Just by looking at the cover of EA Sports’ NHL 11 you know its a great game. Literally, on the cover it says “Franchise winner of twenty-two sports Game of the Year Awards”. There are two reasons they win so many awards, its easily the best hockey game around and its amazing.
While not much has changed from previous years, there is not much more they could have done. NHL 09 and NHL 10 have set the stage for premiere hockey games and NHL 11 continues that legacy.
The most noticeable new feature is the revamped physics engine. The play on the ice looks realer then ever, and every hit is different. The only hard part now is landing a solid shot on someone. In years past it was easy just to plow an attacker, but now its much more difficult, and attackers have a better chance at just taking a small hit then getting knocked to the ground.
Another new feature is the revamped face-off system. Rather than just standing there and trying to knock the puck away when the ref drops it, you get into the set position, either forehand or backhand, and fight for the puck. Its much more realistic and is just one of many leaps this game has taken to make the play more true to what you see when you’re watching a real game on tv.
Along the visual lines, they are top notch. Not only do the players on the ice look great, but also the fans are some of the best looking and moving in sports games today. What really impresses me is the things you don’t even notice. I was watching a replay and realized the reflection of the scoreboard hanging over the ice. I was mesmerized for a minute then realized just how much work went into making this game so authentic. If they didn’t have that in, I doubt many people would notice, or care for that matter. That’s what sets NHL 11 apart, they do care.
This year broken sticks have been brought into the fold. While it’s a cool addition, I find they are happening way to frequently. I’ve played a couple of games of Online Team Play and sticks were snapping like crazy. This actually caused a lot of issues, being that hockey players are fairly worthless without sticks. Its a nice feature, but I personally think it needs to be tuned down a little.
Sticking with the senses, auditorily this game sounds great. From the sounds off of the puck off the stick, to the crash of players hitting the boards, it all sounds like you’re actually there. While the broadcasting by Gary Thorn and Bill Clement doesn’t seem like its been updated much, they still provide my favorite commentary in a sports game. Which is apparent by the fact that I haven’t put my headphones on and listened to a podcast, like I normally do.
While many will see it as a minor change, my favorite addition this year is the inclusion of the American and Canadian Hockey Leagues to go along with the NHL and other international teams. Normally, when I play friends online we will always use NHL teams in the first game, but then quickly change to foreign teams afterward. Now there is a much greater depth that will be fun to explore. Though I am slightly sad the Calgary Hitmen have changed their uniforms recently.
Normally when I play with friends we play regular one on one matches. This year I was drawn into Online Team Play. In this mode you can have up to 6 players on each team, which is difficult to do without a big party, otherwise you’ll spend more time waiting for players then actually playing. You can choose to be any specific position or be able to choose from anyone. This provides a lot more fun than your average one on one game, but it is very tough if your team doesn’t have good communication skills. Other teams will steamroll you if everyone on your team just circles to the puck. Trust me, players still circle to the puck even if you have good communication.
With 2K Sports’ NHL 2K11 only coming out on the Nintendo Wii this year, NHL 11 is the obvious (and only) choice for anyone on a PS3 or Xbox 360. While they could have rested on their laurels and essentially re-released a roster update to NHL 10 this year, they chose to make some significant improvements that may keep 2K from coming back. If NHL Slapshot is a hit, 2K hockey games may become a thing of the past.
If you love hockey, its a no brainer, go out and get EA Sports’ NHL 11. It’s a game so good that its competitor stopped trying. That should give you a hint as to how good it is.
If you’re in the EU, that sucks, because you have to wait two more weeks for one of the finest sports video games, and best hockey game I’ve ever played.
EA Sports’ NHL 11 is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360, save for the EU which releases on September 17th.