Tuesday is one of the biggest days on an NHL fan's calendar: the release of NHL 10, the latest version of EA Sports' NHL series.
It goes without saying that a blogger as important and popular as I am would be sent an advance reviewer's copy. I had a chance to give it a try over the weekend, and the results were mixed.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. I'm not sure if this game was rushed onto shelves without enough time for testing, but there are a ton of bugs that simply should have been caught.
- Simming ahead several years in franchise mode can lead to unrealistic results. For example, I simmed ahead to 2011, and the game listed one of the teams as playing in "Phoenix".
- In Front Office mode, the "fire general manager" option is permanently greyed out for the New York Rangers.
- Somebody at EA needs to seriously prune the roster file to clear out guys who haven't even been in skates for years. This year's game still has guys like Jason Allison and Theo Fleury kicking around.
- While the post-whistle scrums are a nice addition, they don't feel realistic because announcer Jim Hughson fails to break into an overwrought lecture about how terrible they are.
- The financial AI is just terrible. Teams like Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia kept signing players to contracts that would clearly ruin their long-term salary cap situation.
- AI-controlled teams occasionally make roster moves they'd never make in real life. For example, in one sim I noticed the Leafs had signed another team's RFA, which of course is ridiculous since Brian Burke hates when teams do that.
- While experimenting with the GM mode, I attempted to trade a star player to Edmonton. The deal was accepted, but when I checked the Oilers roster immediately afterwards, the star player was there.
What major video game release these days doesn't come with a few cheats and easter eggs? Sure enough, NHL 2010 has its share.
- When you're prompted to enter your name on the opening screen, type in "Jim Balsillie" to unlock an extended slideshow of Gary Bettman giving you the finger.
- If you manage to win the Stanley Cup, hit "exit" before the handshake line finishes. When you enter the off-season, the game's musical soundtrack will be replaced by the sound of Red Wings fans crying. (Note: there is apparently no undo for this feature.)
- Enter your name as "Howard Berger" on the opening screen, and then sim a season. All 82 of your games will be scheduled during the month of November.
- Inspired by the legendary NBA Jam series, NHL 10 includes a hilarious "tiny mode" in which all the regular players on a team are comically shrunk down to a fraction of their normal size. To enable this mode, go to the Team Select screen and choose "Montreal Canadiens".
Now for the good stuff. As fans have come to expect, this year's version comes packed with new and enhanced features.
- The much-hyped "first person fighting" mode is every bit as good as advertised. When you throw a perfectly timed uppercut that connects with your unsuspecting opponent's face, you can actually see the blood splatter onto the cab's dashboard.
- The game includes an interesting new feature called "Ask Burkie". You can type in any hockey question, and a simulated Brian Burke will provide an answer. Unfortunately, due to an apparent programming error the screen lacks an "exit" button, and Burke just keeps talking and talking non-stop. Even removing the CD and unplugging the system doesn't help. I eventually had to burn my Xbox and bury the ashes in the backyard to get him to be quiet.
- In a neat bit of crossover promotion, the game will check your hard drive for any Resident Evil saved game files. If it finds any, it will replace the final zombie boss with Chris Chelios.
- The "Be A Player" mode is super realistic. In my first game against Toronto I lightly nudged one of the Leafs' skill players, and the game immediately cut to a full-motion video montage of my funeral.
- The all new board play is great fun. You can get a puck to an open teammate by using the new "kick-pass" button. In addition, when controlling Martin Havlat you can also use the "kick-groin" button.
- Players can now snatch a puck out of the air with their glove hand (note: feature does not apply to Andrew Raycroft).
- Finally, the game features an intriguing new mode in which two teams can play each other up to seven consecutive times, with the first team to win four games advancing on to play a different team. As a Leaf fan I thought this was really unqiue and creative, and hope the real NHL implements something similar in the future.
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