For the last three years or EA's hockey games have been the best sports games on the market. That's not the best hockey game but rather the best sports game period. As the top dog in the industry the folks at EA could afford to take a year off but after seeing the short presentation at E3 I think they are going to continue to build on their existing success.
The big focus for NHL 10
this year is on "emotion and intensity" so the focus is going to be on the physical side of the game. To wit board play has now been improved so you can pin a player on the board and then attempt to kick the puck lose with your skates or knock it out with a stick. This isn't a solo exercise as your teammates will come in to help get the puck away rather than just sitting their like a D-level beer league player.
The emotion and intensity comes into play as they are starting to bring some of the unwritten hockey code into the game. Take a shot on the goalie after the whistle has blown and you're going to have to answer for it. The same thing with head hunting a star player as these actions will now lead to realistic consequences. I asked if we would see incidents along the benches (something that happens a lot in the NHL that doesn't make it onto TV) and we were told that that will make it's way into the game as well as a lot of other post-whistle activities.
The other big addition for this year's game is the new first person fighting mode. When a fight starts you are pulled into the view of your player and as you take hits your vision starts to blur. While you're in the mode you're getting a decent fighting engine and something that's a little more fleshed out. The game even takes in the tendencies of a player to fight as producer DavidLittman was unable to get Sidney Crosby into a fight and instead had other players do his fighting for him (just like real life).
What's important about fighting in the game (as well as in the NHL) is that your team gets an energy boost when you drop the gloves at the right time. Casual hockey fans may not believe this but there is a wrong and a right time to start a fight. When you're down 2-1 in a tight game, it's not a good idea. However when you're down by two goals and the other team is starting to pull away, a fight can inspire your team to turn the game around.
will get a host of other tweaks and new moves. You'll now have more realistic fake shots and better passing. The game is using some of the Madden passing code so you can pass to an area rather than to a specific player which makes passing off the boards and leading a player down the ice all the easier.
As a NHL fan and rec league hockey player it's nice to see the small elements of the game making it's way into the digital representation of the game and so far it looks like EA's NHL game is going to continue it's reign as the number one sports game.