Last year’s rewrite of NHL 2k!0 by Visual Concepts
provided a fresh start for the title and a new code base to build from (see my 2k9
). While 2k9
was a step in the right direction from the prior editions, the graphics left a good deal to be desired and the AI was well less than par. But it was a fun game to play and the Pro Stick Evolution was a huge addition. In all, it was certainly a good foundation to build on.
The biggest change needed this year was a drastic improvement to the visuals. The developers started this with a makeover of introductions for each arena. This was a strong point last year, and was made even stronger this year. They customized all 30 introductions not just to match the team with video highlights projected onto the ice surface, but the internals of the arenas as well. I’ve been in several NHL arenas, and I found the modeling to be pretty spot on for each. Even the ones I’ve only seen on TV seem well done.
Once you get past the introductions and get to the ice, the player animations are vastly improved. Last year, the animations often didn’t match the play which led to some frustration, and occasional amusement. Nothing like seeing a player stuck along the boards because you haven’t moved the puck out of the zone yet. With the exception of a couple of penalty calls that completely don’t match what’s happening on the ice, the player animations seem greatly improved this year, with the animations tied to what is going on in the game. (Then again, I’ve seen plenty of real NHL games where the exact same thing happens)
The player modeling is where the biggest graphic improvements came in 2K10. Last year, only one player could be easily identified from the overhead view, and that was Zdeno Chara, King Kong of the NHL. This year, the statistics of each player seem to be taken into account when their player model is constructed, and the models are size and weight appropriate for the player they represent.
There was also a huge improvement in the facial modeling, with models visually resembling the players they represent. I took 10 random players, from superstars to scrubs and compared their likeness to a player photo. 9 of 10 were pretty recognizable, with one caveat. The lighting and skin tone used on the players faces, well; they look like zombies. At first I thought it might be my TV, but when I adjusted the color and hue to get the pallor off their faces, the jersey colors were out of whack. With this new information I started going for the head of Alex Ovechkin each time he went by with the puck. Unfortunately, all this got me was a couple of high sticking penalties, and a 3-0 deficit.
Speaking of a deficit, or at least being deficient; there’s the online play in 2K10. Sure, as a positive, you can jump into online play from almost anywhere in the game, and don’t have to specifically choose online play at the beginning of a game. However, there’s no online lobby, and when you want to play online, you basically wait for the system to match you with someone. All the while, you’re looking at nothing more than a screen with your name and some background graphics on it. There’s a countdown clock and possible opponents can pop in and out of your game, and often do. It’s frustrating to say the least. The fact that you can build and play in online leagues, and play as either a teammate or opponent is great, but the fact of the matter is, getting into any of the online modes is painful, and needs redone for next year.
I still like the menu system itself; it has a little bit of a 1980’s feel, or perhaps like the TV room in The Matrix, but the fact that you have to hold the analog stick in the direction you want to move and not just select and release is silly.
The AI is also better this year. The slot is better defended this year, and there seems to be some real association between the quality of team you’re playing against, the defenders on the ice, and your success at scoring. With the increased emphasis on the slot, there are more opportunities for scoring from the circles and below the goal line, which is as it should be.
The soundtrack is pretty good, though I could probably do without the song Alex Ovechkin chose specifically for the game. The play by play is again provided by the San Jose Sharks announcing team, and it’s solid, if a bit repetitive. There are definitely more names and more lines of color commentary added, but it could stand to be a lot more.
The mini-games are basically exactly the same as last year, with the exception of being able to select your lineup for each game, and the addition of a zamboni time-trial available between periods of the standard game mode. Frankly, there needs to be some more depth here, and I hope the mini-games on the Wii version of the game, add some extra playability.
In closing, I think it’s fair to say this game is definitely an improvement over last year’s version, but I feel as if a lot more could have been done in a years’ time. I can’t say I flat out recommend it, as I haven’t yet played the EA Sports NHL title for the year. But I will say foibles aside, it’s a lot of fun to play, and for those who enjoy a mix of arcade play and statistics based simulation, it’s a good option.