NHL 2011 first impressions

by: Ben Berry -
More On: NHL 2011
In the world of EA Sports, Madden is the summer mega blockbuster super seller while the NHL franchise is like the art house flick. Sure, not all of your friends have seen it, but the ones who have can't stop talking about it. Plus, while the masses are out playing Madden, the discerning crowd that purchases NHL annually are rewarded with "Game of the Year" accolades and continual improvements that completely distance the game from the competitors offering.

And after about an hour playing the Xbox 360 demo released today, this year is looking to be the same. With a flurry of announced new features throughout the summer, NHL 2011 is probably seeing as much or more hype than the game has seen in any of it's previous instances. This year's demo has the traditional "Battle for the Cup" mode, which allows you to take over one of the two teams in the 2010 Stanley Cup finals (Philadelphia and Chicago) and play as either team in attempting to win the 7th game of the final.

In that first period I played, I saw some many new things we'd heard about it's hard to even break it all down. I didn't break a stick once tonight, but I rocked multiple players along the boards including Chris Pronger, watching the new physics model contort their bodies as a result of the hit. It's great seeing far more realistic and less repetitive responses to big hits. Even when the hits are only so-so, you can still knock the opponents stick loose from their hand, freeing the puck.

The new faceoff control is nothing short of terrific. You pick a side (forehand or backhand), then time moving the puck forwards or back with the drop of the puck. You can also choose to tie up your opponent and allow your wingers to fight for the faceoff win. There's even a new overhead view for center ice faceoffs which is pretty terrific. 

The realism seemed to increase in almost all areas. Board battles add true defensive zone realism. More difficult defenses and goalies make goal scoring even more challenging. Normally Im a 3 goal a game guy (or more) in Pro mode. This year it took me periods to score an single goal, and I lost my first for games. My first goal was actually a shootout goal, one of the few modes that seems relatively unchanged. I managed to score a couple of goals in later games, but its definitely more challenging to get offense going.

Finally, theres the new Hockey Ultimate Team mode. I don't want to go too far into it or I won't have anything left to talk about, but it's essentially a collectible card game where you earn points to buy packs of cards by playing games of hockey online. The cards are players, jerseys, and upgrades that allow you to customize your ultimate team and play in online tournaments to continue to earn points and play for monthly championships.

It's amazing that in a game this good there can be this many new features. And that's without the addition of the new CHL teams and players, the enhanced Be A Pro mode, or any of the other enhancements.
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