Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thoughts on the NHL 11 demo

The demo for EA Sports' upcoming NHL 11 was released to Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network yesterday. I've spent hours upon hours playing NHL 10, so I was eager to get my hands on the demo for the new one. Thoughts:

The good
  • The revamped faceoff system is awesome. Tons of different options for the dot. I wonder if some of the techniques will be exploited online, though.
  • Broken sticks are a lot cooler than I thought they'd be. I love that sometimes the player can go pick it up, but sometimes it just sits there on the ice for 5 minutes like in real life.
  • I didn't really understand the "quick dekes" EA was touting until I actually played. It means while in NHL 10 you could only deke "left" or "right," in NHL 11 you can change stick direction mid-deke. It's invaluable on breakaways when you're trying to deke the goalie in a tight situation.
  • The Hockey Ultimate Team mode is awesome, and makes for a surprisingly beefy demo. It's very similar to FIFA 10's Ultimate Team, but it's much more refined. The whole "value vs. potential" aspect and limited training slots per player make every decision even harder. I will spend forever in this mode. And unlike in FIFA, NHL's Hockey Ultimate Team comes packaged with the game when it hits stores September 7; you don't have to buy it as a separate download.
  • Menus and interfaces have been partially overhauled, which I've wanted for a while now. We'll see if that carries over into every game mode.
  • The new TV-style presentation is spectacular, a huge step up from last year. I especially like the subtle touches of giving little details on the scoreboard before faceoffs, things like players' faceoff percentage and teams' power play efficiency. A couple little flaws I noticed in the demo though: info on players will have a background the color of their team (i.e. Flyers players will have an orange background), and when I played as a team with yellow info backgrounds, you could barely read the small white font signifying their goals, assists, etc. Also, when I played against Team Canada in the demo, the intro sequence presented them simply as "TEAM". Hope that gets fixed.
  • The Canadian Hockey League's inclusion is great for more than just the 60 extra teams you can play as. All these added prospects means that Manager Mode, Be a Pro Mode, and the new HUT mode will be much deeper than before.
  • The ice surface is a huge step up from last year; it looks more worn out. Perhaps that's why there are scratches all over Mr. Toews on the box art.
  • Player models, especially their faces, are upgraded from last year.
  • It'll take a while to get used to the new passing control (holding RT longer for harder passes), but I imagine once I adapt to it, I won't be able to go back. No more ping-pong passing.
  • The real-time physics engine means the hits look great, but I found myself pulling off massive hits far too often. I hope this is only for demo purposes, and it'll be toned down for the real game.
  • The new physics also mean the game has a slower, less arcadey pace than NHL 10. At first it felt like playing in peanut butter, but after a while it feels much more realistic than its predecessor.

The bad
  • Presumably, the Flyers-Blackhawks Battle for the Cup mode included in the demo is representative of the Stanley Cup Finals in NHL 11. Bummed out teams playing in the Finals still don't get the Finals patch on their jerseys, although I guess it'd be tough to generate random patches that haven't been designed yet for future Finals.
  • Also sad playoff beards still haven't found their way into the game--2K Sports' inferior NHL 2K series has had them for a few years now.
  • I don't like that the demo lets us see our team lifting the Cup! That would be like the end of Fallout 3 revealed in the demo. I understand it's there to get attention, but I still wish the demo ended at the end of the game. It's nifty to see the presentation of the Conn Smythe Trophy, though--I don't recall that being in NHL 10, but I may be wrong.
  • There's still the issue of jersey stretching--if a player outstretches his arm, you'll see the nameplate on his sweater stretch with it.
  • Judging from the sample of players available in the HUT demo, it looks like the Kontinental Hockey League and Slovak Extraliga haven't been added to the game (I'd also like to see the ECHL, but that's further down my wish list). It may be because of the huge addition of CHL teams this year. If EA can add the KHL and Slovak Extraliga, they'd have every major hockey league in the world represented in the game. Rumor has it EA is working with the NCAA to include Division 1 college teams in NHL 12. That will be awesome.
  • I hope EA secures the rights to the official IIHF uniforms for national teams, so we don't have to endure another year of national teams with "generic sweater + country flag" uniforms. It'd also be nice if we can pick if we want to play in North American or international-sized rinks, regardless of what team we're playing as.
  • We want to see the Winter Classic! EA Canada could even take the Ralph Wilson Stadium and Heinz Field models straight from the Madden team at EA Tiburon. There may be some copyright issues with using Wrigley Field and Fenway Park since 2K has exclusive rights to Major League Baseball video games, but I'm sure EA could find a workaround. If it were in NHL 11, though, it probably would've been announced by now. I hope it makes the cut next year.


  1. Nice demo review. Sounds like the cons are small compared to the big new additions to the game.

  2. Hi Jake,
    Since I don't play video games, this isn't a comment on your review - except that it looks extraordinarily thorough. I just wanted to tell you about something that I saw while I was coming in to work this morning in Canada's national capital (the one that isn't Toronto).

    I was standing at a major intersection when a guy came screaming down the hill that leads from Parliament on roller blades - doing the whole power skate in a main traffic lane. He was about 55 years old wearing shorts on the bottom, a dress shirt and tie on top, and a helmet. He was carrying a briefcase and a hockey stick and was doing some kind of stick-handling routine as he went smoking past me. I wondered if the stick would also be useful for pushing politicians out of the way.

    Anyway, it was an odd sight, even for hockey-crazy Canada. Wish I could have taken a picture to send to your blog.

    Keep up the good work! CM

  3. CM, a fantastic story. I'm glad you still read my blog, even if a lot of the stuff I write about may not exactly be up your alley!

    Being from Washington, DC, I feel a connection to Ottawa. Both North American capital cities that are overshadowed by much bigger cities a few hours away.

    Actually there's a pretty big group of people here in D.C. who regularly play roller hockey right in the middle of a bunch of government buildings. It's a strange sight, seeing all hundreds of cars and people in fancy suits walking by these roller hockey games.

  4. Jake,
    If you haven't played ball hockey, you should try it. I know a group of Cdns and Americans who get together for a weekly game in Bridgetown, Barbados so there is clearly some appeal.

    re: my alley. It is broad but not deep. I have kids who are probably your age and I am used to having only a marginal understanding of what they are into. However, good writing is good writing and I hope to continue to visit your blog. Your post on 10 Worst Flags is excellent, although I confess I had not ever heard of the two faces in the Cdn flag. Once I looked I found them though - who knew?