NHL 09 Xbox 360, PS3 Review

My interest in most American sports always seems to have started with a video game first. The NFL is a great example, as I always failed to understand what it was about by just seeing bits and piece on TV. Then, about ten years ago, I grabbed some old N64 NFL game from a bargain bin for about £5, and ended up learning most of the rules simply because I played that game to death. In fact, I playing it so much so that I ended up having to do the old “blow in the cart” trick to get it to work.

However, to be honest I am still not fully up to spec on the rules of Ice Hockey – which is probably not going to please aficionados of the sport that will be reading this review. But still, I find the sport interesting, and always end up playing some of the available games to some extent each year. Because of this, and even with this limited knowledge I feel confident in saying that NHL 09 is one of the best virtual recreations of the sport as of yet.

There are many reasons the game should receive these plaudits, but for the most part it is simply due to how highly refined the game is. Just about everything feels right. The controls are silky smooth, and work with you at all time. Almost everything in regards to how you control the puck is mapped to movements of the right analog stick, as is many of the defensive moves as well. When this initially may seem to over simplify things, it instead makes the game feel highly realistic. If you ever lose the puck, concede a goal, or just mess up in some way, then it is always your fault because you lost concentration for a split second. On the flip side if you make a clever pass, set up a complex move, or score a goal, it should always be because of your ever improving skill. More so, because of this excellent control scheme scoring a goal is usually very gratifying.

With these controls in tow, Be a Pro mode is the game’s stand out offering, giving players something different to break up the usual team vs. team affair that are norm for sports games. The mode itself is very similar to the Fifa 09 offering of the same name, letting you take on the role of a single player – which can be create in your own image should you so wish.

The game urges gamers to try this mode to right from the get go, as the first thing you are asked to do when you start the game is to create a player for use in Be a Pro. Once you are all set up, you will then be placed in a low-tier affiliate of one of the big NFL/AFL teams, and start to work your way up. Thankfully, if you have no idea where you should be on the ice, or are just a bit to over-active and find yourself rushing about everywhere, then a blue arrow pops up on screen to tell you where your player should be to offer the greatest help to you teammates. Because of these excellent touches, you could very well exclusively play this mode for the entirety of your time with the game – and have a hell of a lot of fun dong so.

In terms of presentation the game is high up there with EA Sports’ other efforts. The menus used are exactly the same layout as FIFA 09, so it will be very easy to navigate if you are in any way familiar with that game. On the rink, the spectacle of the sport is portrayed excellently too, with quality graphics and audio. To be honest the graphics are not in the same league as FIFA or Madden, with a few glitches here and there, and a few low quality textures used, but it is still impressive nonetheless. Audio is more on par with the above named games, with the commentary being particularly impressive, and honestly insightful in a few places.

In the end, probably the best remark I can make about the game is that it is one of more accessible available from the selection of EA Sports branded titles, and as a result of this, it’s probably one of the most fun to play.  It should be fun for just about everyone regardless of their skill level or knowledge of the sport. Even if this is your first time being exposed to the sport there is fun to be had, and on the other hand, there are also enough varying modes and little tweaks that should bring a smile to experts faces as well.

8 out of 10