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NHL 2K10 Review [360]

1 Oct 2009  by   Paul Younger
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You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for 2K Sports when it comes to the NHL 2K10 series. It’s not a bad franchise by any means – in fact, there have been some excellent instalments – it’s just that it doesn’t exist in vacuum. It does a lot of things very well and some not so well but its biggest problem will always be the competition. With the various EA Sports series receiving some serious attention – and funding – under the guidance of Peter Moore, the results have been impressive, particularly the NHL games. With NHL 09, and recently NHL 10, firmly planting the EA flag in the heart of simulation territory, NHL 2K faced an identity crisis. Is the 2K series all about authenticity or arcade thrills?  It seems as if the creative team were unable to answer this question because, while it is undoubtedly a solid hockey game, NHL 2K10 feels a little confused.The conflict at the heart of the game is between the emphasis on authenticity in licensing and presentation and the arcade leanings of the gameplay. Let’s tackle the latter first. It’s clear that accessibility was a watchword during the development of NHL 2K10. In gameplay terms, it’s definitely geared towards pick up and play. Although it does feature training tutorials, they concentrate solely on the gameplay basics and you won’t be bogged down in offensive and defensive theory. The tutorials simply tell you which button does what and have you perform each task three times. The game even sports a number of different control schemes for players of different abilities. We opted for the standard scheme which combines face button passing and checking with the now obligatory right stick dekes and shooting. A will pass the puck in the (often vague) direction of your chosen teammate, while X shoots, B performs a dump (anyone else laughing? Just me?)  and Y is used for a drop pass. Unlike NHL, the game features a speed boost activated by holding the right trigger and the left bumper is a kind of deke modifier allowing you to pull off some interesting one-on-one manoeuvres when used in conjunction with the right stick. In the standard and pro control schemes, flicking the right stick forward when you have the puck produces a wrist shot, while a back then forward motion results in a slap shot.In so far as making the game accessible, 2K has succeeded. There’s nothing complex about the controls and if you struggle with the standard controls (a kind of hybrid between face buttons and EA’s right stick trickery) there’s the classic setting which features all button controls. Unfortunately, while the game aims to be inviting to everyone, it’s the hockey fans who will feel a little let down by NHL 2K10 as it definitely feels as if some of the depth has been sacrificed in the name of accessibility.From a purely gameplay point of view, 2K10 does not feel realistic. Those who’ve been playing EA’s game will probably balk at the arcade implications of the speed burst button and, in fact, the skating in general. It all feels a little too sluggish and imprecise when you’re skating at regular speed and, although things improve when you hit the boost button, you feel like you shouldn’t really have to spend the whole match with the trigger held down. Passing is similarly disappointing – by default the game gives you way too much assistance in your pass direction and all too often seems to pass it a little behind the player, presumably to minimise the amount of offsides. It also feels as if the puck is not really independent of the player, and there’s a discernible moment where it snaps to the player giving the impression that it’s all a little too guided, a little magnetic. {PAGE TITLE=NHL 2K10 Review Page 2}The game also feels dated in terms of the player animations. While new animations have been added (for example, stumble shots and new goalie moves), the big problem is that you have to wait for each animation to finish. In the context of dekes, this is enormously frustrating as you find yourself unable to shoot the puck at the ideal moment. This also has defensive implications – as you wait for the poke check animation to finish there’s every chance your opponent will have slipped past you towards your goal.However, if the gameplay manages to feel a little inauthentic, the excellent presentation reminds you that you’re playing a quality sports title. Like most 2K Sports games recently, NHL 2K10 is well presented. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t annoyances – menu navigation, for one, is clunky and horrible – but the matches are presented very nicely indeed. The commentary features less repetition than you’d expect and manages to sound fluid and relevant throughout. The inter-period summaries contain all manner of stats and highlights, while at the end of each game you can even watch individual highlight reels for all your players. On a visual level 2K10 is a definite step up with better player likenesses and 2K deserves credit for the fact that the framerate holds up flawlessly throughout the game, something which cannot be said for EA’s game.However, while superior presentation is becoming a staple of the 2K Sports series, it’s a shame that the gameplay doesn’t quite match up. NHL 2K10 just can’t work out what it wants to be – the authentic presentation and licensing draw you into the world of NHL but the unrealistic gameplay, while solid and fun, does not offer enough depth for hockey fans. It seems as if 2K has aimed the game at a strange breed of hockey fan – one who likes the sport but does not crave authentic gameplay. In fact, 2K has branded NHL 2K10 as a social experience more than an authentic one. The new online features allow you to invite friends in to any game mode and the pond hockey and 2 on 2 mini rink modes – which, admittedly are fun, if brief, distractions – confirm that 2K is not aiming for the same level of simulation as EA. While we’re convinced that there’s a space for the 2K game in the hockey market, we’re just not sure that 2K10 has found it.  

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