NHL 11 Hands-on Preview

By Xav de Matos, Aug 20, 2010 2:40pm PDT At E3 2010, I walked away from my hands-on time with NHL 11 extremely worried. While EA Canada's hockey title continues to look and feel fantastic, a lot of additional gameplay features have been added that I felt broke the experience.

Fans of Madden remember when EA first introduced the QB Vision mode to the game. It was one of those concepts that EA was so proud of at the time that it was prominently featured throughout the experience. In the end, most hated the idea and it was quickly buried in future iterations of the game.

In NHL 11, EA has added true physics to the entire experience. Rather than have canned animations for checks and player moves, everything is thrown into the "real world." It's a great idea, except (at E3) the game went overboard. In one game on default settings against one of the game's producers, I saw seven game-ending injuries and so many broken hockey sticks that I could have built a new bridge connecting Canada to the United States.

At Microsoft's X10 event in Toronto I had a chance to lace-up with a near final version of NHL 11 and, thankfully, things on the ice have calmed down substantially.

Facing off against a Microsoft rep, I took control of the Pittsburgh Penguins against the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks. (Note: I would have selected my team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, but I actually wanted to win the game.)

I won't bother getting into specifics of the game's new presentation style, considering a demo is available for you to play for yourself. Rather, I'd like to spend some time outlining how the game has changed since I first played it earlier in the year.

Sadly, I'm not sure which settings the demo at X10 was running on. The station was set up as is and the rep quickly threw me into the menus. I did spot the game was running on "Pro" mode, which is the same setting available in the demo.

At E3 2010, the game had a hard time deciding how big or small a hit would necessitate an injury. By "hard time" I mean, everything was considered equal to being shot on the ice. Bodies flew like it was Cirque du Soleil. Gameplay was constantly paused to showoff another grimacing player as he made his way to the bench to pack his bag and go home for the night. It made the entire experience boring and the dedicated physics meaningless.

In the close to final build we actually got to play a game. Throughout the entire evening I only noticed one injury; 2010 cover-boy Patrick Kane limping off the off after skating into the boards like a puppy who saw his reflection for the first time.

With things a little calmer, it actually makes the way you approach situations much more strategic. Do you sit back and let the opposing team set up on you trying to chip away at their possession? Do you send out your defense to attempt a devastating hip-check to shift the momentum in your favor? These are all choices you could make in the past, but connecting bodies would always fall in the same fashion, allowing hardcore video game players to memorize how the puck would react to situations.

Now, the game feels as realistic as it looks. Decisions you make on the fly matter more than ever. It's necessary to play with the strategies in the game to counteract an opposing player's play style. It's not as random as I'm making out to seem but it follows a flow that inches closer to the real game as it ever has before.

In the end, after I beat the Microsoft rep by a score of 4-0 (in your face), I was much more comfortable in my mandatory excitement for the game when it launches next month. Why mandatory? I am Canadian, after all.

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