NHL 11 Review

By Mike D'Alonzo - Posted Sep 08, 2010

Overall, EA Canada has done a ton with NHL 11. The presentation is gorgeous and the gameplay is top-notch from top to bottom. Hockey fans will find themselves playing this game for a long, long time, which is a good thing, since there's so much here to explore.

The Pros
  • Tremendous physics engine makes movement and hitting shine.
  • Complex controls made easy with excellent tutorial.
  • Top of the line presentation and depth.
The Cons
  • Ultimate Team is a little too nerdy for most hockey fans.
  • Aiming and scoring can be a little frustrating.

Hockey fans are notoriously hardcore, accumulating obscure knowledge of their sport like horders collect dead cats. Catering to them in the gaming world has, over the years, resulted in a mixed bag of success, as trying to capture the complexity of the sport can make the game impossible to play. Simplifying it can cause it to be almost comically easy, and result in games that are goalfests, which can be fun, but nothing like the sport on which the game is based.

I have been playing hockey games for years, and have yet to find anything as viscerally satisfying as playing Blades of Steel on the original NES...until now. EA Canada has really amped up the fun quotient with NHL 11, focusing on getting the balance right between gameplay and presentation, between difficulty and simplicity. The result is the most satisfying hockey videogame experience to date.

 



He shoots...He scores!


When you first start playing NHL 11, you will be asked to pick your player, position, and name, and then you will be led through a series of tutorials to show you how the complex control scheme in the game works. Good thing, because otherwise you'd be totally lost, especially if you're a novice. The good news, however, is that, once you get the hang of the control system, especially as pertains to face-offs (which have been totally overhauled) and fights (which are traditionally the most fun you can have playing hockey), the game feels intuitive and those complexities become second nature.

As in real hockey, however, it takes a pretty good amount of practice to actually score. You will get good looks from time to time, but the goalie AI is advanced enough to mean that you will need to get a fat rebound, a misdirection, or a well-placed one-timer to get it through the pads. This can be frustrating, but it's also a good thing. Goals shouldn't be too easy to come by in the world of NHL hockey.

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Old Time Hockey...

The presentation and depth of NHL 11 is second to none. Not only are all of the arenas in the NHL beautifully represented, but the game is called by hockey stalwarts Bill Clement and Gary Thorne to give it the feel of a real game (albeit one from a couple years ago, as Thorne no longer calls NHL hockey). The ice is gorgeous, and the graphics are excellent. They seem to have slowed down the action a bit to allow you to make moves easier, but it doesn't slow down the overall game.

The physics engine in NHL 11 has been totally rebuilt, making shots, hits, bounces, passes, and movement look better than ever before. EA has added the broken stick to this year's model, so you might end up playing someone with bare hands and nothing to do, essentiall a missle to launch at those with the puck.

 


 

Who's Between The Pipes Tonight?

For the first time, the Canadian Hockey League is presented here, and you can play for the CHL's Memorial Cup. Also, European hockey is not ignored, represented with cards for players in the Ultimate Team mode. Being a GM has never been more of a happy challenge, with depth at every conceivable position for you to manage and develop.

Speaking of Ultimate Team Mode, it's not much different from the same concept executed in Madden NFL 11, where you build a team based on cards and try and outplay those who have built similar teams. It's a little inside for people who just want to play hockey, and I still have a hard time believing that most people will get too deeply into it, but it's there for you if you want it.

 


 

Right Into The Back of the Net!

Overall, EA Canada has done a ton with NHL 11. The presentation is gorgeous and the gameplay is top-notch from top to bottom. Hockey fans will find themselves playing this game for a long, long time, which is a good thing, since there's so much here to explore. They have taken a great deal of time to pay close attention to detail, without detracting from the overall experience of gameplay.

NHL 11 is a win, pure and simple. If there is a better hockey game that has ever made it to market, I have yet to see it.