NHL 2K10 Review (Xbox360)

“You get paid more money than god and you can’t even squeeze the goddamn puck!?” Shouted with fervent gusto at the one and only ice hockey game we’ve ever attended (Toronto Mapleleafs versus Colorado Avalanche, thanks for asking), this very same criticism could seemingly be levelled at NHL 2K10, a game that promises so much but fails to wholly deliver on that initial promise. While the above quote may seem like an abstract, even nonsensical or tenuous analogy, an inability to ‘squeeze the puck’ is something NHL 2K10 never quite manages to avoid. Let us explain…

NHL 2K10 is another solid entry in the annually updated series, reminding us of EA’s NHL games before they adopted twiddly stick controls and refined the gameplay to a reflective, icy shine. And while 2K has put together a good ice hockey title, the problem is that it still plays much like EA’s series did years ago, which makes it feel decidedly outdated.

It's all about gaining control of that little burnt biscuit.

Even though it had been dropped on the floor, competition for the last Oreo was fierce.

Admittedly, this familiarity initially endeared us to NHL 2K10, the action proving immediately accessible from the off, with no need to spend time adjusting controller configurations to suit our preferred style of play. But then again, you know what they say about familiarity and contempt…

EA’s NHL 10 initially irritated us for failing to deliver a conventional and intuitive control system, with the lack of a speed boost and decidedly muddled buttons conspiring to confound and frustrate. But where NHL 10 eventually won us over with its inherent depth and intricacy (and classic alternate controls), 2K10 is business as usual with tweaked AI and improved puck control being the most significant touches to this year’s edition, taking pride of place on the back of the box, Meh. Being able to drive the zamboni around between periods doesn’t really count as an innovation in our book either, mainly because it’s a bit rubbish. Again, meh.

NHL 2K10 doesn’t really attempt to shake up the series’ established formula in any way, happily ploughing the same well-worn furrow it has been for several iterations on current-generation platforms. Yet despite all this, 2K’s ice hockey title offers a genuine alternative to the more realistic trappings of EA’s own NHL franchise. NHL 2K10 is undoubtedly the more casual of the two games, with that immediately familiar control system extending a warm invite to anyone with even a modicum of previous experience playing sports games. Even when playing with friends, there was no need whatsoever to fiddle with set ups prior to a game.

Pre-game atmosphere is always elaborate - just like the real sport.

Surely there's a fight about to break out here. Scrap! Scrap! Scrap!

Passing, player switching, dekes, slap and wrist shots are all logically mapped to the controller’s face buttons, whereas a speed boost is on the right trigger exactly where you’d expect it to be. As a traditional control system, it’s utterly intuitive, although in adhering to the same tried and trusted layout, it lacks the flexibility and tactile feel of EA’s ever-evolving scheme which increasingly makes use of the patented ‘Skill Stick’.

NHL 2K10 still pushes all the right buttons though, featuring a comprehensive list of varying game types such as season play, online leagues and tournaments as well as pond hockey and exhibition matches. The usual host of team and player customisation features are fantastically detailed and in-depth offering a whole raft of options to play with. And although all of the game’s features are still presented using the same clumsy menus as before, there’s no faulting the overall presentation with its slick visuals and excellent commentary.

For those resistant to change, NHL 2K10 proves to be just the ticket for relatively uncomplicated, immediate ice hockey action. Essentially, players seeking something with a little more impact, will more than likely choose NHL 10 in a face-off between the two titles. There’s plenty to like about NHL 2K10, but it simply doesn’t push the envelope far enough over last year’s iteration.

While there’s a more than adequate array of modes and features to be enjoyed in NHL 2K10, EA’s latest effort virtually outstrips it in almost every conceivable department, body checking its rival into the boards. Think of 2K10 as a more accessible arcade-style experience however, and you can’t go far wrong.

The guys loved to watch Keith dance.

Getting that close to goal just seems unfair.

Just don’t go expecting too much depth beneath NHL 2K10’s layer of impeccably polished ice - this is hockey by numbers, failing to reach the high watermark you’d have hoped would commemorate the series’ ten year anniversary.

NHL 2K10 talks a good game with it’s brilliant TV-style presentation and is almost every bit as comprehensive as its competitor, but when it comes down to the clutch, 2K can’t quite seem to ‘squeeze it’ where it really counts.

And we still can’t get that analogy to fit…

Never mind.

Top game moment: Being able to pick up a controller and play a quick match without having to mess around in the control menu. We’re looking at you NHL 10.