Every year in September and October, two giant developers/publishers do battle against one another to claim supremacy in the world of hockey and basketball video gaming. Over the years, we’ve seen a change in dominance from one to the other. It’s always been one company reigns supreme in one of the sports, while the other is clearly better in the opposite. This year, EA Sports and 2K Sports have released their yearly iterations of the NHL franchise and considering how big of a hockey fan I am, I couldn’t wait to dive in.
If you’ve been following the franchises over the last 10 years, you’d know that 2K Sports was the leader in realism and experience leading all the way up to 2008. However, during this year, the company seemed to start taking steps back – allowing EA Sports and their NHL franchise to creep into the lead spot as best hockey video game on the market. NHL 2K10 marks the tenth anniversary edition for 2K Sports and their gloried franchise. All that’s left to find out is if 2K10 is a sweet tenth anniversary or is it one that is eventually going to end badly.
This is the meat of any sports title. To any gamer, a sports title without great gameplay is like sitting down to a plate of potatoes and a drink and realizing the steak is missing. It’s heartbreaking and we all know every man loves a good steak – even you vegetarians! Anyway, realism is always something that has shined through the gameplay component of the NHL 2K series; however, as of late, this has been absent from the series. It seems ever since the company decided to put focus into an all around Nintendo Wii version of the game, the other two formats have suffered immensely.
This year, 2K tries to combat the competition with a strong emphasis on “social gaming.” What this means is that they’ve made it fairly easy for you to play a game with someone else regardless of which game mode you play. While this sounds like a no brainer, it’s also something that isn’t adding the most important part of the title – the gameplay.
NHL 2K’s biggest problem currently is the unbalanced offensive style of hockey that they’ve released. Instead of sticking with a simulation-based title, 2K has released a game that relies very heavy on the arcade elements of play as well as the idea that big scores equals happy gamers. The bottom line is, it doesn’t. In NHL 2K10 you can put up an abundance of goals with a well timed one-timer or a well positioned slapshot. This is due to a lack of competent artificial intelligence, unfortunately.
Sadly, the goalies in 2K10 are as competent as a blind guy playing I Spy. It’s just not going to work out. Until this type of intelligence is changed around 2K will remain the bottom feeder in the hockey genre.
Outside of the obvious offensive issues, 2K10 also suffers from a disease known as “suction puck.” This disease is when the puck is sucked directly to the player’s stick for complete control. This negative gets so bad at times that even players who are knocked off balance still sometimes remain in complete control of the puck. While it’s not nearly a gamebreaker, it does take the user out of the hockey experience entirely at certain times in the game.
Furthermore, much like the NBA 2K series, the animations on this title look brilliant. The only problem is, they sometimes last too long and there is no functionality to branch out of them. This often results in an animation taking place for too long or too short of time allowing for another player to skate right past you or to knock you clean off your feet because your in-game player was too busy completing his animation. 2K10 has tried to add new, nifty animations like stick lifts and how goalies move around the crease, but neither is enough to detract from the over-extended animations that follow them.
Franchise Mode is still the main offline headliner for the series, however 2K has done very little to add any meat to the bone. They’ve added in key elements like player progressions at the end of the season, but nothing dynamic like other titles in the sports genre. Unfortunately, this is a fault of both EA and 2K this year as both titles added very little to their offline modes of play.
2K Leagues are still available online and the stats are no sharable with other users, which adds a nice element to the idea, but other than that, it’s the same as 2K9. Team Up mode allows you to play with a full slate of players from the online world, however this mode is ultimately plagued with a serious case of lag. It almost renders he mode entirely unplayable. Unless you can get together a good group of guys with a solid connection, you’re not going to find this mode too worthwhile. It may be better to just get some friends together and play offline.
Though this is not a game mode, but 2K Reelmaker allows for a nice touch for the user experience as a whole. Being able to go in and create your own set of highlight reels is great for bragging rights. It definitely adds a solid element to the game and gives you something to work towards.
2K Sports is known for its character detail and 2K10 is no stranger to that occurrence. Player models in NHL 2K10 have been improved at a consistent rate from year over year and I can only see things getting better from here on out. There was nothing I was really “wowed” by, but it’s still a great looking title.
2K has always been at the top of the world when it comes to sports presentation and NHL 2K10 is no exception to that. Gamers still have the niche novelty of riding the Zamboni at intermissions and the commentary from Drew Remenda and Randy Hahn are on point and keeps up with the action very well. The only disappointment in the commentary is that it is very repetitive without much to keep it fresh. This may result in more people utilizing their custom soundtracks via their in-home stereo than listening to the game itself.
The cool addition of playoff beards are also still in the game. 2K also added the picture-in-picture feature so that you can be shown when players leave/enter the penalty box or anything else important happens off-screen. This feature does have a toggle to be turned on or off though, so if it gets a little annoying, be sure to give it the flick.
As big as a 2K sports fan as I am, it’s a shame to watch the hockey giant take so many steps back in a genre that used to be dominated by their development team. While the game does offer a lot of good elements, the negative ones overshadow them to a point of not wanting to deal with the game entirely. The diehards will preach the game as gospel, but true hockey fans will have no choice but to pick up NHL 10 this year if they’re looking for the best hockey simulation experience possible.