As the NHL gears up for another season, its virtual counterparts look to capitalize on a resurgence of interest in the sport. With a solid foundation to improve upon, NHL 2K10 is hoping to snag top honors by refining its controls and attempting to replicate its competitor's online success. Do its long list of recycled modes and marginally improved gameplay make 2K10 a real contender?
NHL 2K fans jumping into this year's game will instantly recognize the majority of modes at their disposal. Franchise, season, playoffs, quick game, mini-rink, pond hockey, shootout, practice... it all returns, for the most part in the same form as last year. No big enhancements have been made to differentiate it from, well, itself, much less the competition.
On the other hand, there have been significant changes in online play. You can create teams, play in leagues, and join tournaments while taking advantage of a fluid menu system that makes the online experience feel like a primary feature as opposed to a secondary mode. You don't have to look hard to see the emphasis on online play in NHL 2K10; it's the biggest addition to this year's game, and for better or worse, the only place you'll find something completely new.
Once you're online, you get the seamless gameplay experience you'd expect from a veteran franchise, complete with the ability to play a full season, including playoffs, with up to 30 players. While the team-up aspect and overall online experience help to flesh out a rather mundane feature set, the online play, like its offline counterpart, comes off as relatively bland. The game provides you with plenty to do, but the all-too-familiar nature of it all doesn't do a great job of making you want to come back for more. Beyond that, the media creation and sharing tools along with the trophy room and player customization options will certainly keep you busy, but they don't mean much if the game itself isn't that fun to play.
The gameplay in NHL 2K10 seems to have a hard time deciding whether it wants to be arcade or simulation. The most rewarding aspects of the gameplay, like solid one-timers, vastly improved big hits, better AI, and smooth deke moves, are offset by erratic puck velocity, lumbering poke checks, rink-The gameplay in NHL 2K10 seems to have a hard time deciding whether it wants to be arcade or simulation. The most rewarding aspects of the gameplay, like solid one-timers, vastly improved big hits, better AI, and smooth deke moves, are offset by erratic puck velocity, lumbering poke checks, rink-wide slappers and other odd occurrences on the ice.
The game rewards you for knowing when to dump and chase, or when to pinch on a particular play, but having a clearing attempt or back hander rocket down the ice at super human speeds certainly kills any realism the game has to offer. New to this year's version is the ability to lift sticks, perform stumble shots, and watch your finesse players fly with refined puck handling. All of this does a decent job of enhancing the gameplay and helping veteran players stand out. Faceoffs are particularly rewarding, with the ability to cross up your opponent or scrum over the puck, but be warned, the refs will chase you from the circle if you get a bit too aggressive.
The mixture of arcade and simulation actually works in NHL 2K10's favor when it comes to shooting, as quickly tapping or holding down the shoot button means the difference between a wrister or a slapper, but full analog shot support is included as well if you feel inclined to use it on a particular play. Netminders keep things interesting with dramatic, sprawling saves, but on the whole seem to come up short in the consistency department. High on the glove side is a weak spot for pretty much every goalie in the game, and old-school, cross crease passes for one-timers will often make you feel like you're playing a game from the late '90s.
Of course, all of the coaching, match-up, and line changes you'd expect are here, but you won't find any of the fisticuffs or post-whistle antics seen in NHL 10. Once the ref blows the play dead, you might as well put down the controller. Also, the default gameplay speed is super slow, so be prepared to spend some time tinkering with the sliders. Once you do, it isn't hard to find a sweet spot that is both challenging and rewarding.
The presentation in NHL 2K10 is a mix of great, good, and just plain boring. Pregame lead-ins get you ready for the match, while each game's introduction showcases the beautifully detailed arenas, each complete with unique lighting patterns and intros, before you head down to the ice. This is where 2K Sports begins to play it safe. The default camera stays pretty far back from the action, which gives you a good view of the ice during gameplay, but doesn't interject any emotion into the experience until a goal is scored. Even then, canned celebrations remind you that you're playing a video game after all.
This is where you can get the best look at the player models in NHL 2K10, which, while detailed, are rather lifeless most of the time. There's no on-ice chatter, no dramatic cutscenes, and no tension to pull you into the game. At least the announcers are tolerable, and the soundtrack and crowd interaction are decent enough to spark you on. We just wish 2K spent a bit more time bringing one of the most intense and emotional sports in the world to life.
Despite offering a full roster of game modes and a solid overall gameplay experience, NHL 2K10 lacks the personality and fun factor needed to take things to a championship level. The lack of anything truly innovative or unique combined with sub-par features and a less-than-stellar presentation means that the 2K franchise once again plays second fiddle to NHL 10. Unlike cover athlete Alexander Ovechkin, there's not enough character in NHL 2K10 to make it a truly memorable experience.
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: 2K Games