It's a shame the National Hockey League isn't that big in the United States. Every year since the 08 edition, the NHL series of hockey games has steadily improved year after year, consistently giving players the best hockey simulation possible. This year, EA Sports has added Madden's "Ultimate Team" mode to NHL 11's already impressive repertoire, and it looks like another winner.
What's it about?
NHL 11 is a hockey simulation that benefits from the fact that it is the only one available. Emphasis this year is on its online team-building mode and perfecting the shooting mechanics through the right analog stick.
Why Should I Care?
Because 2K Games is focusing its NHL attention on the Wii with NHL 2K11, EA Sports' hockey game is once again your only choice on the market. Thankfully, NHL 11 is once again more than a roster update. This year's game has more refined controls, better graphics, and more addictive modes to keep hockey fans salivating.
While the game isn't leaps and bounds over NHL 10 (or even NHL 09), NHL 11's smooth mechanics are immediately noticeable. Using the right analog stick, players in the ice have absolute control of their sticks. You can pull off smooth looking dekes making your way to the net, and it gives the player a whole lot more freedom. Shots can be made from all over the ice (though like in the NHL, they still aren't easy), and the game's new checking system ensures that the violence in the rink doesn't look old. On top of that, to add to the realism, sticks can now be broken, so you can have players skating around with nothing in their hands wreaking havoc on their opponents. While it's a welcome addition, and it doesn't happen all that much–it still happens more in the game than you'd normally see in a standard NHL contest.
As stated, one of the new modes that'll garner a lot of attention is the Ultimate Hockey Team mode. Those who have been following EA Sports games (namely Madden) should be very familiar with this new mode. The mode, in essence, combines fantasy sports with the thrill of being a general manager. Your roster lineup is dictated by your collection of player cards that can be earned by spending EA Sports Coins. These coins are accumulated by playing games. Your first set of cards, obviously, are going to be filled with weaker players in the league, and it isn't until you have coins in the thousands where you'll be able to afford more marquee players. Unfortunately, even when playing insane amounts of games, coins are still accumulated very slowly. So how do you get more at a faster rate? You spend actual money in the PlayStation Store or Xbox Live Marketplace, which is a real drag.
But if you can get by these fees, or play the game in large bunches, you should be able to rank in the leaderboards. At the end of every month, the best Ultimate Hockey League (UHL) players can take part in the playoffs. If you don't make it, you can keep playing the following month as a real-time calendar month is the equivalent of an entire season in the game. Mind you, the game will suffer from lag depending on your connection speed, and there usually always is lag when the puck is on any corner of the rink and when checks are made, sometimes slowdown occurs, which will give opposing players an advantage because it gives them time to put in random stick combinations to get themselves out of the situation.
Other than Ultimate Hockey League, all the modes from NHL 10 make a return, but almost nothing was done to improve either aspect. The game, however, benefits from the fact that none of them are broken and they still remain a joy to play.
What Makes NHL 10 Worth My Money?
If you're a hockey fan who insists on competing online to showcase your passion for the NHL, this game is your only choice, but it's also a great choice. The game is beautiful, the commentary is among the most interactive in any sports title, the new gameplay mechanics in NHL 10 are easy to learn and tough to master, the new Ultimate Hockey Team is insanely addictive (if you decide to go all out with it), and with the possibilities using the new engine, it seems like something new will be experienced with every game you play. Once again, EA Sports has provided us with the hockey game around.