereft of a sprint button (yes, that again), everything begins to fall into place. There’s perhaps an over reliance on utilising the shot stick, but the mechanics become so instinctive over time, you wonder how EA didn’t think of implementing the system during the previous console cycle.

"Wait! I dropped my contact lens!"
"Quick! Look behind you!"

NHL 10 boasts the same slick presentation that EA demand from all of their sports titles, which runs deep throughout the entirety of the product including the brand new game modes. Battle For The Cup Now, Playoff and Season Modes join the swelling ranks of game types in NHL 10, rounding out a hugely generous package that should sate even the most ravenous ice hockey fan’s appetite for a good puck.

The sheer amount of options available is staggering, catering for every facet of the NHL season, from exhibition games to tournaments, full seasons and high-pressure cup events. As if that weren’t enough, there’s the now standard Be A Pro mode, heaps of online stuff and more customisation options than you can shake a taped-up, bendy stick at.

While for us, the NHL games of old will always represent a high watermark for the series, (gives us the original 1991 EA Hockey on a Mega Drive cartridge any day), we have to concede that NHL 10 is undoubtedly the finest ice hockey sim to grace consoles in recent years. Our mates accustomed to the series circa 1991-2002, hated it with a passion, cursing the controls (yes, them again) and the Skill Stick (we think there was some pad abuse going on) as their caveman-like attempts to master it consistently failed.

We might have agreed with them too had we not persevered and got to grips with the game properly. Ultimately, NHL 10 emerges as a supremely playable ice hockey sim that stands out as one of the most comprehensive sports games currently available. Hell, even the fights are a laugh, played out in first-person so you can look your opponent in the whites of his eyes as you pound his face into ground beef.

Wonderfully gratifying if you have the wherewithal to ‘stick’ with it (Ha! Geddit?), NHL 10 offers the most accomplished game of ice hockey you’re ever likely to play. Honing the established game mechanics to such a high standard leaves us wondering what areas they’re likely to improve upon for the inevitable NHL 11, but for now we’re more than happy enough with the clear effort that has gone into perfecting what was an already fantastic game.

NHL teams not your bag? There’re loads of other leagues as well as international teams to be found in NHL 10.
The seldom seen, ‘sliding-on-the-knees’ shot.

NHL 10 will likely take a fair bit of time to master before you’ll feel truly comfortable playing it, the controls (yes, yes, again! I know, I know!) being the most divisive issue we encountered when trying to enjoy the game with friends. More time was spent fiddling in the control settings menu than actually getting on with the on-ice action, which speaks volumes of a title that prides itself on such an innovative system.

Given adequate time though, NHL 10 easily has the potential to join FIFA 10 in your collection of most played sports games. You’ll be slapping the burnt biscuit all over the ice like a pro, laughing your ‘face-off’ in no time.

Top game moment:
Discovering the classic controller configuration and finally getting to grips with NHL 10’s ubiquitous Skill Stick.

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