By Joseph Phung
Score: 9.5 out of 10
Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (also available for PlayStation 3)
It has already been 20 years since the first EA Sports NHL game came out and along the way the series has experienced some ups and downs. For the past few years, though, the series has been on an upswing and with the release of NHL 11, it shows they’re No. 1 for a reason.
The biggest addition to NHL 11 is the new real-time physics engine, which makes every match feel different and even more realistic than before. The way the puck reacts now is unpredictable, so for example, you’ll notice the puck will sometimes bounce off a player’s stick when a pass is made. Also, with the new physics engine, every hit dished out will look and feel different, so even Don Cherry will be impressed.
Just like in a real match, receiving a hit or taking a wicked slapshot can break a player’s stick in NHL 11. When this happens, the play will continue and you can either kick-pass the puck to a teammate, have a teammate give their stick to you, or dash to the bench for a new one.
Adding to the realism is the brand new faceoff system, which the series has needed for some time. Players can still take a straight swipe for the puck, but sometimes it’s better to use the new options available like switching your player’s stick grip from forehand to backhand in order to improve your chances of winning the draw.
Another new faceoff strategy is to tie up your man on the draw, so you can kick the puck back to any of your defensemen or wait for your wingers to come in and provide support. While the new faceoff system is great, it would have been even better if faceoff warnings and violations were implemented. Perhaps in next year’s game they’ll add that.
A new mode added into NHL 11 is the Hockey Ultimate Team, which is fun and addicting to play through (read NHL 11 producer David Littman’s blog about Ultimate Team). Here, you’ll assemble your own team from the ground up and compete against other users online to determine who has the best team each month.
When you first create your team, you’ll be given a starter pack of hockey cards, which are comprised of real players from the American League, Canadian League and various European leagues. If you want to get better cards and acquire NHL players, you’ll have to purchase new card packs with the EA Pucks earned from the matches you play in this mode. You can also use the auction option to bid on cards other users put up for sale, too.
There’s some strategy involved when playing Hockey Ultimate Team as you’ll have to manage your team’s chemistry to find out which players work well together on each line. Most importantly, though, is deciding on how you want to build your team: do you want to win it all now with veterans or stock up on prospects and build a dynasty? The choice is yours.
The Be A GM mode returns from last year’s game and puts you in control of your favourite team with the goal of winning as many Stanley Cups as possible in 25 seasons. As GM, it’s important to complete tasks like drafting prospects, making trades and signing free agents that’ll help your franchise in the long run.
Free agency has received some attention this year with the addition of restricted free agents. So, you can give out qualifying offers to your players or even present an offer sheet to a player who you’re interested in signing, but be prepared to forfeit draft picks in return.
Another area receiving attention is the trade AI, which the past few years has produced too many unrealistic deals. Thankfully, this has been fixed in NHL 11 as you’ll now see more realistic transactions and fewer trades involving star players, too.
One area that could use some improvement is the simulation stats engine that still has its quirks. When simulating a season, I noticed too many players were having career years like Dustin Penner, who lead the league with 103 points. Also, a few unknown players were winning awards such as Adam Burish taking home the Selke Trophy over Pavel Datsyuk, which just wouldn’t happen in real life. Hopefully these issues will be fixed with a patch.
Even with the competition taking the year off, EA Sports could have released a sub-par hockey game and people still would have bought it. Fortunately, that’s not the case with NHL 11 as the team at EA Sports has produced the best hockey game for the series so far. The realistic gameplay along with the vast selection of modes to play will constantly get puckheads coming back for more.
Joseph Phung is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He’s also the founder of Canadiangamingdeals.com