PS3 Review – NHL 11

Another year of hockey is upon us, and with that EA, has released this year’s hockey simulation, NHL 11. With this new addition to its NHL series, EA Sports provides plenty of tweaking and a few added features to the overall package. While this game is sure to bring in new comers to the series, the big question will be does it do enough to lure series veterans back to the ice.

On the surface, most of NHL 11 has remained unchanged from previous installments, with most of the modes present being a direct port from last year’s model. Be a Pro, EA Sports Hockey League, and the GM mode remain intact, though, you will notice plenty of AI adjustments, and finally, the Canadian Hockey League. On top of this, comes create-a-jersey and real prospects are now available to be drafted, giving gamers a more complete package at their disposal. These modes may come across a bit redundant to those who have experienced the game before, but still remain as great as they were last year.

The biggest addition this year is the Ultimate Hockey League, which might be familiar to those who have played the Madden or FIFA series. In this mode, gamers will be given a random deck of cards to build a franchise. You can earn new abilities or buy new cards. A chemistry system introduced to this mode will have gamers moving around cards to find just the right combinations. The Hockey Ultimate Team can be a bit cumbersome and takes a lot of getting used to, but if mastered, provides a wealth of depth for anyone willing to pick up a clipboard.

Though the modes have not seen a lot of new additions, gameplay however has seen plenty of tweaks thrown into the mix that enhance every aspect of the game from the shooting to the passing. These additions may not revolutionize any of the gameplay present in the game but adds a fresh lick of paint to what was already a very polished part of the past game. Broken sticks, new hitting physics, better board play and better passing are all added to NHL 11.

Broken sticks might have been overlooked by most of us when it was first announced, but really adds to games, as players will now be running around crazy when their twig breaks in half. Not only will sticks break when your player gets slashed but also when you attempt a slapshot. When the stick breaks, gamers will now have the choice of playing the puck with their skates, grabbing a stick from a teammate or skating to the bench to grab a replacement. The added element of surprise over your stick breaking creates new opportunities on the ice for both the computer and yourself.

New face-offs and a new physics engine also see the light of day in NHL 11. Face-offs now have plenty of strategy added to them as gamers have more options off the draw then just pulling the face-off back. Change your players grip on his stick to win it on your forehand or backhand; win the draw in any direction, shoot it at the net or put your body in the opposing player and allowing your wingers to help win the toss-up. All of these changes make each face-off in every situation that much more crucial. The physics engine though takes the cake as it clearly affects everything you do in the game. Rebounds come off the goalie better, blocked shots bang off players in a more realistic way and checks are finally hitting their stride. Checks no longer follow a set pattern as players react different to each check, meaning new animations to be seen every single time a player is hit. Whether it’s a big open ice hit or a crushing check behind the net, you will rarely see the same reaction from the player being hit. With this change, hitting has also become a bit more difficult to master as gamers might find themselves lining up for a big hit only to miss by inches.

New moves and dekes are a big reason for the increased difficulty players might find in hitting each other. Moving the puck through your legs or around prone players will take getting used to but is better implemented in this year’s game. Players with high deking skills will find it to be a lot of fun to sashay around their opponents on way to a hopefully gorgeous goal. Board play has also seen improvement over last years model with the process feeling a lot smoother. The AI has been given a huge boost in NHL 11 as your computer opponents and teammates will not only score you a few great goals but will lay a crushing check on you or use their stick to poke the puck off your stick. In past games, the computer was unsure of how to check or break up plays, but that is changing. The Defense and Goalie AI has been improved with the intent to try to stop the cheap backdoor goals that happened too often in 2010. Goalies will play their angles a lot better, but again, not perfect as they become fish out of water far too often, allowing for some lame goals to occur. Not all is great though, as the computer is still prone to make the occasional bonehead play, however, this doesn’t happen with the same frequency that it did in games earlier.

Online Team-Play has also received a new addition, with a practice mode added to your options, along with a more in-depth look at your club. Practice mode is something that was asked for by gamers, and EA Sports have delivered. Here, you can go into your online teams profile and have a 2-12 player practice with players on your team. Whatever spots are not taken by a human player are handled by a computer. This mode is great for teams that want to build chemistry or try something new without hurting their team’s record. Statistics for your team and individual player have also been upgraded with more options to look over.

The presentation in NHL 11 has been privy to some tweaks to improve it, but is also starting to show weakness. One of the biggest gripes from many gamers about NHL 10 was the lag found while scrolling through menus or loading up new games. Both of these have been fleshed out, though not taken out completely. The menus have seen a gigantic overhaul, making it easier to scroll through the plethora of options. Most importantly, when editing your “Be A Pro” character, you can easily switch your position and gameplay style without ever leaving the attributes screen, saving players on long loading times. While the pre-game fireworks and chants during the game have seen a vast improvement, there are still far too many real NHL players that don’t have a face to go along with their body and the ones that do could use some serious improvements. The soundtrack also gets a bit repetitive but this can easily be fixed by adding your own music playlist to the game from your PS3 HDD.

EA Sports has definitely made much-needed improvements to this years offering with new face offs, a new physics engine and improved menus. While the series is starting to show a couple of gray hairs here and there, the core game play elements that have stayed in tact are still fundamentally solid and the additions add plenty to enjoy. Hockey Ultimate Team is a welcome addition though it will take plenty of time to master and practice mode is a great mode for teams out there. EA Sports continues to be the cream of the crop when it comes to sports games. Series vets will be happy to find an improved game this time around and new players to the series will find plenty of fun to be had on their way to the cup.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

New Physics Engine Makes Huge Impact

Menu’s See Much Needed Overhaul

Practice Mode and Hockey Ultimate Team Add Depth

10 out of 10