NHL 10 vs NHL 2K10 Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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Two ice hockey games – one renowned for its realism and depth, the other renowned for trying hard but never quite matching up. As both hit the market, we look at which is worth shelling out for and whether the tables have turned this year.

NHL 10

Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: EA Sports

As with almost all of EA’s sports titles, you can go into NHL 10 without expecting any dramatic new features or overhauls. EA’s approach is very much a gradual improvement, and this once again proves the case here. The game is based on NHL 09’s superb foundations, so you’re almost guaranteed a great game from the start. The worry is whether the new features – which can be counted on one hand, really – add or detract from last year’s offering.

First up is ‘Battle for the Cup’, a mode that is essentially a seven game series in which you compete for the Stanley Cup. Usually coming at the end of a winning season, successful playoff series and of course the Stanley Cup Finals, here you just jump straight into the latter. It’s one of those ideas that sounds better on paper, as actually playing in it and winning is very hollow compared to the time and dedication needed to go through the full season and win. Admittedly not everyone has the time or commitment to do this, and so skipping straight to the Finals might be seen as a welcome option by some.

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First-person fighting is another idea that might sound good, and can be for the first few times you use it – however, the novelty soon wears off and yet another ‘new’ feature will fall into disuse. Upon initiating a fight, the right analogue controls your punches, in a Fight Night style set up. Jerseys can be grabbed, punches blocked and dodged, and it all culminates in you getting sin binned (assuming you initiated the fight). Fun for the first few goes, but soon useless and redundant.

The ‘General Manager’ mode has been tweaked to include more scouting, hiring, trading and generally make the whole process deeper and more involving. For those who are interested in investing plenty of time, you can certainly get engrossed in this and build your team from the ground up.

Another welcome feature, and one that actually changes the gameplay, is board play. Forcing an opponent onto the boards around the ice – or being forced onto them yourself – results in a few more options of manoeuvring the puck. Kick it out to a team mate, shield it with your body, or if you’re attacking, attempt to steal it. It’s something that happens in real hockey, and it’s good to see it happening in NHL 10 as well.

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The controls in NHL 10 are, on the whole, well mapped out and intuitive. The NHL 94 control method is still there as an option, and while the shot stick is still great for veterans of the series, newcomers might find some of the controls, especially when it comes to defence, hard to pick up. Stealing the puck can be tricky – timing body checks will take some time to get used to, and lifting the stick isn’t always as effective as it might be. The difficulty here for new players might be off putting, but the controls, difficulty, and gameplay tendencies can all be tweaked.

Aesthetically things have been improved slightly, and the arenas and players look excellent. Commentary is unremarkable but decent, and the whole package is polished. While the new additions to the game vary in usefulness and value, NHL 10 achieves what some expected it couldn’t, and improves on NHL 09. However, it’s with lots of small touches, rather than revolutionary new features and modes.

9

.

NHL 2K10

Publisher: 2K Sports Developer: Visual Concepts

NHL 2K10 is once again faced with the challenge of toppling an EA Sports title from its throne. In the year of the series tenth anniversary, 2K Sports’ most recent effort certainly gives it a good go.

For starters, the game is great for people new to hockey. Simple and straightforward controls belie depth they offer, so there’s a great balance for hardcore players and people just wanting a quick pick up and play hockey game. Stealing – something that NHL 10 makes particularly tricky – is a great deal easier, and this makes for a more enjoyable experience. You’ll certainly have no trouble getting straight on the ice and into a game.

And this is where you’ll encounter a peculiar issue with NHL 2K10. Scoring goes from being overly easy and predictable to nigh on impossible, all within the space of one game. Often you can cruise down the ice, shoot straight at the keeper and see the puck sail in, again and again. Replay the game though, using the same teams and changing nothing, and you’ll see shots saved left, right and centre. Whatever strategy you try, the seemingly invincible keepers with thwart your every attempt, leading to much frustration and disbelief.

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Quite why this happens is anyone’s guess, but it certainly detracts from the experience. When you’re one-on-one with a goalie, and almost guaranteed to score, being denied by an unbelievable save over and over just would not happen. Team mates have improved AI and position themselves better, but when scoring is either too easy or too difficult, you won’t care.

Between periods you’ll have the option to ride the Zamboni machine (the machine that cleans the ice), setting you against the clock as you attempt to clean 100% of the ice. As with the fighting in NHL 10, it’s strangely enjoyable at first, but once you’ve fully cleaned the ice and seen what this little diversion is all about, you’re unlikely to return to it again. Thankfully skipping it and just getting on with the game is a quick and simple process.

The game’s menu system should also be noted, although not for a good reason. It’s a floating menu that’s accessible on every screen. There’s no main menu screen, just a series of blocks linked in seemingly-endless patterns that contain all of the modes, options and extras. It’s frustrating to navigate, and while it’s an interesting take on moving away from the classic menu screen, it’s diverting from something that worked fine into something that adds needless confusion.

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One area where NHL 2K10 really does shine, though, is in the online options. Here you can create full teams with other online players, compete in full leagues and participate in tournaments. For players who get bored with the AI opponents and want an extra level of deep and challenging hockey, here is the place to find it. Assuming you can get past the shooting issues in the game, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

The package as a whole isn’t as polished and deep as NHL 10, but its accessibility and fun factor certainly counts for something. It looks great too, and with online modes that extend the challenge and lifespan of the game, NHL 2K10 has come as close as its ever done to matching EA’s game.

7

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Verdict

Both series here offer great games of hockey. NHL 10 is the more polished, complex and enjoyable on the whole, but it can take a while for new players to get into it. Veterans of the series will have no problem though, and can pick up from where they left off with NHL 09. The new additions are small but reasonably plentiful, and amount to a fuller game with a few needless bells and whistles thrown in as well.

NHL 2K10 is a valiant effort, and still provides fun and challenge. The online options are excellent, and while the menu is more trouble than its worth, the accessibility for new players makes the basics easier to grasp. The problem with NHL 2K10 is that it still falls short in almost all areas when compared to EA’s game. That’s not to say it’s a bad game in itself, but rather that NHL 10 is almost undeniably the best hockey game there’s ever been, and it just can't match that.

Version tested: Xbox 360, PS3

Genre: Ice Hockey