Review By Kyle Anderson
The NHL's Boys of Winter are already skating in preseason action, which means it's time once again for this year's versions of the two big hockey franchises to hit consoles. While EA's "NHL 10" is so faithful to the sport that it almost collapses under the weight of completion, 2K Sports' "NHL 2K10" takes a more, "Hey look! Hockey is awesome!" approach. While hardly a classic and certainly not on the shortlist of best sports games of 2009, "NHL 2K10" still delivers enough variables, alternate modes and Canadian wackiness to keep puck enthusiasts high sticking into infinity.
It's hockey. It's played on ice by dudes from Eastern Europe and Canada with unpronounceable names. Perhaps you've seen it?
"NHL 2K10" looks stunning, especially if you're the type of person who really pays close attention to details like scoreboard designs in individual arenas (and let's face it, I am that type of person). Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh looks exactly like it does in real life, down to those strangely-lit concessions concourses you can see on TV all the time.
The knock on hockey is that it's an awesome game to watch if you're live in the arena but a total snooze on television (which is perhaps why the NHL has been banished to the Versus network, a station known best for broadcasting bicycle races). So rather than making the game look like a broadcast, "NHL 2K10" does its best to build the live event ambiance. The crowd reactions even vary from city to city, so if you do something excellent in front of the home crowd in Phoenix (where they care very little about the team), it won't get as big a reaction as it would in, say, Detroit (where they're totally gay for stick and puck).
You can drive a zamboni. Why isn't there a whole game devoted entirely to this pursuit?
A general sense of fun
From the game's excellent cover art down to the fighting system, "NHL 2K10" posseses a certain joie de vivre that is rarely seen in the stats and details world of sports games. Sometimes, you have to take yourself less seriously.
Pass on the pond
While the opportunity to play pond hockey (a four on four style of play) and a two on two backyard version of the sport, these exhibitions adhere to the intricate controls of the main game too much, which leaves them sort of bloodless. What should have been a fun arcade-style experience just becomes stale after about three minutes.
Despite boasting a new stick control system, the learning curve on those dekes and jukes is fantastically steep. That wouldn't be a problem if it weren't the only way to effectively score goals in the game. And they also give fancy scorers like Sidney Crosby and cover boy Alex Ovechkin an unfair advantage, as fakeouts essentially turn them into supermen.
Your enthusiasm for "NHL 2K10" isn't really tied to your fervor for the sport of hockey. After all, I stopped paying attention when the Whalers moved out of Hartford and still think it's the most fun hockey game I've played in years. It's a well-balanced, nuanced game that despite its quirks stands strong as an excellent altarnative to actually watching hockey. The hardest of hardcores will probably go with EA's stuffy alternative, but if you've ever thought, "Boy, hockey fights are pretty great" at least owes "NHL 2K10" a rental.