Better, But Not by Much

nhl2k10_ovechkin580px2k Sports would like nothing more than for you to forget that NHL2k9 ever existed. When the company switched developers from Kush to Visual Concepts (the developers behind the highly-successful NBA2k series), the new team at the helm had a much shorter development cycle than normal. Not surprisingly, 2k9 wasn’t very good. Putting that lackluster effort behind them, Visual Concepts had a full cycle this time around, and the difference certainly shows. NHL2k10 is a much better game than NHL2k9. But it isn’t quite as good as the series’ loyal and hardcore fans might have been hoping for.

One of the NHL2k series’ biggest weaknesses for a number of years now has been in the presentation realm. The game’s graphics have often been a point of criticism for 2k hockey detractors. The boys at Visual Concepts have done a lot to change that this year…kind of. The arenas and rinks in this game are pretty. Prettier than their counterparts in EA Sports’ NHL 10. The game’s framerate is smooth and never shows any signs of slow down. The players and their equipment, however, remain bland and unattractive, as they have for a number of years. The game’s sound effects are laughably bad, too. Slapshots and hits sound nothing like they do in real life.

VC also devoted significant time to improving the game’s AI, but again, the results are mixed. The offensive AI has definitely changed for the better, with your computer-controlled teammates proving to be a lot more useful than they were a year ago. Your forwards will find open ice and help out along the boards, while your blueliners do a great job of keeping pucks in the zone and making themselves available for shots from the point.

Defensively, however, there are still some major problems. When the opposition has the puck, you’ll find your CPU teammates out of position frequently. They’ll miss their mark, or get tangled up with their fellow CPU teammates. The goaltenders in the game are a lot smarter than they were a year ago, but aren’t up to the standard set by NHL2k8, which featured arguably the smartest and most realistic goalies in any hockey game ever.

There are new improvements in what you yourself can do on the ice, such as the addition of stick lifts. But there is nothing in the game as dynamic or exciting as EA’s skill stick. The dekeing system in 2k10 is slow and unresponsive, and simply isn’t very fun.

NHL2k10 places a big emphasis on multiplayer, specifically with a new feature that allows online players to jump into your franchise and play with you or against you. The feature also works the same way with exhibition games and pond hockey. The franchise mode itself, unfortunately, is still lacking in substance, with no staff members or scouting. It would have been nice to see the “My Player” feature that VC has inserted into the NBA game, but it looks like 2k hockey fans will have to wait until next year, at the least, to see that feature in the NHL game.

It seems like Visual Concepts and 2k are on the right track with returning the NHL2k series to its former glory, but there is still work to be done. The reality is that if the game is to compete with EA’s supremely popular brand of hockey, it might simply be time to build a new game engine from the ground up. The 2k hockey engine was superb for its time, but it’s really starting to show its age. VC has done a lot of good work with their basketball game. The hope for 2k hockey fanatics is that eventually, they can do the same on the ice.

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