** This review is also on ciao.co.uk by Honest-Dan**
First off I'm not a ice hockey fan, never played the sport and can't actually remember watching it on TV, but I like to try out a variety of games and hopefully find a few gems along the way.... And this is one of them.
The first thing I noticed was how well detailed it was from the stadiums, fans and right down to the players attire. The graphics are superb and probably the most impressive I've seen within an EA game.
There are tons of features available such as:
- User-created tournaments with the ability to use Canadian Hockey League teams.
- The Stanley Cup which is the biggest trophy in ice hockey.
- Ultimate Hockey Team which is a card collecting and trading feature similar to what's used in FIFA were your aim is to build the strongest team to use offline and online.
- Be a GM mode which places you as the general manager of your selected hockey team.
- Be a Pro mode is probably my favourite mode, you create a player and guide him through from the junior league all the way up to the NHL, your first match is in the Memorial Cup, the outcome of this match determines what team you will be drafted to in the forth coming season.
::: On the Ice :::
It's difficult to choose what I love most about the actual gameplay, whether it's the incredible graphics, the realism of the skating that actually makes you feel like you're actually ice skating or the sheer unpredictability of this game.
There are also some nice little touches which have been introduced with this installment, your players now have the ability to lose or break their sticks, you can leap over opposing sliding defenders, hit a shot with the puck in mid-flight and all sorts of crazy deflections which will keep the action going.
The controls are difficult at first, all shots are performed with the right analog stick so being accurate and precise does take some getting used to and you will be hitting shots all over the place but there is a nice tutorial to help you out at the start, but I've found out it's all mainly about timing, your stick handling and getting the correct shot motion with the analog, which is never easy as the pressure is pretty immense especially when the clocks ticking and you have a player charging towards you.
The unpredictability within this game is what keeps it exciting and raw in whichever mode you decide to play in, the Be-a-Pro mode is pretty intense especially if you opt to be an attacker which basically means your job is too score and assist which is not always guaranteed, no matter how good you are at the game, some games I can score 3/4 goals and create an assist and others well I'm pretty dreadful to be honest, but I imagine that's all down to your opposing computer AI and in my opinion this makes the game more realistic and challenging as I would get pretty bored if I was firing in 4/5 goals a game.
The game also features the ability to cause some brutal checks (which are basically smashing your opponent off the puck) which again are difficult to perform as the timing is crucial, if you hit you can cause some serious injury and take their star man out of the game, you miss and well he's flying down the wing and you're left standing.
::: Online :::
My experience online has been lag-free which is the great start for your online experience.
The main mode for online is Ultimate Hockey Team, you create a team using card packs, the more games you play or win the more ''EA pucks'' you recieve, these are used to buy more card packs containing players, player skills and even player contracts so this is really addictive and challenging but unfortunately ''EA pucks'' take a while too accumulate and the best card packs require alot of ''EA pucks'' which equals a hell of alot of games, the only other option is obviously purchasing through a credit card.
::: Overall :::
I think this is EA's best game to date regarding gameplay and graphics, and with not being a Ice Hockey fan to start with it makes it more surprising. I'd imagine for any Ice Hockey fan this would be the pinnacle of Ice Hockey simulations but for me this is just an all round fantastic gaming experience and one I'm really glad I didn't miss.