Saturday, 12 July 2008

Does It Smell Like An Arena?

I am an Electronic Arts lifer. I was sold on NHL Hockey when it first came out on the Sega Genesis, and I have annually supported the video game company with a purchase of their game for whatever platform I have at the time. The newest spawn in EA Sports' line of NHL games is NHL 09, featuring Calgary Flames' defenceman Dion Phaneuf on the front cover. Yes, the current Mr. Elisha Cuthbert is the newest coverboy for the biggest video game hockey franchise. Just be thankful it wasn't the former Mr. Elisha Cuthbert and current Vogue magazine intern, Sean Avery. In any case, I am excited for the newest installment of EA's NHL franchise, and look forward to its release on September 9, 2008.

There are some excellent new features that EA Sports is incorporating into the game, and I think these will be solid additions.

The first is the "Be A Pro" feature where you will literally go from the minors to the NHL if you're good enough. From the EA website, "Be A Pro starts your career off in the ranks of the AHL and challenges you to become one of the best in the NHL. Your very own hockey card will mark your progress, from your rookie beginnings to a potentially legendary ending".

This sounds like a phenomenal idea. It used to be easy to create a player and be the best player in the league. Now, it will truly be a challenge to call yourself "the best player" as there are over 50 categories in which the game will evaluate your created player. The Performance Tracker will judge you on everything, from gameplay to intangibles.

From Andy Agostini, one of the producers of NHL 09, "[l]ike in real life, scouts rate players on their skill and potential. We have taken that and tried to realistically portray that in our game. Not every player grows at the same rate across all their skills. Some players become defensive players after they get drafted and their offensive skills get stale. Some develop into superstars even though they might not have been rated highly in the draft. With the new system you will be looking for players who are skilled as well as having an upside in an area you are looking for. We have also included a new training system that allows you to tell a player what areas of his game he should work on. This will allow you to manage the training of every player on your franchise".

Solid. I'm looking forward to this. The "Be A Pro" feature will allow for 15 seasons of play, meaning you could be a career minor-leaguer. However, there is the potential for a call-up to the NHL in as little as five games. Superstar? Third-liner? Career bus travel? Only you can decide.

The "Create-A-Play" breakout system allows armchair coaches to design a play for their team. Rather than using the set system to break it out of your defensive zone, the ice become an easel for you to weave poetry-in-motion. Want to design a play for your speedy winger, for example? Flip the puck down the ice with your defenceman and let your winger catch fire.

International play gets a little more crowded with the introduction of the German DEL, the Czech Extraliga, and, for the first time ever, the Russian Superliga. We've heard all the chatter about the Russian leagues before, so now you can control the famed teams of the SuperLeague and run roughshod over those teams with guys like Alexey Morozov.

Kevin from Barry Melrose Rocks will love the re-introduction of NHL 94 controls. For those that were thinking that this game will require an extra set of thumbs, you won't have to live under power lines or near a nuclear power plant to control every aspect of the game. The "simplified two-button control system" is back, and I commend EA Sports for making things simpler.

Of course, the graphics have been touched up, and there are 300 new animations making their way to the gaming platform of your choice. EA Sports appears to have another winner on its hands as it continues its championship ways. Look for the game on September 9, 2008 at where ever you pick up your video games!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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