NHL 09 Video Game Review

Skating down the ice, you feel a 225 lb defenseman hot on your heels. You quickly pull back and fire, sniped, top corner. There’s really no feeling like the real thing, but NHL 09 does a very good job of coming as close as possible to making you feel like a real hockey player. And with a myriad of modes to play, the game will keep you hooked and coming back for more, until NHL 2010 comes out at least.

NHL 09 features a slew of improvements over last year’s version of the game. There are more modes than you can shake a stick at. Some of these modes are new to the NHL series. These new modes include the awesome "Be a Pro" mode, online leagues, the Ea Sports Media Hub, a new defensive skill stick and a performance tracker. With all these new features and some returning favorites, there is a ton here for any hardcore hockey fan, and a lot of options for the casual fan as well. They even went as far as to include simplified NHL 94 controls for people who don’t want to deal with complex commands.

For those unfamiliar with the skill stick from the last couple NHL games, let me explain. Basically, your right analog stick functions as your hockey stick. This affords a lot of flexibility in dangling around defensemen and goalies alike. In 09 they have added the same flexibility to the defensive controls, with the ability to more accurately control poke checks and even lift a forward’s stick right as he is about to take a shot.

Of all the new additions to NHL 09, the biggest is by far is "Be A Pro" mode. In it, you create one player, or choose a current NHL player, and you play as them only. This includes the times when you are not on the rink, watching the play from the bench. For someone who isn’t big into hockey, this may be a turn off. However, if you’re watching for a couple of minutes here and there isn’t going to be a bad thing for you, then Be A Pro mode is where you are going to want to spend the bulk of your time. It’s a satisfying experience like nothing I have ever had in a sports game. There is something about the bond you form with your created player – when you score, it just feels so good. The only problem I have with the mode is that progression is extremely slow. I had to play a good 5 games before my pro was able to go up one stat point. There are a ton of different stat categories, which is generally a good thing, but building your pro into a top player will take a very long time.

Another addition that a lot of players will be excited about is the online league component. Gamers from all around the world can create a team with their friends and take part in games together. It’s a lot of fun to get your team online and compete throughout a whole season. That’s not to say the online leagues are perfect, since your stats earned in the online mode don’t carry over to your offline pro. It’s a rather cumbersome system to get in a league and actually start playing, but if you are willing to brave all of this, playing a game online with 11 other people, (10 skaters and 2 goalies) is very rewarding.

For those who love playing GM, the dynasty mode returns basically untouched from last year’s game. In dynasty, you make a team and you control every aspect of the team, from finances to playing the actual games. It’s a lot of fun, but with the addition of Be A Pro, I don’t think many people are going to spend too much time with it.

With the Ea Sports Media Hub, gamers can now save some of those kick-ass moments. Score a really awesome goal and want to save it forever? That’s not a problem anymore, now that you can save your videos and watch them down the road. You can also upload these videos and photos online to be seen by the entire EA sports community.

The performance tracker is basically just what it sounds like. It lets you know exactly how your created character is progressing. You earn your own hockey cards, which are unlocked by completing certain challenges such as scoring a certain number of goals, participating in a certain amount of games and things of that nature. It adds a lot of depth to the game because you always have something to strive for.

NHL 09 offers very good visuals, however it won’t completely knock your socks off. The animations are very smooth and look pleasing. Goalie animations have been ramped up from last year and look very solid. Hitting looks good because of the improved physics engine, as players actually react to hits the way they should and they look very natural. The only problem the game has visually is that during replays and shots of the crowd the frame rate suffers a great deal.

As we’ve come to expect from an EA sports title, the soundtrack is excellent. A diverse selection of bands and musical styles is on offer, so there’s something for everyone’s taste. The sound effects in the game are incredible. Everything from the thud of a player getting smashed into the boards, right down to the chatter of the players on the ice is done perfectly, and Gary Thorn and Bill Clement do a very good job talking up the action, although some phrases are recycled from last year’s game.

Overall, if you like hockey, there is no reason not to play NHL 09, it’s an incredibly deep game that offers a little bit for everyone. There are so many modes in the game that it would be almost impossible to get bored with it. The Be A Pro mode alone can easily suck up hundreds of hours of your life. With great online play in the mix, NHL 09 truly is the total package.

Fun Factor – 9
If you like hockey, then NHL 09 offers everything you have ever wanted from a hockey game and more.

Graphics – 7.5
The graphics won’t blow you away, but the animations are very solid and realistic; however major frame rate issues pop up during replays, but don’t affect gameplay.

Sound – 9
The sound effects are awesome and the musical soundtrack is very good. Gary Thorn and Bill Clement do a great job talking up the on-ice action.

Multiplayer – 7.5
The online leagues are a lot of fun, but the multiplayer menus are pretty cumbersome.

Single Player – 9
The Be A Pro mode can easily own your life. Hardcore hockey fans and casual fans alike will probably spend most of their time playing this mode.

Controls – 8.5
The skill stick works very well. It’s a very intuitive way to control a hockey game that feels natural.

Overall – 9
NHL 09 is an extremely good representation of hockey. It features good visuals, a ton of modes and one of the most addicting gameplay options I have experienced in a sports game, in Be A Pro.

The performance tracker is basically just what it sounds like. It lets you know exactly how your created character is progressing. You earn your own hockey cards, which are unlocked by completing certain challenges such as scoring a certain number of goals, participating in a certain amount of games and things of that nature. It adds a lot of depth to the game because you always have something to strive for.

NHL 09 offers very good visuals, however it won’t completely knock your socks off. The animations are very smooth and look pleasing. Goalie animations have been ramped up from last year and look very solid. Hitting looks good because of the improved physics engine, as players actually react to hits the way they should and they look very natural. The only problem the game has visually is that during replays and shots of the crowd the frame rate suffers a great deal.

As we’ve come to expect from an EA sports title, the soundtrack is excellent. A diverse selection of bands and musical styles is on offer, so there’s something for everyone’s taste. The sound effects in the game are incredible. Everything from the thud of a player getting smashed into the boards, right down to the chatter of the players on the ice is done perfectly, and Gary Thorn and Bill Clement do a very good job talking up the action, although some phrases are recycled from last year’s game.

Overall, if you like hockey, there is no reason not to play NHL 09, it’s an incredibly deep game that offers a little bit for everyone. There are so many modes in the game that it would be almost impossible to get bored with it. The Be A Pro mode alone can easily suck up hundreds of hours of your life. With great online play in the mix, NHL 09 truly is the total package.

Fun Factor – 9
If you like hockey, then NHL 09 offers everything you have ever wanted from a hockey game and more.

Graphics – 7.5
The graphics won’t blow you away, but the animations are very solid and realistic; however major frame rate issues pop up during replays, but don’t affect gameplay.

Sound – 9
The sound effects are awesome and the musical soundtrack is very good. Gary Thorn and Bill Clement do a great job talking up the on-ice action.

Multiplayer – 7.5
The online leagues are a lot of fun, but the multiplayer menus are pretty cumbersome.

Single Player – 9
The Be A Pro mode can easily own your life. Hardcore hockey fans and casual fans alike will probably spend most of their time playing this mode.

Controls – 8.5
The skill stick works very well. It’s a very intuitive way to control a hockey game that feels natural.

Overall – 9
NHL 09 is an extremely good representation of hockey. It features good visuals, a ton of modes and one of the most addicting gameplay options I have experienced in a sports game, in Be A Pro.

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