It is no secret that the NHL series from EA Sports has been one of the best things to happen to sports gaming in ages. Each year the team at EA Canada go above and beyond the call of duty to create the best experience you can get from the sport. NHL 11 continues this trend with a slew of new features including improved physics, broken sticks, improved face-offs and a ton of other gameplay enhancements. The team has really gone all out for the 20th anniversary of the franchise, and once again may have the best sports game of the year on their hands.
Let’s start with the most prominent new addition the physics system. The first time you get on the ice this becomes readily apparent. Checking people into walls no longer triggers a canned animation. Players now react to each and every hit and collision with realistic animations. This carries over into more than just player interaction, but also into puck handling. Performing dekes is now much more dynamic and shots have a much wider range of power and accuracy. All around the new engine really does a fantastic job of recreating every aspect of the sport.
Also new to this year’s game is the addition of EA’s coveted Ultimate Team mode. While FIFA and Madden players are more than familiar with the mode, NHL has yet to see it. Basically you join a large online dynasty with a pack of cards that contain everything from stat boosters to stadiums. The idea is to use the cards to create your ideal team. Then you play games to earn more pucks to buy more cards. It’s an addictive cycle that really adds replay to an already monstrous package.
As for the rest of the modes things remain mainly untouched. Be a Pro, GM, online and single player games are still present, but most are carbon copies of last year’s game. Still it is hard to argue with the sheer amount of things to do in the game. Be a Pro mode now starts you in the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup, which is another new addition to this year’s game. Like everything else this just adds that much more authenticity to the experience. Sadly that is really the only big change to the traditional formula.
Of course modes do not seem to be the focus of the improvements to NHL 11. Gameplay has received the biggest tweaks. The most prominent is the aforementioned physics engine which really changes the way you play the game. It becomes a much more intense experience not knowing how each play will pan out without canned animations and puck direction. EA has also thrown in minor touches such as broken sticks and a new face-off mechanic that allows you ultimate control over where the puck goes if you end up winning. All of these things lend to making NHL 11 feel much more dynamic and realistic.
The AI has also been given an upgrade so players now make better decisions on the higher difficulties. The speed of the game has also been tweaked ever so slightly to give you more time to angle your shots. This is definitely needed because lining up perfect shots and passes now requires much more strategy when combined with the improved AI and new physics engine. Overall the gameplay is nearly perfect and EA Canada continues the trend of creating the most complete and enjoyable hockey experience on the market.
Visually the game excels once again with the host of new animations and improved physics engine. The arenas are absolutely gorgeous and individual celebrations really go a long way in creating the perfect atmosphere. Everything on the ice moves so fluidly that we finally get that feeling that we are watching a real game on television. The separation between reality and gaming is growing smaller every day and the team at EA Canada has done a great job at capturing all that makes the NHL stand out.
Audio is equally impressive with Bill Clement and Gary Thorne delivering pinpoint commentary. Sure you will have some moments of repeating and recycled lines, but overall they nail almost every key moment during the games. The ambience in the arenas is palatable. Every puck crash and goal is delivered with intensity that rocks a proper setup. The music selection is hit or miss as always depending on taste, but the overall presentation is nothing but top-shelf.
The sheer amount of polish in NHL 11 is staggering. The new physics engine and Ultimate Team mode more than warrant the sticker price, and the gameplay is again phenomenal. Fans of hockey need not hesitate picking up EA Canada’s latest. If this is your first foray into NHL prepare to be floored by the amount of content and quality pertained herein. For those of us strapping on the skates again EA Sports has once again delivered a contender for sports game of the year.
Review copy provided by publisher.