A Great Game That Builds Upon the Success of Previous Iterations
When NHL 07 hit stores for the Xbox 360, the title really stood out due to its revolutionary "skill stick" control scheme. Essentially, your hockey stick is controlled by the right analog stick. Move it right, your player will deke right, move it left, he'll deke left. Flick it up for a shot, and back then up for a slapshot. While it truly felt awesome to be able to weave my way in and out of defenders, then fake out the goalie, it was pretty bare bones. The skill stick left out some important moves that you would have been able to execute with a standard control scheme, and the game had a serious lack of features. NHL 08 did a good job of adding a few more moves to your arsenal with the skill stick, but again, there weren't many features outside of the standard franchise mode.
Enter NHL 09. EA obviously heard the complaints, and they went all out on this game. The gameplay is primarily the same as last year, but they've added a few new moves that you can use on the defensive side, such as stick lifts to prevent easy one-timers. The features end of the game is where they really stepped it up. In addition to the modes seen last year, NHL 09 includes an all new Be a Pro mode, which was featured in FIFA 08. It is essentially the Superstar mode from Madden. You create a player, or pick one from a list of current players, and you play through their career. You start out in the minor leagues, and based on your play, you will move up lines, and eventually make it to the NHL. It's a really great addition to the game that any hockey fan will spend countless hours playing ( I know I did), but there are a few general complaints. When your player is not on the ice, you have to watch the game from the bench, and you can't move the camera around. It just follows the action. It can get a little old waiting for that stamina bar to fill up before getting back out there. My only other problem with the mode is that your attributes will increase incredibly slowly, almost painfully so. I played a full season, and when you combine the stats from the AHL and NHL, I had 80 goals and 35 assists, which by todays standards means MVP and any other award you can think of, yet even after using all my XP points, I was still only rated a 72. It can get very frustrating knowing that your the slowest one on the ice.
The other big mode included in this years game is the EASHL, or EA Sports Hockey League. In this mode, you again create a player, only here he is taken into the online world. You can start your own team, make the jerseys, recruit players, and eventually you have a user created team of all human players from around the globe. Your team will play other teams in 6v6 games to try and be the best online team there is. Its a cool mode once you get into it, but casual players won't really want to have to deal with the hassle that is involved with getting players to join, or even joining someone elses team for that matter.
Overall NHL 09 is an incredible game. It builds upon the best points from last years game, and adds a plethora of new features that can really extend the games life. Both Be a Pro and EASHL are intimidating at first, but if you give NHL 09 a real solid chance, its bound to win you over.