Fire on the Ice.
Hockey. A silly sounding word invented by a silly people. Leave it to our neighbors to the North to look at something as pedestrian as Ice Capades and say, “Hey, let's do that, but armed with sticks so you can hit people.” Needless to say, a sport with that much potential for a blood orgy caught on here in the States. Originally a reserved for colder climates, ice hockey is now enjoyed in the barren desert of Arizona and Florida’s steamy swamps.
[image1]NHL is still, however, the red-haired stepchild of professional sports in the U.S. Acknowledged, but not loved unconditionally. Sure, everyone gets hockey fever during the playoffs, like when Los Angeles realizes that it has a hockey team, but only the true fans know who starts on what line, or how offsides is called, or how to pronounce Dubielewicz. The true, hardcore fans keep the NHL going, and it is for the true, hardcore fans that NHL 11 was made.
The action in a hockey game defines the word. The puck ricochets off walls, off sticks, off pads, off people, off walls again, all while you're slipping about a sheet of ice that pulls you in whatever direction momentum is taking you. In previous installments of NHL, these actions were poorly represented by a few, predetermined animations. This resulted in the action looking rather robotic, even staged. These problems were recognized by EA Canada (seriously, who else is going to make a hockey game?).
A whole new physics engine has been added and applied. When a player is hit, he will react depending on where he got hit, what he gets hit in to, the size of the opposing player, and the momentum of both involved. With all these factors taken in, every hit takes a different turn, as it does in real life. So when a 6’2” defenseman is lined up just right against a 5’7” winger, you will soon see skates in the air.
The physics especially apply to the puck, which now recognizes when it hits off everything from boards to goalie pads and helmets. It will ricochet off the net pole like a bullet, but will be slowed down when it hits the soft padding of a goalie. Pucks also interact with objects on the ice, like sticks; finally, NHL 11 has gotten around to letting sticks fall and break as they do in the real world. When one is dropped or broken, the player will skate around and kick at the puck until a teammate hands him a new stick, or he goes to the bench to get one.
[image2]A couple tweaks have been made to gameplay other than the physics. The most noticeable are the new face-off engine (hint: RS is your stick, LS is your body), the board play which is much more physical, and the overall defense which is a lot tougher from strategy to goalie anticipation.
With all the major overhauls to the gameplay and especially the real time physics, NHL 11 has done practically everything it needed to do to produce a high-quality hockey game. Never before has skating on ice and slapping pucks felt so realistic and been so fun. You can almost feel the black eyes and ribs being cracked when you shove your opponent into the boards. These improvements alone would have been enough, but NHL 11 said, “No! We want to do more for our hardcore fans.”
With that, they give you EA Ultimate Hockey League (WARNING: not for beginners). Breaking it down simply, it is like a cross between a fantasy hockey league and trading and collecting sports cards, like when you were ten (or trading and collecting Magic: The Gathering cards when you were 17). You are given control of a hockey team of random players that you try to win your league with. You are given a free pack of cards that include players (from a roster of 4,100 from ten leagues), logo and jersey customization options, training cards to apply to your players, and a variety of other boosters.
As you play the season you earn “EA pucks”, a currency used to buy more packs of cards. The idea is to train your young players into superstars and build chemistry between your players. This is all done online, where you can prove to all who really knows how to build a hockey team. This mode is seriously in-depth and addicting for hockey fanatics. NHL 11 truly found a way to keep you coming back with this mode.
[image3]GM mode is back for you to take control of your favorite team. Like most of NHL 11, this game mode has also been revamped, with smarter CPU opponents, expanded draft and free agency, and the addition of the CHL to pluck the next Sid Crosby out of.
Also back is "Be a Pro" mode, where you start as a young up-and-comer in the CHL playoffs. The better you do, the higher you are drafted. From there you try to impress coaches in the preseason in order to start in the regular season. My own player, C Lando Calrissian, is well on his way to a Hart Memorial trophy for MVP. That’s pretty good for someone from a place where most of the water is in gaseous form.
Granted, NHL 11 is a just a hockey game, but it is an extraordinary hockey game. The action is hot and fast, and the intangibles and extras add quality on top of quality. Those who don’t like or care about hockey but appreciate good video games should check it out just to see what can be done with a good physics engine and a production team that knows what the fans want. Those who are hockey fans, well, if you don’t already have this game, you are a hoser.