As a Canadian (please still read the site), I look forward to the yearly NHL release from EA Sports as though it’s a religion. Despite the company’s tailspin in quality for the franchise earlier this decade, the team at EA Canada has been able to turn it around over the past three years and have consistently delivered a quality product. Considering the benchmark they set in 2009 with NHL ’10 and the plethora of Sports Game of the Year awards, it left a very high bar to reach when it came to NHL ’11 and what the team could do to bring the game to that next level.
Over the course of the last couple of months, gamers learned about the implementation of broken sticks, the CHL into the mix, Be A Pro including the Memorial Cup, and NHL Ultimate Team Leagues that blow the game mode completely out of the water. However, even with all of these new additions, the core experience of the game is always going to be its gameplay and the question remains, “Has EA Sports improved the gameplay to go along with the features improvements as well?” Well, keep reading to find out.
First, we’re going to jump straight into the gameplay changes and how they affect the way the game is played this year. One of the biggest additions to NHL ’11 is the real-time physics engine introduced in the hitting game and faceoff circle. This new engine allows for each hit to be different from the last and takes into account body weight, momentum, and of course, the player’s attributes. If you’re looking to lay down the should with Sidney Crosby against a guy like Dion Phaneuf, you might as well just fall to the ice already. Over the course of several games, I’ve seen some pretty big hits that left me laughing – maybe I’m a bit sadistic, but driving someone into the boards like a ragdoll can be a stress reliever!
This new physics element adds a lot to the game since it creates a lot more glance hits as well. Furthermore, it also gives face-offs a nice change of pace and strategy since the engine recognizes stick-on-stick contact. Included in the physics change during face-offs is how players approach that part of the game as well. No longer do you just need to time the puck drop and flick back on the right analog, instead, EA Canada has implemented more of a “Skate” control scheme where each hand is controlled by an analog stick (essentially). Your right analog controls if you want to take the face-off with a fore-hand grip of backhand, each having its advantages depending on your opponent. Your left analog stick controls which type you’d like to create whether it be a clean face-off, a stick lift, tying your opponent up or shooting off the draw. Regardless of which you choose, your opponent’s decisions can cause conflict with your own in who will win the draw.
The other small, but big change to the gameplay is the broken sticks feature. Sticks can now be broken in three different places as a result of a slash, one-timer, slap shot or even a big hit can jar a stick loose (but not break it). This forces the player to play without a stick utilizing his feet or hands to move the puck, skate over to the bench to get a new one or swap out with a player already on the ice. This small change can change the entire face of an offensive rush if you’re looking on a 5-on-5 and one of your guys can’t even help out without a stick. It’s a great addition to the gameplay and adds a nice depth of realism to the title.
Outside of those three major changes, EA Canada added some slight changes as well which include: disallowed goals, hustle mechanics strapped to the L3 button, the way goalies read and react to plays more fluidly, reworked board play, and finally, improved teammate AI. All of these changes combined with the gameplay mechanics of NHL ’10 have created a title worthy of purchase and an exceptional playing experience. If you’re looking for that next step in next-generational hockey, NHL ’11 delivers the goods. Now, let’s dive into the game modes that were added!
New to this year’s NHL title is EA Hockey Ultimate Team. If you have happened to play Madden or the FIFA franchise over the last two years, you are already familiar with this game mode. If not, let me explain. When you get into this mode, you get the opportunity to pick your team name and abbreviation – once completed, you are given a pack of cards with an entire team roster inside. This first pack contains nothing but second rate players that probably aren’t going to produce much for you in the long haul. Each player has a base rating and a potential rating that can be achieved through the stacking of “training cards” that improve your players rating aspects.
Each card also comes with a contract length that details how many games the player is eligible for in his career and during his current contract stretch. In order to increase his contract, contract cards can be found or purchased from the EAHUT store (EA Pucks or $$$). Once your team is ready to play, there are three ways you can go about doing it. You can either play an offline match, an online match or take part in an offline/online tournament. Regardless of which you choose, you will earn EA Pucks with each game played and these can be used to purchase better players for your organization in order to increase your teams overall capabilities.