(Note: EA has put out several patches for NHL 09 on the 360. I am editing my review to reflect the way the game is now.)
Make Everyday a Great Day for Hockey
Those were the immortal words of Bob Johnson, a legend in his own right. Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where he poured the foundation of an amazing college hockey franchise, that phrase is etched into a banner hanging over the ice where the Badgers play, surrounded by National Championship pennants. I hear those words every time I step onto the ice, and I try to always live by them. Surprisingly, they have helped me become a better player and sportsman.
If only I could channel that positive attitude into NHL 09. Trying to play the game that I’ve played since I was 5 is only an exercise in futility. To really enjoy NHL 09, you have to forget how the real game is played and learn how EA wants you to play, which isn’t a BAD thing, per se. I just feel like there is so much of the sport I am devoted to that is missing.
What will strike you first about this game is how beautiful it looks. The motions of the players as they skate, shoot, and check each other are captured brilliantly. If you have an HDTV, you are in for a real treat. Even the sounds are captured faithfully. Pucks ringing around the boards, banking off of the glass, ringing off the posts all sound wonderfully realistic. Even the on ice talk between the players is there. I have noticed lines get repeated often, but not so much that it’s a deal breaker. And truthfully, you shouldn’t really be focusing on that during the game.
The play by play is a nice addition. Gary Thorn and Bill Clement lend their voices to what is a very difficult task. Of the 4 major sports (football, baseball, basketball and hockey), ice hockey is the most active. With teams changing from offense to defense and back to offense in a matter of seconds, having a prerecorded play by play is a difficult task. However, EA pulled it off.
Included in the game play is the option of allowing the users to create virtual representations of them and play through a career in the aptly named Career Mode. With a large bank of common and uncommon last names, it is a treat to hear Gary Thorn say your last name during play.
The play, however, is where things start to get a little dicey. In their attempt to make an ultra realistic game, EA, through many patches, has turned it into something completely different. Goalie AI is always a bit off, allowing consistent glitch goals go in. The computer controlled team is generally far too aggressive then the situation should warrant, like chasing the puck far into your defensive zone during a penalty kill. These little things can add up quickly and frustration will never be too far off.
What does all this mean? It means that if you are new to the series, then you have a large curve ahead of you. Returning players will find much of the same that made the series so successful, added in with a very solid online aspect of the game. If you can learn the way EA would like you to play, then there is a great game waiting for you. Just be sure to have something padded close by. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
+ Realistic graphics
+ Crisp sound
+ Plenty of play modes
+ Awesome hockey action!
- …if you can figure out how EA wants you to play it
- AI problems (on both sides)