|System: X360, PS3, PC, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Canada||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: EA Sports||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 9, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
One of the biggest gameplay improvements is with the game's skill stick, which has been given a significant makeover on the defensive end. Players can now use the Right Analog to poke-check or lift the other player's stick from under him, potentially causing him to lose control of the puck or screw up a shot. While defense has never been more functional with the skill stick, offensive moves such as flip dump-ins are essential when changing lines. EA has definitely worked harder to give the player more control, using the analog as a virtual hockey stick that functions better than it ever has before. For fans of past control setups, the game allows you to switch button controls to the popular 06 and 04 setups, which involved more use of face buttons, as EA is doing all they can to keep diehard NHL vets just as happy as new school gamers.
Graphically, NHL 09 is extremely clean. Players look incredible, complete with facial expressions during close-up shots. The crowd appears more realistic than ever, as spectators cheer and react to in-game activity. Stadiums are atmospheric, as the camera pans over freshly-polished ice and the reflection of players gleam off of it. NHL 09 is definitely easy on the eyes, and the graphics do a fantastic job of drawing the player into the action - though it too is definitely not without its flaws. The game has framerate issues, especially during pre-recorded celebrations, replays and up-close shots with lots of onscreen activity. This problem isn't only present in NHL 09. I have noticed shuttering issues in several EA Sports games recently, and I feel this is something that the developers seriously need to nip in the bud. It's not a serious problem in NHL 09 if you don't mind the visual skipping of player movement, but it makes for unpleasant and unsmooth viewing, as players awkwardly shutter on and off the ice.
The duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement offer some of the best commentary of any sports game I have ever heard. Everything they say is enthusiastic, entertaining, and relevant to what is actually happening onscreen, as NHL 09 and its predecessor have raised the bar for what sports game commentating should sound like. Too often, games are ruined by generic, frequently irrelevant, and annoying commentary, whereas NHL 09 is actually made better by its insightful, diverse play-by-play.
With its beautiful presentation, broadcast-like feel, smooth control scheme, and innovative new online functions, NHL 09 is not only the best hockey title on the market, it may very well be the best of all-time. Simply, it seems that while EA has perfected their brand of hockey simulation, 2K is still trying to figure things out, and NHL 09 is simply too big of an entity to compete with. The key now is for EA to fix up some of the framerate issues while not tinkering with too many gameplay mechanics to top their accomplishments in 2010.
CCC Freelance Writer