Right on the cover of NHL 11, EA boasts that its NHL franchise has won “twenty-two sports Game of the Year Awards,” and it’s easy to see why. With each new iteration, EA’s NHL series continues to grow, providing gamers with the most accurate hockey simulation ever made.
This time around, EA’s big addition to the series is a new physics engine which allows for some bone crunching hits as well as broken sticks (which actually affect gameplay). While the new checking system may take NHL veterans some getting used to, it is worth the extra work. It’s hard to explain the primal sense of joy you get when you sprint head long into someone on the boards and see their body flop down against the ice as it would in real life. It truly is a sublime feeling. Along with this major overhaul, EA has also included a new, massive game mode dubbed Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT).
Essentially functioning as a fantasy hockey league (or the Madden Ultimate Team mode in Madden NFL 11), the HUT mode starts off with players getting a deck of cards. Each card represents one of the 4000 real players that span the 10 different leagues included in the game and it’s up to the gamer to make the best team out of the cards he or she is dealt. You can get more cards by earning in-game currency or dropping real money.
Personally, I found this mode extremely confusing, but that’s probably because I’m not much of a “stats guy” and never really venture into fantasy sports. This past weekend my old roommate (who is a fantasy sports nut) dropped by and had no problem picking up the HUT where I left off and making something productive out of it.
If you’re like me and the HUT mode isn’t exactly your thing, don’t fret. There is still plenty of game to warrant your $60. All the staple game modes from the previous NHL titles (Be a Pro, Season, Be a GM, Battle for the Cup, etc.) are included. I found that a majority of my time with NHL 11 was split between the Season game mode and the Be a Pro mode.
For those of you who haven’t played a NHL game, the Be a Pro mode is essentially a single-player campaign. You start out in the minors and work your way up to the NHL. After each game you earn experience points based on your performance. These points can be spend on improving various stats ranging from Body Checking to endurance.
When you actually play a game in Be a Pro mode, you only get to control your player. While this is an accurate representation of real hockey, it does kinda suck to have to sit out when your line rests up off the ice. If you haven’t played a NHL game in the recent years, I would highly suggest starting off with Be a Pro mode. Not only does it show you how each position is suppose to function on the ice, it also provides you with relevant feedback as to how you can improve your game.
There is a cool new feature in the Be a Pro mode that I should mention: you can now choose to start in the CHL and play through the Memorial Cup playoffs. What I really liked about this is that, much like in real life, you get drafted based on your performance in the minor league. While it may not be that different from the previous Be a Pro modes, it does allow gamers some freedom when it comes to creating their own narrative about their player.
One thing I noticed about NHL 11 is that it seems to favor a particular style of hockey playing. The game is much slower then previous iterations, lending itself to a more deke/dangle-heavy play style. Crashing the net and setting up screens will still help you, but I often found myself beating goalies on dekes more than anything else.
I’m a bit torn by this shift. I understand why EA made these changes because it allows for more direct control by the gamer, making you feel like you’re actually in control of the player. However, it’s a step in the direction of fantasy. Real hockey is a game of strategy and work. Sure there are the Ovechkin’s and the Nash’s who can deke like madmen, but 90% of real hockey is based on running plays and working the cycle. Regardless of this shift in play style, NHL 11 still provides gamers with the most accurate simulation of real hockey.
I should also mention some of the small things that EA included in NHL 11 that really resonated with me. For example, when I score at home with my beloved Columbus Blue Jackets, the game will play the same music that is played when the Jackets score in real life. While they don’t have the cannon firing yet, I wouldn’t put it past EA to include it in NHL 12.
Despite all my praise, NHL 11 is far from a perfect game. Fans of the series will undoubtedly notice numerous returning annoyances such as irrelevant replays, recycled announcer lines and (at times) atrocious AI. When I say the AI is atrocious, I feel like I need to defend my statement.
When playing solo versus a CPU, my AI controlled teammates will never be where I want them to. Now, this isn’t me not understanding how specific plays work. I play hockey in real life and have watched the sport my whole life. When I tell my team to crash the net, I expect them to get up in the goalie’s face, not dangle along the boards waiting to work the cycle. If I were a more patient man, I’d spend some time with the Create a Play mode and specifically detail what I want the AI to do. But considering it’s far too much work for such a little pay-off, I decided to stick to the online mode (where each player on the ice is played by an actual person).
In all reality, this online mode is where I found that I got the most value out of my game. You see, EA, as well as players, are able to set up weekly/monthly leagues for you to play in. These leagues can be anything from team versus team, with one gamer controlling each team, to six on six with each gamer controlling one specific player. If I had more friends with this game, I’d be amped to start up a real team and play with the same guys over and over again and developer some real strategies. Until then, I’ll keep on enjoying pick-up-games.
Up until this part of the review, I’ve been neglecting to mention how detailed the game is. New comers to the NHL franchise will be blown away by how gorgeous the visuals are. The best example of I can give on this is the ice. You see, when a new period starts the ice is pure and reflective; you can see the bottom of the Jumbo-tron, all the logos are crisp and bright, etc. As players skate around more and more, you’ll begin to notice the reflectiveness wearing away and the logos becoming more dull, much like they do in real life. One the period ends, and the Zamboni comes out, the ice is back to it’s beautiful self. EA’s attention to detail isn’t restricted to the visuals. In one of my first games of NHL 11 the other team scored by batting the puck out of the air and into the net. Much to my surprise, the refs called the goal “no good.” The game then proceed to show me a replay pointing out that the puck was above the crossbar of the goal when it was hit in, meaning that it doesn’t count. Needless to say I was in awe of this sort of attention to detail.
There is one thing that I think I should mention in this review, and that is the learning curve. If you haven’t ever played an NHL game, you shouldn’t expect to be able to pick up the controller and score a ton of goals. NHL 11 features a unique learning cure, in that not only are the controls going to be difficult to learn at first, but you also need to have a basic understanding of Hockey strategy. Now, I don’t mean this to scare people away from these games. After about an hour of playing, you should have a basic enough understanding to pull out a win versus the AI. Also, as I mentioned before, the Be a Pro mode does a pretty good job of explaining how each position functions, so If you start off with that you should have no trouble learning the game in about a day.
All in all NHL 11 is by far the most accurate hockey simulation out there. Despite the few problems I’ve had with the game, it’s always been an enjoyable experience. If you enjoy playing Hockey videos games, or ever just like watching the sport, you should consider picking up NHL 11. Not only will you have a blast playing the game, it will also help deepen your appreciation for what I consider to be the best sport ever made.
With reflective ice that degrades the more you skate over it, you'll be hard pressed to find a better looking sports game.
|How does our scoring system work?|
Despite slowing down the pace of the game, EA still has produced the most accurate hockey simulation.
Everything from the music in the arena to the ping of puck on post work towards an amazing representation of real life.
There are tons of games modes that are guaranteed to keep you occupied for a long time. Then you realize that there are online modes...
NHL 11 is by far the best hockey game out there: period.