A Good Game Overshadowed
Hockey fanatics rejoice, the NHL season is once again looming and along with it come annual hockey game installments across a multitude of platforms. Taking the ice as one of the year’s most anticipated hockey titles is 2K Sports’ NHL 2K10. Last year’s NHL 2K9 was met with mixed reviews from fans and critics who favored EA Sports’ franchise in near unanimous fashion. Still, developer Visual Concepts knows a thing or two about creating an epic sports game franchise.
Graphics are good, if not great. This may be more a product of the times than a fault of 2K10, as other recent sports titles pushing the bar to new levels. Whereas a game like UFC Undisputed amazed with astonishingly real graphics for combat sports and Madden continues to outdo itself each year with details on the gridiron, NHL 2K10 seems to have stood still. Fortunately the graphics are not drab, but they are starting to look a tad dated and in need of some modern refinement. For example, when given a close up of a players face, it looks more like the face was scanned in and put on top of the skater’s avatar versus being cohesively built as a whole. Again, it’s not bad , it’s just not great.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a refreshing mix of indie music. Musical acts such as Phoenix, MGMT, and 20 Pound Shovel make up some of the artists that no doubt few have heard of yet provide a wonderfully unique hockey soundtrack., play by play and color commentary are much more traditional and run of the mill. Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda are a solid pair who commit no real crimes, something that is often harder than it would seem with video game sports commentary.
Controls are somewhat unresponsive and stiff- it’s something of a challenge to have your player move where you want him to be going. To help you get there is a turbo meter to give each of your players a little boost when they need to get somewhere fast. It seems a bit of a redundancy, as there’s rare reason not to turbo your players across the ice when speed is so critical and it regenerates fairly quickly once you let go. Overall, the control scheme plays very simplistically; one button press tosses in all the deke and juke moves. It’s great for hockey newbies, as everything follows a similar formula of simplicity. Veterans of the sport who have been staying current with hockey games since Blades of Steel on the original Nintendo may yearn for something with more depth.
NHL 2K10 presents several choices to vary up how you can get into the action. Quick play is what it is, a quick fix and the most standard mode available in sports gaming. Season mode is there for those who want a longer commitment than quick play but aren’t ready to take the plunge into a deep and arduous franchise mode. Sadly, the franchise mode is lacking most of the bells and whistles beyond direct control of coaching and roster maneuvers.
While technically unnecessary to have the ability to build a new arena to house a newly relocated franchise because your old fans stopped attending games… because of a multiyear slump… and you were fortunate enough to find a city (likely a Canadian city, let’s be honest in our hypothetical) that would not only fill every seat for the season but was willing to pay the outrageous prices for team licensed jerseys and foam fingers… it would be nice to have the option.
Beyond the aforementioned sports game stalwarts, there are a few more novelty-filled modes available as a distraction. Pond hockey and three on three mini-rink modes provide a change up to the regular action with their own twists, as does the ever popular shootout. Still, none of these compare with the sheer oddity that the zamboni-driving mini-game provides in spades.
Between periods in a game, you can take the wheel of the ever-popular zamboni and see how much of the ice you can clear before time runs out. Yes, this is a returning mode from last year, but that doesn’t make it any less strange… or fun. Who wouldn’t want to do their best Steve Austin impression to let off a little steam after a frustrating period of play? No, the driving mechanics may not rival the intricacies found in the Need for Speed franchise, but it’s still goofy fun. Of course, there are achievements tied into it as well, just to make sure everyone gets the wonderful experience of bemused frustration while attempting a perfect 100 percent.
Overall, NHL 2K10 is a decent hockey game. Overly simplistic controls and a mundane franchise mode will frustrate fans of a deeper experience. Every cloud has its silver lining though, as casual hockey watchers may appreciate the lack of nuances and just skate forward blissfully to the next body check and slapshot. Still, it’s hard to ignore the giant shadow from EA’s NHL 10. The lack of depth in NHL 2K10 will eventually lead players to wish for something more after they’ve mastered everything 2K Sports’ has to offer, and they will likely be lured by the features and experience from a more complete experience with NHL 10.
It’s hard to recommend a game when there is a clearly superior alternative on the market that does everything so wonderfully. NHL 2K10 isn’t bad and it is poised to make a run at the EA franchise sooner rather than later. But for this year, unless you are completely adverse to anything other than a quick arcade hockey fix, NHL 10 is the game to get. Just don’t forget about the 2K series next year. Or, in hockey terms, EA may have the lead going into the second period but 2K Sports is hungry and steadily gaining momentum.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Solid graphics, but they suffer as competitors have moved to the next level. 3.3 Control
Somewhat sticky controls hamper the experience. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Commentary isn’t spectacular, but soundtrack is impressive. 3.4 Play Value
Fun even with its flaws, but it lacks longevity. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.