The 2009-10 NHL season kicked off recently, so now is the perfect time to look at the two big new pro hockey games.
This year, 2K Sports has made the game easier to play (thankfully) with an entirely new artificial intelligence. There are new animations, and you get more control on defense. There are new introductions for each arena. There are better - and longer - goal celebrations, plus a much deeper franchise mode. There's a new contract/free agency system, and in the Wii version, some neat mini-games that anybody can pick up and play easily.
But more than all that, "NHL 2K10" just looks and feels like you would want a hockey game to look and play like. The players are bigger and more realistic than before. The speed is just right. San Jose Sharks announcer Randy Hahn adds to the realistic experience with his excited and varied commentary. There's a complete online suite of features to track individual performances and join leagues.
Not much to dislike here.
EA Sports has tried to emphasize little things: Bigger players can easily hold off smaller ones. You'll see fans banging on the glass. Your players will get noticeably fatigued. You can bank passes off the wall. In fights, you can pull your opponent's jersey over his head to try to give yourself an advantage.
And I loved how, once you reach the playoffs, arenas are louder, fans more passionate.
EA Sports' new hockey game also has added a neat feature that allows you to easily toggle your game experience from a pick-up-and-play casual mode with lots of big hits (but soft defense) to a hardcore mode that gives you complete control over passes (and is much harder than I anticipated). It's like driving a car without power steering.
It doesn't look or play quite as well as the stellar "NHL 2K10," but it's still a winner.