In the end, this is a game that's hard not to recommend, especially in light of the fact that 2K Sports didn't offer a competitor on the 360 or PS3 this year, so EA could have just stuck with last years game. Instead, they upped their offering to the point that taking this year off could be absolutely the worst thing that 2K could have done.
NHL 11 is EA's greatest son. The graphics are flawless and as I say every year 'How can the graphics get better?' but they can. Gameplay is brilliant and gets more realistic every year. with the new game engine. Alongside FIFA and Madden you would think this would be hard to compete, but to say this is the best hockey game ever is an understatement. This is the best sports game ever is more like it!! Excellent 10/10.
Many won't give it a shot simply due to the lack of major hockey following in the US, but please do yourself and at least give it a try. It is one of the tightest and most polished sports games I've ever played, and truly embodies the cliche "easy to learn, tough to master." I've been playing this game almost every day since it came out, and I'm still uncovering new tricks and strategies to employ. That being said, someone who's never played a hockey game before will have no problem picking up all of the basics after just a game or two.
Since the release of NHL09 the EASPORTS hockey franchise has seen very little in game-play updates and lingering bugs from the previous titles are still present. The new feature for this year is Ultimate Team mode and is basically the only new game mode addition to the game. Similar to FIFA and Madden in years past you use playing cards to build an NHL team, salary cap compliant of course, and then take this team online/offline to complete in games/tournaments. You even need training cards and coaching cards to keep your team competitive. You must sign players with contract cards. You earn EA pucks by playing games and can spend them on all these necessities. This all sounds good in theory however there are a few issues. For one you must be connected to EA servers to play even offline against the CPU. This is a problem considering the state of affairs the EA servers are currently in. It's virtually impossible to play for a few hours and NOT got disconnected. The EASPORTS official forums are littered with similar complaints. Here's the issue: When you get disconnected, you receive a loss. Many people report 1/4 games they will lose connection. This very much so ruins the competitive nature of the game. Second to consider is that when you usually lose, you get 300 EA pucks or so instead of the usual 500 pucks for winning. When you lose connection... you get 0 pucks. Consider that every player has a contract length and you can see why this becomes a problem, especially for the people who have this happen in 1 of 4 games. The second issue with HUT (and this applies to all forms of versus mode too) is that the team who deserves to win does not often enough. There are 3-4 "go-to" plays in the game that if you setup, all game, you will likely win. However if you attempt to play normally, like real hockey, trying all sorts of plays to simulate the sport... you will find yourself many times with twice as many shots and twice as much time on attack as your opponent, yet losing 2-1. In hockey this can happen, however in NHL11 this happens far too often. It takes away from the competitive nature of the game knowing that no matter what you do, if you don't setup the same 3-4 plays you know work almost every time, you might as well just toss up a coin for who's the winner. Moving past HUT let's take a look how the AI. Once again little to no improvement. The good is that they challenge you a lot more defensively. The bad is that they still setup almost nothing offensively, only to match your goals with the 2-3 times they actually do something right. I've tried making the game the most difficult it can be. They are still not competitive. You'll be in their zone all game, 28 shots, 3 goals for... 5 minutes left in the game, they'll get 9 shots on your net, double their time on attack in a matter of minutes and match those 3 goals. That is the game's idea of increased difficulty; having the AI cheat with puck control and score goals at will, after not being competitive all game, just to keep the score clean. If you are new to the franchise you might be able to enjoy the offline play on lower difficulties, however if you are an experienced hockey gamer you will find yourself dominating the AI on all difficulties only to have them randomly tie up games with 2 minutes, over and over again, out of no where. Let's move on to the final part of this review: The game-play This is what the game is renown for, the main reason it's won dozens of sports game of the year awards. I am sad to say it's not really fixed from last year. Improved however, to some degree. There is a new physics engine for hits that truly makes playing online fun again. The hitting engine is not realistic but it is entertaining at that. Also, no more bouncing off people, not often anyways. They've also fixed the stick lift so it's more realistic. They've added in a manual one-timer which is useless but neat. Finally the new passing system involves you having to charge your passes and aim them properly now. Good in theory but could use some tweaks. Overall the gameplay is improved and rather entertaining. The game truly shines playing casual games offline with your friends. However taking this online, into the online team play mode that the game is renown for, is more hit and miss. Over the course of your first 150 games you will unlock various player cards, boosts and equipment that will increase the attributes of your online character. However once a user has reached their max unlocks, they can build their player up in a manner that gives them an advantage over most other users. Stats such as puck control, agility, balance and hand-eye can be put to 99, making it overly difficult to pull simple, properly timed defensive maneuvers against them. This can combated with other stats, yes, but that requires you to also have your player maxed out with unlocks. Much like MW2 was, OTP and EASHL is only truly enjoyable as a veteran of the game...
I'm very surprised by how many positive reviews I've read on this site already. It's not that I haven't seen any negative user reviews, but didn't see any from the actual critics who usually go much further with their critiquing. This game just feels sluggish and slow compared to last years game. It's not that there aren't any improvements at all to the gameplay. Hip checks are a nice, realistic addition to the game that had been missing for many years, but even better than that I noticed was the improved puck physics. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but it was practically impossible to lift the puck any higher than the goalie glove even while he was in the butterfly in last year's NHL 10. That can significantly diminish your chances of scoring on certain breakaways, penalty shots and shootout attempts depending on where the goalie slides and/or which side you commit to first. Anyway, these improvements just aren't enough to outweigh or counter how much different the speed of NHL 11 is compared to last year's 10. Also, the addition of the pressure sensitive passing is also somewhat realistic and gives you control over how hard/fast you can pass the puck to a teammate, but it just doesn't feel right with how the skating flows. Your players move slow enough that it's just all too easy to get drilled before you can get the pass off, and this is extremely frustrating when you have an obvious player to pass to for a huge scoring chance but is denied and is all for not despite his perfect positioning for the nearly developed play. I also like to note that there is finally a an advanced faceoff feature that involves bodily position as well as timing a quick pass off the bat with the right thumbstick which we've already been accustomed to in previous titles. Despite these key four additions to the series, It's arguably just as much of a step backward than it is forward, and for someone like me who doesn't buy the games year after year, this is one of the reasons why.
As an on and off player of this franchise since the mid 90s, I was disappointed with most aspects of the game outside of the graphics. The opening sequence adds 5-10 minutes of work when all our group wanted to do was play head to head. The controls and game play were more troubling. The stating is slow, the passes are hard to control, and scoring touch very hard to find (we played 4 games and score 5 goals combined). Remember delivering exciting bone crushing checks - gone (unless it the computer lays the hit), Remember exciting one-timers - gone. All these are aspects my friends and I loved in NHL 07, can we please go back in time? looks like they made a game to thrill programmers and industry folk, not end users like us.
SummaryCelebrating its 20th year, the franchise that captured 22 ‘Sports Game of the Year’ awards has raised the bar yet again with NHL® 11. Powered by an all-new Real-Time Physics Engine, NHL 11 lets you create highlight reel moments as you experience adrenaline-pumping NHL action with bigger hits, broken sticks, and faster dangles. Whethe...