|Platform||Xbox 360, PS3|
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It’s a sports game. The story is made by how you, the player, play it. You need more? Fine. Do you want to make the Columbus Blue Jackets a powerhouse in the league? Should the New York Rangers begin a winning dynasty next year? It’s literally up to you. The only thing I know as I write this is that there is going to be a goalie on the cover for the first time since John Vanbiesbrouck in 1997, and the defending champs will either be the Boston Bruins or Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s never easy to iterate on a yearly franchise, and it’s even harder when those franchises revolve around sports. You can’t add elements that aren’t in the game, and there is only so much fine tuning that can be done. And yet, somehow, EA Sports’ NHL franchise always finds something to tweak to make the game play more naturally for those of us who value the nuances of the sport. And this year, there are three key new features.
The first, and most obvious addition to the casual fan, will be the fighting mechanics. Drawn straight from EA Sports’ Fight Night series, pulling the stick back and pushing them forward will make your players perform haymakers, uppercuts, hooks, and jabs more easily than ever and make fighting worth the five minutes in the sin bin.
Next is checking, and it’s now as natural as running into a player with enough momentum, eliminating the second stick for this most basic of hockey maneuvers. Combined with more realistic collision physics, laying out that player who put his head down as he takes the offensive zone never felt so good.
Finally comes simpler deking. Just by pressing a left-shoulder button and flicking the left stick, you can perform one of four pre-programmed moves that will allow your most skillful players to show off on their way to the net.
These may seem like minor tweaks, but to the most diehard of hockey fan, they’re going to be a big deal, as they were for me as I got the hang of them in my hands-on demo. Of course, like most sports games, the more casual player might not take note of these additions, or appreciate them like myself, but should still be able to have a good time if they enjoy hockey enough to play the game in the first place.