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NHL 11: EA takes a step back, but still shines

September 16th, 2010

For the better part of a decade, EA   Sports’ NHL franchise has dominated the hockey gaming landscape.

Last year’s release had such a firm hold on the market that it forced the cancellation of rival 2K sport’s game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles this year.

That fact seems to be both a blessing and a curse for EA who released NHL 11 to the world on Sept. 7.

While the game will surely please hockey aficionados and casual gamers alike, NHL 11 contains some flaws that reveal cracks in the hockey giant’s armor.

The area NHL 11 truly shines in its head-to-head gameplay.

Many of the new additions to the on-ice game are rooted in controls established in Madden, such as the new “hit stick” control and a revamped passing system.

The most welcome addition, though, is the revolutionary physics-based game engine that will eventually change the way sports games are made and played.

By changing to a physics-based system, EA ensures that every move, check, pass and shot will be just as you intended them to be.

In other words, the direction you point your joystick will be the difference between a highlight reel check into the boards or an embarrassing whiff.

Add in the all new face-off system in which multiple buttons are needed to win, and NHL 11 may be the most in-depth hockey experience ever made.

Unfortunately, the additions to gameplay that shine during head-to-head competition crash and burn when playing the CPU. Computer intelligence is where NHL finally starts to show signs of age.

The Madden-inherited “Ultimate Team” mode is a nice addition to the series, but is hindered by the lack of common sense and managerial skill of the computer.

The same can be said for the “Be a GM” mode, which allows players to control farm teams and international leagues, but suffers from boneheaded decisions by opposing management teams.

It is entirely too easy to build a championship caliber team, mainly due to the fact opposing teams let first round picks go and bury veterans on the bench.

On the ice, it only takes a few games to memorize CPU moves and tendencies, leading to six and seven goal blowouts.

Poor computer play is hardly new to the NHL series, but this is the first time it is bad enough to turn off players from a game mode.

Even with all its flaws, NHL 11 manages to create a full gaming experience for people looking to play a game with friends.

Gary Thorne and Bill Clement provide vastly improved commentary over last year’s forgettable performance.

Sound quality overall is improved, with each hit and crowd cheer seeming to rumble out of the speakers into the living room.

Visually, the title looks great on both systems, with the 360 version being slightly more sterile-looking than on the color-rich PS3.

Overall, the team at EA Canada delivers on its promise of a realistic hockey simulation that will bring about changes across the sports game genre.

NHL11 truly is a title that will have an impact far after it is replaced by the 2012 edition next fall.