|System: PS3, X360||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Electronic Arts Canada||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 7, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Within these modes, some of the series old problems crop up. Computer-controlled teammates often dont follow you to the opposing goal when you make a run at it, for example, and AI general managers often exhibit amazingly stupid behavior (accepting deals they should decline and vice-versa). Overall, though, EAs NHL formula has been honed to the point that there are few flaws. For example, we didnt find any surefire ways to get pucks past the AI goalies, though only time will tell if there are exploitable cheap shots we didnt come across. (In a hockey title, is there anything more frustrating than a tiny flaw in the goalie AI that breaks the game?)
The big addition, of course, is the EA Sports Ultimate Hockey League, and what you think of it will depend on how hardcore you are. Its something like fantasy hockey on steroids. You start out with a deck of playing cards that represent things like players, staff, and training, and you have to put together a club and play games against online opponents. Some cards are free, but others cost pucks, the leagues currency, which are earned by winning games. The sheer amount of detail is alternately stunning and overwhelming. Your players must have excellent chemistry, and you can choose everything from the arenas you play in to the head coach. Some cards (such as training cards) can be added to a player to increase his attributes, and each player has a limited contract and a limited number of games he can play in his career. To a true statistics junkie, the kind of person who will keep a spreadsheet on his computer to keep track of his team and obsessively pore over the numbers nightly, this is heaven. To most other people, it will require more of a time investment than its worth.
Our biggest problem with NHL 11, however, is the middle finger it extends toward renters and used-game buyers. In a move EA evidently plans to repeat with many more games in the future, NHL 11 comes with a one-time-use code that enables the full online feature set. Renters can take advantage of a free seven-day teaser pass, as long as they dont keep the game longer than that, but everyone else has to shell out cash to enjoy the game to the fullest. This is part of the war on used games, which has even included statements from developers that secondhand dealers should have to give them money by law. (Evidently, theyre not clear on the fact that copyright means the right to copy something, not the right to take a slice of profit whenever an existing copy changes hands. The companies are essentially asking the government to transfer some of the money you make from the sale of your own property to them.)
The pay-to-play scheme is more defensible than the proposed law (EA can charge for access to its online servers if it so chooses), but its still a low blow to gamers on a budget. NHL 11 has a lot of features that will encourage gamers to hang on to it rather than trading it in. EA should have felt confident enough in the value they provided not to nickel-and-dime those who obtain the product secondhand.
The extra charge leaves a bitter taste in our mouth. Still, we cannot deny that NHL 11 is an improvement over what came before it, and truly hardcore hockey fans will enjoy the hours they spend fine-tuning their teams in the new online mode. There are a few improvements yet to be made, and we hope the next installment will take advantage of Move and Kinect to provide even more realism. But those in the market for a new hockey game should be happy with NHL 11.
CCC Freelance Writer