Review: NHL 2K10 (Sony PS3)

NHL2K10
Developer: 2K Sports
Publisher: Take Two
Genre: Hockey Game
Released: 09/15/2009

My first videogame was a hockey game. My first system was purchased to play that hockey game. I played EA’s NHL Hockey quite religiously, each iteration of the franchise being eagerly awaited by myself. I remember miraculously stumbling onto one version a week before it’s official launch date in a local comic book store of all places. So I was always on the lookout for my hockey fix.

Eventually that changed. Slowly the games got more complex and more like the real game as it was at the time. Boring. As they did so, I became less and less interested. When 2K created their version of the hockey franchise, I gave it a chance, but it too failed to grab me. As a result I’ve stayed away from videogame hockey for more than a few years. So I don’t know if this is just last year’s game with a new coat of paint or a complete revolution. I’m going to give it a review either way.

Modes:

As is common in most sports games that are anything close to respectable these days, 2K10 offers a large selection of gameplay modes. These include the standard quick play, season play and playoffs, and franchise mode which enables you to take command of your favorite team through successive seasons. Also included are the more arcade like games of pond hockey and Zamboni racing.

Graphics:

There are moments when 2K10 looks like a real champion, graphics wise. But then there are also points in the game where you think they gave it to the intern to finish.

On the good side, you have player likenesses. Many of the NHL’s biggest stars are recognizable. The rinks of the NHL, with their various noticeable landmarks, are faithfully modeled. From the giant octopus in Detroit to the oil derrick in Edmonton, all hanging where they are stored during play. Yet even though these props have been modeled and included in the game they don’t ever move. In real life the Oilers skate out onto the ice beneath that derrick. Here in the game it simply hangs from the roof and shoots fire during the otherwise generic intro.

Then you have the Zamboni driving. Now this is apparently a hold over from last years game, and I like it on the surface. It’s a nice change of pace to be able to just whip around the rink trying to cover as much ice as possible. But the character model for the driver is ridiculously poor looking. There is no excuse for something as bad looking as this showing up in a current generation game.

The rest of the game at least looks like it belongs in a game made this decade. I found at first that I didn’t think the game looked all that good. I had to see if I was right or if I was being unduly hard on the game. So I went and downloaded the demos for NHL 10 and NHL 2K9. I found the presentation in EA‘s offering to be much better, almost unfairly so, and even 2K9 looked more polished than this year’s counterpart.

One last thing concerning the graphics. During gameplay, in both single player and online multi, the game would suddenly drop a few frames, and then resume. This appeared to be completely random, but when it did happen it was very distracting.

Sound:

Once again there are good points and bad points to the sound design for 2K10. First off, the announcers do a quality job of sounding like they know what they are talking about. At least they do for the 20 lines they were paid to utter anyway. Every goal is scored because the goalie went into the butterfly position, which is usually a successful means of stopping the puck don’t you know. I kept listening to them long past the point where I would normally give up and mute them, just hoping for a new morsel of dialogue. Instead I simply got the same old lines.

Just as the announcers left much to be desired (at least in terms of how much dialogue there was), the music too was a mixed bag. Some of the track choices were peculiar. Hockey is generally presented as a fast paced sport, and to convey that with music you usually get rock or something equally as fast. Here there were tracks I would describe as elevator music-esque playing during the menus. Not all is lost on the music front. One piece of music managed to catch my ear and entertain. “Crowd Chant” by Joe Satriani is apparently making a return engagement from last year’s game, and I can see why.

Sound effects at least sound crisp and realistic. Slap shots are crisp, and players can be heard making realistic noises when body checked.

Control/Gameplay:

Due to NHL 09 winning our sports game of the year award last year, I did decide to give it a rent and see what it was like. It seemed quite impressive, but I found the lack of a speed burst option to be very much not to my liking. I was worried that 2K would take that and use it in themselves. I understand the argument that there is no speed button in real life, but I’ve grown used to having one. Thankfully 2K has come up with a worthy compromise that actually makes sense. Essentially your players have a stamina bar which is depleted when you make your characters skate hard during their shift. As their stamina is depleted they get slower and are more likely to lose the puck to defending players. If you lay off the gas though, they can catch their breath and carry on with the attack. It’s a nice change from the usual stamina type, where your players must go to the bench in order to recharge.

One thing I want to point out is just how impressed I am with how the game moves. It looks more like real life hockey than I’ve seen in a game before. The players move, for the most part, correctly. Goalies can’t move at warp speed from post to post anymore, and so even goal scoring looks more natural than I’ve seen it before. Unfortunately though that means you can get some really cheap goals using the right analog stick to deke the goalie.

Another plus in my mind, is the fact that you can actually set up a working power play. Send the puck to the cannon on the blue line and then wait for a screen to develop, pass it back and forth and then bam, wrist shot over the blocker side into the net. Passing isn’t perfect, I still pass to the wrong player more than I’d like, but I’ll take what I can get.

Online the game can be played in leagues or one on one for a season or a single game. While playing online I found it to be a seamless experience. It was just as good as the single player game, almost as if the guy was sitting right next to me. Naturally your connection will have a huge impact on this, but it’s nice to know that the net code is solid.

Replayability:

There are a number of gameplay types, as I mentioned above. Presumably a game where you can control your favorite franchise for years and edit rosters can give you an unlimited amount of replayability. Especially when the game is also online enabled. And it’s true. If you can put up with the problems this game has, you can play it for a very long time.

Balance:

There are four difficulty levels available for you to choose from when playing the game. My own personal level of frustration grew with each available difficulty, so I can only say that the balance works.

Originality:

This is the 10th anniversary of the NHL2K series, and there have been hockey games ever since the Atari 2600. So no, it’s not very original.

Addictiveness:

Honestly, it’s just not that exciting. It’s fun, but it’s not hookers and blow, you know?

Appeal:

Well firstly you have to be a hockey fan. This isn’t the game that is going to take your average person and turn them in a hockey fan.

Secondly, if you are a hockey fan, read Chris Bowen’s staggeringly in depth review of NHL 10 and then make your choice.

Miscellaneous:

2K, we’ve got to talk. The menu system. What on earth or beyond were you smoking when you decided that was a good idea? Making me control the menu with the right analog stick? There was no need to complicate things to that extent. All I ask for is a clean menu with understandable achievements for each of the options available. I’m sure you felt the pressure to make things look new or different, perhaps in response to our very own originality score here at Diehard Gamefan. If so, I apologize. I’ll speak to the management about dropping that part of the system. You on the other hand must promise to never again subject the world to something that needlessly difficult again.

Next, I would think that a game with access to the internet would allow you as a player to connect and download the most up to date rosters for the teams in the league. Not so. Or perhaps it is there and I just couldn’t find it in the menu options.

The Scores:
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Good
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Above Average

Final Score: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary

The gameplay is certainly enjoyable once you get past the minor flaws and turn off the announcers. I don’t really know if it’s good enough to make me rethink my abandonment of the genre though. Rent before buying.

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