In 2008, EA emerged as the winner over 2K in the yearly battle between hockey franchises, and this year it's no different. NHL 2K10 comes up with a good effort, but ultimately doesn't execute where it counts.
- Slick new animations
- Awesome presentation
- Unlimited setting customization
- Gameplay has no flow
- Too much animation stun
- No real sense of puck physics
Every September, the ice starts to freeze and skates become laced just in time for hockey season. In 2008, EA emerged as the winner over 2K in the yearly battle between the franchises, and this year it’s no different. NHL 2K10 comes up with a good effort, but ultimately doesn’t execute where it counts.
Better Than Being There
NHL 2K10’s presentation is the first thing that stands out when playing. Everything from the arena lighting, team intros, main menus, to the soundtrack is superb. Visual Concepts’ hockey series has always been on top of its game when it comes to making a virtual game of puck look like the real thing, and this year is no exception. Between periods, an in-studio pundit will break down the stats and highlights, which is a nice touch. On the ice, replays are done very well; after the game, there’s even individual highlight reels for every player and the three stars. Very cool.
There are also a ton of options for everything from puck friction to goalie AI. In fact, almost every visual and gameplay option has a slider that can be adjusted to make things just right. The amount of customization available in NHL 2K10 is nearly unparalleled.
While the atmosphere may be right, the character models are not. With huge heads and tiny shoulders, the players on the ice sometimes resemble a pee-wee hockey team. Why are the goalies so small in comparison to the nets? Player proportions are off to a degree that makes them creepy, and the refs look scary, too. The uncanny valley makes several appearances in different aspects of the visuals.
The Bad and the Ugly
Unfortunately, there are some serious gameplay issues that can’t be fixed with sliders. New this year are additional player animations for checking, being checked, shooting and scoring. It’s pretty neat to see Pavel Datsyuk score from one knee as he’s falling, but that’s about the extent of the benefit they provide. The new hitting animations cause a lot of character stun, which means even if you avoid a check you won’t be able to change direction, pass, shoot, or do anything until the game decides to free up your skater. The stuns lead to a lot of frustrating missed opportunities for shots or dekes as you mash away on the buttons only to have nothing happen. Sometimes the avoided check will even cause your player to spin around and start heading in the opposite direction up the ice. Additionally, there’s a fair amount of input lag when shooting or passing. The game isn’t very responsive, so you’ll have to get used to playing a second ahead of what’s happening. These two problems compounded together make a lot of games downright infuriating to play.
There’s also something odd about player skating, too. Players seem to stop once they receive a puck or you switch to them on defense, and starting up again puts them into a herky-jerky wheelspin. It completely ruins the flow of the game, since simply moving is a stop-start affair with no fluidity. The problem is especially noticeable when combined with the defensive AI. In my first game out of the box, I got no less than four breakaways. The defense is constantly and stupidly getting beaten by pinching into the zone at all the wrong moments, struggling to get back up to speed, and leaving the puck carrier wide open up the ice.
Online, the game works fine, and it’s really easy to jump into a ranked match. In an effort to stay competitive, NHL 2K10 also sports custom teams this year. While there’s no fancy shell that ties it all together, it’s still possible to invite buddies to your team and play for leaderboard position. There’s room to expand this feature next year, as it could be a worthy competitor down the line. Where this mode really excels is in uniform customization. Team makers can design their color scheme, jersey style, and pick from a nice selection of pre-designed logos that all feel very hockey-ish. EA take note.
Two Minutes for Disappointing
NHL 2K10 isn’t a bad hockey experience, but it’s not up to where it could be, quality-wise. The new animations look great, but they hamper the gameplay and that’s ultimately the most important part. The game is $10 cheaper than NHL 10 and has some new features, but there’s little reason why anyone would pick it instead of EA’s superior offering, given the choice. The team at Visual Concepts has some serious catching up to do for next year, as they are currently being outpaced by the other hockey game on the market. There’s work to be done on this title to bring it back up to the greatness it once held. Here’s hoping for next season.