From: EA Sports
For: Xbox 360
Genre: Simulation, Sports
ESRB Rating: N/A
Following a solid showing for several years running now, the newest of EA's annual NHL games brings with it a new mode that will engage the hardcore hockey gamers like never before - and make EA a bunch more money out of the less-than-expert users… more money than usual, anyway.
The essence of the yearly release is still business as usual; updated rosters, obviously, plus some new player animations, tweaked (for the better) graphics and simulated niceties, like sticks that actually break, just like real life, and just as aggravating in all the right ways.
But it's all polish on the established playability of a great hockey game series that asks you to pony up top-dollar for planned-obsolescence in your face, year after year.
On the upside, being mostly the same as last year's NHL game is not necessarily a bad thing. You're looking at a brand new year worth of quick or full season play, playoffs only, online head-to-head and virtual leagues and the seriously long playing Be a Pro career mode where you take a self-created guy from the juniors to the pros, which now includes the CHL, the junior Canadian Hockey League where many of the greats cut their teeth. And NHL 11 is surely the slickest, smoothest and sexiest hockey game going, bar none. Still, been there, done that (last year).
Now, as already seen in other EA Sports titles but genuinely new to NHL 11 is the Ultimate Team mode. This lavishly complex franchise simulator starts where you're dealt a random deck of hockey-flavored bubblegum cards out of which you build your ultimate team.
Somewhat like a role-playing game mixed with a management sim, player cards each start with a modest skill set of things like skating strength, shot, defensive/offensive savvy and checking prowess, all tallied as a single score over max potential befitting the real player on the card. Thus, through playing and training, you earn more point cards and buff up each player with faster skating, harder shooting, accuracy etc., which you throw down on your chosen ones like manna. Or steroids. It's a ludicrously deep tinker-mode with graphs and charts suggesting ever-elusive intangibles like the "chemistry" of any given line, and throws in long-tail enhancements like contracts and the player security they bring.
The hardcore will likely enjoy Ultimate mode for all the National Hockey League intricacies made interactive and rewarding if you know what you're doing. Or, more coyly, if you want to look like you know what you're doing.
As it turns out, racking up the necessary points to earn more cards to get better players or more contracts to keep the good players you already have is really difficult. In fact, the complexity of it all basically makes it unplayable if you don't have the time, patience and know-how... unless you have a credit card handy.
You see, if you're fairly invested in one of these Ultimate seasons and you run out of points and you don't want to start again from scratch - and who would with all that time and effort invested? - EA has graciously allowed for you to drop some real cash and actually buy some cards rather than earn them. You can solve any problem if you can spare the coin. So it's not really a hockey game mode after all. It's a Daddy's Little Princess mode with EA gouging you for the ponies and glass slippers and tiaras and whatever else the Princess needs before she holds her breath and turns blue. Gee, thanks EA.
You can just skip the whole Ultimate thing, of course, in which case you're left with an admittedly awesome hockey game that is pretty much just like last year's awesome hockey game with nothing notably new about it beyond tweaks and spit-polish, which isn't notably awesome at all.