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Hockey is a sport that has always intrigued me. From an outsider looking in perspective, it’s always been interesting. The hits were rough, the scores were intense, and the fan interaction was through the roof, which is something you don’t see as much of in other sports. But once I finally watched a game, it was like soccer but with pretty ice and actual men that can take a hit. Those two things are sadly not enough to keep me watching for two and a half hours. That being said, I’ve been quite a fan of the EA Sports NHL games in the past years. It’s been one of the most innovative sports series out there and it made a mildly boring sport into a frantic, fast-paced blast.
NHL 11 is downright beautiful. The glimmer of the incredibly well detailed ice is unreal. The animations for checks (when a player hits an opposing player, legally) can get a little ugly at times, very rarely will you get that “brutal” feel that you want and expect to get which can be disheartening but once you do finally ram a guy into the boards and hear that incredible crushing noise, you just want to yell obscene phrases of happiness. It really is incredible how detailed and jaw dropping the actual arenas in NHL 11 look.
My main hitch in the past with the NHL games was the dynasty/Be a GM mode. In games such as Madden, NBA 2K, etc. my main game mode that I spend the most time with was the GM mode. In NHL games, since I know little to nothing about actual hockey, I normally have no idea who I have on my team, who I should sign, or where anything even is in the menus. That problem continues this year as once you enter Be A GM mode, you’re bombarded with paragraphs and paragraphs of text explaining multiple things to you. Even once I read the text, I had no idea what I was doing. I would occasionally try to navigate the menus, looking at my roster, and start to wonder “what am I even doing?” After a season of GM mode, I quit. Be A GM continues to be daunting and inaccessible to new comers.
NHL 11’s heart is its Be A Pro mode. A mode where you take a created star and bring him through the ranks, earning XP along the way. I’ve always been a huge fan of this mode. Unlike GM Mode, it’s very accessible and very fun to play. There doesn’t seem to be too many changes to the formula this year but that doesn’t distort the fact that I’m going to be playing this mode for months.
The most fun to be found within NHL 11 is its actual gameplay. Coupled with the eye popping visuals is some of the best gameplay I’ve played in a sports game. NHL gives you a strong sense of speed and power while playing that is unmatched. And no matter if you’re destroying an opposing team or it’s close, NHL 11 remains consistently exciting.
The change in NHL 11 that I noticed the most was now having a stronger control system for whatever character you’re controlling at the time. Everything seems a bit more precise than in the previous installments. Dekes feel fluid and quick while getting your stick knocked out of your hand is a small thing, but can be very detrimental to you and adds another layer of depth to the already deep gameplay. Another addition is there’s a new way to gain the puck in faceoffs. No longer do you just have to just flick the stick, you now have to move the right analog stick in a certain way and/or press up on the left stick to push your opponent away from the puck while your teammates run in and try to take the puck. It’s tough to get the hang of but once you do, it’s a notable improvement that is much better than the way you use to have to execute a faceoff.
The AI has been improved drastically from the previous games as well. In previous games, it would occasionally seem like the players didn’t really know what they were doing, being out of position, shooting randomly, etc. But this year, very rarely will you find a player that is out of his normal position and very rarely will you find a player that isn’t helping the team in some way. The only problem I found was that the opposing team would fire the puck down the ice for no real reason, and that happened around four times in a row during one game. I understand that shooting the puck down the ice is a strategy, but if it didn't work the first 3 times, why keep trying? Though that specific game is the only time that happened.
Even if you’re not a hockey fan, EA continues to deliver one of the best sports game experiences you can have. It seems they improve every little thing in their game yearly and this year is no different. No matter your thoughts on the sport of hockey, NHL 11 is a game that should be in your collection.