I’m going start this review with full disclosure – I’m not a hockey fan, and up until now I have only really dabbled in previous hockey games. So I found myself in the position of having to learn all about this sport in order to effectively review NHL 11 – suddenly my evenings were filled with offsides, face-offs and icing (which shockingly doesn’t come with cake).
From the off it’s clear that this is an EA Sports title – it’s flash, brash and loud, assaulting your senses before you’ve had a chance to press the start button. When you do press start you are greeted with an incredibly in-depth tutorial mode, which is actually very daunting but definitely needed. In this tutorial you learn the basics such as the various types of shots, dekes, what to do when pressed against one of the side boards and how to fight…yes you read that correctly, proving the old joke that “I once went to a fight and a hockey match broke out” (thanks to Kovacs for that one).
Play a match and one can’t help but feel impressed by the quality of the physics engine in NHL 11. There doesn’t seem to be any scripted responses to shots as the puck pings about the rink whilst being hunted down by a pack of armoured nutcases. This unpredictability adds an immense sense of excitement to proceedings, as goals can literally come from anywhere and in some case off anyone – an example of this would be having my shot blocked by the goalie, only for it to rebound off one of the defensive line straight into the net. GOOOOOAL!
Player control is smooth, with the left analogue stick controlling player movement, and the right controlling stick movement. Flicking up on the right stick will result in a fairly weak shot, whilst pulling back then flicking up on the right stick results in a powerful shot. Once you have made a shot, you can choose a direction by using the left stick. The right trigger passes the puck to the nearest team mate, but you have to be careful as long passes are frequently intercepted, or run out of steam and slow to a crawl. Needless to say this is the tip of the iceberg, if I were to do a rundown of all the controls I would be here all day – so what I will say is that once you have mastered them, the controls work very well.
Your computer controlled team mates are a hit and miss affair – sometimes they will impress you with swift movement and clever plays, and then they will go and ruin it by forgetting to actually shoot and instead just skate around the goal. You can control how they go about things though – there are various options you can change on the fly such as ‘aggressive’ or ‘defensive’. The opposing team have no such A.I problems though – stick it on ‘pro’ difficulty and they are ruthless, and that’s not me being dramatic. My first experience of pro resulted in a ten – nil defeat; I was torn apart and made to look like a dog trying to run on a polished floor.
The front end of NHL houses an impressive array of modes to try. The first is ‘Hockey Ultimate Team’ – which is like a playable version of ‘Top Trumps’. You are given a pack of cards, and each card has a player on who has their own individual stats. Earning ‘pucks’ will allow you to buy more packs of cards, with (hopefully) new players in to add to your team, or stat upgrades for your existing players. The eventual aim is to build an ultimate team. If you no longer need a card you can trade it, and there is an online auction house where you can bid on a card that takes your fancy. It’s a very good feature, but you are going to have to spend big to create a good team – packs of cards costs thousands of pucks, which are earned slowly. Of course the option is there to pay real cash to buy pucks.
‘Be a Pro’ mode allows you to create a character, name him, pick a position and then try and work your way through the ranks. This mode gets +1000 points for actually having the name ‘Lee’ in its database – hearing the commentators say it never gets old. In all seriousness though Be a Pro is really for the hardcore hockey fans, and I found it to be fairly boring as you skate about waiting for a pass, or watch from the sidelines.
If Be a Pro is for the hardcore, then ‘Be a GM’ mode is for the insane. Stepping into the shoes of a team general manager, you are in charge of sorting out drafting new players, contract negotiations and salary caps. It is incredibly in depth and requires a good knowledge of the sport to get the most out of it.
Online multiplayer is something I didn’t manage to spend that much time with. What I did experience was a lag free, humiliating affair as I was utterly trounced time and time again. Some of the achievements/trophies are only awarded after hundreds of online wins – I shall never see them. Be warned – NHL 11 is an ‘Online Pass’ game – meaning that if you pick it up second hand you will have to buy a code to unlock the online modes.
The game’s presentation is what you’d expect from EA. The graphics range from ‘very good’ to ‘absolutely outstanding’, and the animation is spot on. Matches are presented in the style of a sports TV show, which adds a real authenticity to proceedings. Commentary is fantastic and never grates, and the noise from the crowd really adds to the atmosphere.
- Deep as an ocean
- Wealth of modes
- Responsive controls
- Fantastic presentation
- Team mates occasionally a bit dense
Well what can I say? NHL 11 is an absolutely fantastic game that will provide hockey fans with literally hundreds of hours worth of gameplay. If hockey is your thing then pick this up, if it’s not but you want something different then I highly recommend trying it.