NHL 09 Xbox 360 Review

May 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

EA’s NHL series has been recreating the sport of Ice Hockey for 18 years now, and if you dislike the cold and the knocks that come with the real life sport, then EA have long offered this alternative method of playing the stick and puck sport, one which is not only safer, but can also be played in a warmer environment, that environment being the inside of your TV screen (it must get really boiling in there).

Like many EA Sports games the NHL series is one that continues to improve with each annual update. Last year the AI got smart enough to pick up on ways to combat your actions and deking was also introduced, amongst other things, it was all enough for this very website to give the game a glowing review. Anyway, perhaps I should start writing about this years, as tradition goes, no one cares about the old one now that there‘s a new one.

Firstly, lets get down to one of the major first points of any good game (no you shallow people it’s not the graphics I‘m speaking of) that being the controls. Since EA decided to make use of the skill stick in the 2007 game the controls have required very little change, only refinement. Fast forwarding to 2009 (the game not the year) once again and the virtual hockey stick can now be used defensively, allowing you to block passes and to employ the use of the stick lift. Other uses of the hockey stick include new moves such as one handed dekes, flip dumps and an improved poke check, all of which comes together to make an already authentic ice hockey game even more authentic.

If you’ve grown frustrated with all the changes that EA have made to the controls in recent years, then you’ll be delighted to learn that NHL 09 has an option (NHL 94 controls) that allows you to play with a more basic set of controls, employing the use of the face buttons rather than the obsessive use of analog sticks that EA has become so renowned for (I‘m certainly not complaining about this). It’s a nice option to have, and whilst the skill stick is popular and intuitive enough, there’s some people that may, for whatever reason, want a more simplified game.

Speaking of the game, new this year is the Be a Pro mode (FIFA players will be familiar with this) which allows you to take control of a single player out on the ice. You can either create your own stick wielder (you’ll be given the opportunity to do this as soon as you boot the game up for the first time) or take over the career of a real life professional as you attempt to contribute to the success of your team. If you opt to create a player from scratch, you’ll begin your career in the American Hockey League and success will eventually see you getting noticed enough to become a part of one of the NHL teams. If you want a cheeky shortcut to the big leagues, going with a real life and established professional is the way to go.

When you’re actually playing a game in Be a Pro, by default the camera is obviously pretty close to the action. Like FIFA, it’s also possible to instruct your team-mates to make a pass or to take a shot at goal, as without this option it could have perhaps resulted in frustration if the AI just wasn’t doing what you wanted it to. During intervals you’ll find out what you are doing wrong and what you are doing right, and you’ll have a dynamic grading system which tells you if your positioning is up to scratch, how good of a team player you actually are, as well as your stats.

Your player will gradually grow over time, with stat upgrades being awarded to you to distribute to certain areas of his game. The amount of points you are awarded differs on your chosen position, therefore if you choose a sniper for example, you’ll most likely earn more offensive points.

Be a Pro also extends to the online mode with the Online Team Play option (for up to 12 players) and the EA Sports Hockey League, which allows you to create or be a part of a club using your created player. If you create your own club you can invite individuals to join your ranks, with up to 50 people being able to be in your team at one time. If you don’t intend to have your own club you could always be invited to someone else’s sometime down the line, so always be prepared to dust that hockey stick off and aim for that puck.

Of course, besides all the above you still have the likes of the vast Dynasty mode to work through in the hope of winning the coveted Stanley Cup. As always, it’s a mode of great depth, allowing you to customise it to your suiting as you aim your sights high towards that cup, although do remember to keep those sticks low.

Graphically the game is yet another improvement courtesy of the new animations, although be prepared to screw your face up in agony as players are delivered at full force into the surrounding barriers, despite this illusion of pain it has just never looked any better than it does here. Commentary is meanwhile as fast paced as the games themselves, but more importantly it’s been pulled off tremendously well.

NHL 09 is another very impressive ice hockey game from EA and is improved enough over last years to please those who seek worthwhile additions in their sequels. If the control tweaks, improvements in defence, Be a Pro mode and the EA Sports Hockey League aren’t worthwhile additions for you then I don’t know what is.