Reviewed: October 2, 2009
Released: September 15, 2009
Well, here we are again. This time of the year is what every hockey fan looks forward to... NHL season is underway, the NHL TV package is free for a month, and EA and 2K Sports have released their competing hockey games!
“It's a great day for hockey” - Bob Johnson
2K has a lot of catching up to do. It didn't used to be that way. Just a few years ago, 2K had the best hockey game by far. They had the best graphics, best hockey 'feel', plus a ton of classic teams to satisfy any old school hockey fan. My, how things have changed. When you start NHL 2K10 you will once again be greeted by a totally revamped user interface. I didn't think it was broken last year... or the year before... but here we are again. This year 2K is trying out a sort of pseudo telephone interface where you move the stick to the desired button. It again takes some getting used to, but why do we have to do this every year? 2K has other game issues it should be worried about.
There are some welcome changes in NHL 2K10. The gameplay mechanics have been enhanced significantly. The A.I. has been completely rewritten. The number of little in-game tweaks is amazing. You can run into the refs, knock someone over the boards, and the general player animations have changed dramatically. Players can shoot even if they are on the way falling to the ice.
The little details such as flashy intros different in every arena and all the player animations really don't make up for a flawed player system. It's pretty clear that 2K is trying to straddle the fence with their NHL franchise. Their focus seems to be more on the Wii version, which uses all the latest controllers and has a new control scheme. We 360/PS3 gamers appear to be getting very little attention from 2K. I guess 2K is happier on a platform where they have no competition.
NHL 2K10 has plenty to like in the details. But the overall gameplay is just wrong. Back in the 1980's there was an arcade foosball type game called Super Chexx Dome Hockey. They had the USA vs. Russia and you'd move these sticks to move your player. That's what NHL 2K10 feels like. The players kind of glide on the ice and the puck flies around like an arcade game. That's fine I guess, if you want an arcade game. But it seems like Visual Concepts doesn't know what it wants this game to be... it feels like an arcade game but has tons of simulation game features.
Game modes include Practice, shootout, Pond Hockey, Mini-Rink, Season, Franchise, and Playoffs. The pond and mini-rink games are basically a good way to practice or an easy way for the kids to play. The only major change in the other modes is the addition of Franchise co-op play. You can now do co-op play in Franchise mode. Other new features in Franchise mode include a contract and free agency system. There is also improved roster management.
The only place where 2K clearly beats EA is in the area of customization. When creating a team you can type in whatever name you wish. When picking a team logo you have a choice of 20 generic logos, all 30 NHL logos and another 20 classic logos – even the 1993 Whalers.
Online play hasn't changed much. The interface is a little more seamless in that you don't have to specifically go into online mode. Instead you just pick “online leagues” and either create or join a team. It's all fairly painless, but the reality of actually finding people playing NHL 2K10 is another story. I could never fine 11 other people to get a full game going.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was going to the team selection screen. 2K used to have the most phenomenal list of classic NHL teams and international squads. Last year they cut a few of the International classics teams such as the 1980 USA and Russian Olympic teams... and I won't even go into their exclusion of the 1987 Canada Cup teams. I thought 2K would try to pile more teams on to differentiate themselves from EA's game. But instead they took them all out. Now all 2K has are all the 30 current NHL teams, 2 NHL all-star teams, 16 current International teams, and an in-house 2K team. That is pathetic. EA has the current NHL and IHL minor league and several European leagues.
Graphics have significantly improved from last year. Not only have the overall arena introductions drastically improved, nearly all player animations have been upgraded to rival EA's level of detail. The biggest improvement is in the details on the ice. Player likenesses are easily recognizable, and their on-ice actions are fun to watch. You can check someone over the boards into the player bench, knock down a referee, and even shoot while you are sliding on your backside. The level of little details in NHL 2K10 is impressive, but EA still feels like real hockey. NHL 2K10 looks like hockey but it still feels like an arcade game.
Announcers in NHL 2K9 are once again Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda (courtesy of the San Jose Sharks). They are much less repetitive this year, which is a very welcome repair on 2K's part. The announcers do a good job handling a little over the top commentary, however EA just has the better duo in Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. They just make the game sound real. 2K can't touch this.
Overall NHL2K10 pushes more toward the dramatic end of a pseudo NHL TV broadcast. It has heavy voiceover introductions and arena fireworks and light shows. It's quite a spectacle, but it just doesn't quite raise the tension level when you're in a playoff clinching game tied 3-3. The gameplay, graphics and sound have to come together to achieve greatness and Visual Concepts just isn't there yet (again).
Visual Concepts does try to pack a lot of things into NHL 2K10. But the majority of them seem to be features that very few use. 2K does have the sports ticker which is great for any real sports fans. Also included are the 2K Share and Reelmaker where you can create and share your highlight film. There's also the unique Zamboni race. There currently isn't anything to download on Xbox Live. That's another disappoint with 2K. Previous years have brought at least some NHL themes for the Xbox dashboard, but so far, nothing. There's just not much here to keep me playing this game.
There are 50 achievements available for a total of 1,000 points. 2K took a different route this season and treated them similar to a PS3 in that there are team themed trophies. You get the Thrashers Trophy for cleaning 95% of the ice with the Zamboni... Avalanche Trophy for winning at home in a sold out arena... they even have classic achievements like sweeping the Stanley Cup Finals like the 1982 Islanders. They just don't have the classic team to play to do that.
2K chose to bring NHL 2K10 out at the price of $49, which is ten bucks less than EA's NHL 10. If 2K didn't have any competition NHL 2K10 would be a good game. It is a good game. It's just not great like EA's NHL 10. So do yourself a favor and spend the extra $10 on a great game.
NHL 2K10 is another case of “two steps forward, one step back.” Big changes for the better in graphics and customization are offset by arcade style gameplay and the removal of all the classic teams from last year. NHL 2K10 had such great potential, but again is ruined by a severe lack of vision at 2K Sports and Visual Concepts.