NHL 11 Xbox 360
Published by: EA Sports
Developed by: EA Sports
I think it’s fair to say that NHL probably isn’t the most popular of the EA Sports franchise, especially here in the UK, but it’s always been a quality series for many years now. NHL 11 could well be the best title in the series so far however and represents a big improvement upon the other games in the series that I’ve played. In fact, from what I’ve seen so far this year, it’s the best EA Sports title of 2010 and deserves to be played by any fan of sports games.
NHL boasts a new physics engine to make the action feel more unpredictable with bounces and deflections making the action look more lifelike than ever. There are more than two hundred gameplay enhancements including a new faceoff system, more intelligent AI, quick dekes, hip checks and user celebrations. You’ll even see sticks break in the game too and whilst that doesn’t necessarily make the game a better experience, it does help the game to replicate the sport to a higher degree. The twin analogue stick control method is present once again and feels more responsive than ever. You can opt not to use this however if you prefer to use the classic or NHL 94 control systems but it works so well that most will prefer to use the default control system.
The game modes don’t differ wildly and offer the usual mix of exhibition games, online games (and leagues too), a GM mode, Be a Pro mode, Playoff mode, Season mode, Tournament mode, Practice mode, Shootout mode and Create Play mode. The most interesting addition is the Hockey Ultimate Team mode. In the Hockey Ultimate Team mode you’ll name your side and then be dealt a collection of trading cards. You’ll play EA UHL online games against other players in addition to single-player matches against the AI. Victories will earn you EA Pucks which you can then reinvest into additional trading cards.
You can purchase additional booster card packs (available in packs of 6, 12, 24 or a special pack with 19 cards of which 4 are rare) with EA Pucks or Microsoft Points (for those with plenty of money and little patience). These cards offer players from ten different leagues, jerseys, contract cards, skill boost cards, coaches and arenas amongst other things. There are more than 4,000 trading cards in total and you’ll be investing a lot of time into the game as you attempt to assemble the best team possible. You can also trade cards and even put your unwanted ones up for auction. Of course you have to keep your eyes on team chemistry with players from the same league and real life teammates having a stronger chance of forming a good team spirit than total strangers and those from different leagues. It’s all one big balancing act but it’s certainly an addictive one.
The presentation of NHL 11, as with almost all EA Sports titles, is first class. The game has a slick menu system, that most will be familiar with as it doesn’t really differ from the ones used in other EA Sports titles, which makes navigating the menus very straightforward. The graphics are impressive and are probably as good as they could be on this generation of consoles. The frame rate remains smooth throughout too, which is certainly a requirement on a sports game where the action can move so fast.
In regards to the game’s support for deaf gamers however, there’s nothing impressive here. Game commentary isn’t subtitled which is unfortunate as NHL 11 has some of the best commentary in a sports title to date. More importantly, the tutorial videos in the game aren’t subtitled and this makes them useless for deaf gamers which is certainly disappointing. In every other sense however, the game is absolutely fine as the information is displayed via text, numbers and icons.
I wouldn’t class myself a fan of Ice Hockey as such but NHL 11 is easily my favourite EA Sports title this year. The game isn’t perfect but it’s probably as close as any game is going to get at the current time and with the current technology. You certainly don’t need to be a fan of the sport to enjoy what the game has to offer but those who are will certainly have a greater appreciation for the depth that’s on offer here. If you have even a passing interest in ice hockey then NHL 11 can be considered an essential purchase.