Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NHL 09 Impressins (360)

I've been playing NHL 09 for a week now, about 10 hours in total, and here are some early impressions. Well, early and narrow impressions, because all I've done in the 10 hours is explore Be A Pro Mode.

Be a Pro Mode is a new feature for this year's game, and it's outstanding. The front end is fairly standard--you create a player, decide whether to start in the pros or the minors (I chose the minors), and off you go.

One note: there's an option in BAP mode to control one player on the ice at all times, but there's also "authentic" mode, where you sit on the bench and watch the action when your line is not on the ice. Authentic mode is what I chose.

Once you start your career, you just play hockey. And it's great. Even sitting on the bench (or sitting in the penalty box) and watching the game is great, because it builds up anticipation for your next shift.

Based on your performance, you earn experience points they can be used to upgrade your skills. Your coach will promote you or demote you from your current line based on your performance as well, and eventually you can earn a promotion to the NHL.

I noticed a few changes from last year's gameplay, even in this mode. Teams dump the puck into the offensive zone much more often. There's more board play, although still not as much as I'd like. Goalies, at least in the AHL (minor league), make mistakes and commit too early and do all kinds of things that real goalies do. It never feels like Superman is swatting your shots away.

I'm playing as a center, and I've heard lots of good feedback about other skating positions as well. Glen Haag over at The Blog for the Sports Gamer has been playing as a goalie, and his impressions are less positive. Glen played goalie in college and still plays goalie in a league, so his technical knowledge of the position provides an interesting perspective.

Graphics and animation, just like last year, are top-notch, and I particularly notice improvements in the goalie animations this year. Sound is also excellent. This is a polished, outstanding game. I don't think it would beat MLB 08: The Show in terms of overall quality, but that's a very, very high bar.

One note about sliders: I'll put out a preliminary set next week, but if you get the game, you'll probably want to go in and lower game speed, pass speed, and hitting power immediately.

Overall, I would highly recommend this game as a purchase. It's wonderful, engrossing, and intense--just like real hockey.

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