Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NHL 09 Review

It is finally time for my review of NHL 09. It has taken me much longer than anticipated to write this, but that is because NHL 09 is that hard to put down. I could easily have written this post on any of the last few nights. The problem is that every minute spent at my keyboard would be one less spent on the virtual ice. That last sentence probably tells you everything you need to know about NHL 09.

Last year's NHL 08 was simply an achievement in sports video games and easily the best game of fake hockey since the glory days of the NHL franchise on the Sega Genesis. The good news for fans this season is that not a whole lot has changed on the ice this year. The couple team-play games I have played went a lot like last year, but with better opposition AI. So if I have only played a "couple" of team games, what is all this talk about me playing so much?

The big addition in NHL 09 is the addition of the Be A Player (BAP) mode. Early on I was very skeptical about BAP. Admittedly this was mainly because I had tried it out in FIFA 08 and did not enjoy it much. BAP mode translates much better to NHL though, and from the first time I stepped into Sidney Crosby's skates in the demo I was hooked.

The real meat of BAP mode is to create yourself and then embark on your pro hockey career. You get to choose which AHL team you start out with and then begin your quest to make it to the NHL. I made myself as a playmaking center and as such decided to join up with the Minnesota Wild's affiliate the Houston Aeros. Obviously I would prefer to be on the Penguins, but I think cracking that lineup as a young center could take a while. Playing as a single player in a hockey game is so much fun you wonder why it took this long to happen. Even sitting on the bench between shifts is bearable as you regain your strength quite quickly and can then manually call for a line change to get back on the ice. The only real drawback is that by starting out on the third line of an AHL team you don't exactly have great talent around you. That was especially tough as a playmaker.

I worked around my teammates' shortcomings though and managed to work my way all the way up to the first line on the Aeros. Then last night, after my 16th game with the Aeros, I got word from the GM that I had been called up by the Wild and would be playing in their next game. This news was tempered by the fact that the Wild also traded for Brendan Morrison, which put another playmaking center between me and first line duty. I played my first game with Minnesota and there was a noticeable step up in difficulty at the NHL level, which was a pleasant surprise. After lighting up the AHL for 16 games I was shut out in my NHL debut against Phoenix. It was still a blast though. BAP is the best thing to happen to hockey video games since making Gretzky's head bleed.

Glove save, and a beauty!

To compliment BAP online, EA has introduced the EASHL (EA Sports Hockey League). This is really what convinced me to buy NHL 09 (and sign up for XBox LIVE as well). EASHL basically allows you to form a team of up to 50 players and then meet up online to take on other teams. You can have anywhere from 3 to 6 players per team in a game and you pick your position and stick to it for the entire game. As someone who loves the team part of hockey this is heaven to me. I have been fortunate enough to get on an awesome team with likeminded people who know the game and play it the "right way". Admittedly there have been some kinks in the system on EA's side with the EASHL, but I am having so much fun with it that I don't really mind. It is just a total blast to get in there with some of the other guys on my team, The Originals, and get after it. Hopefully EA continues to develop and improve this mode for years to come.

Warm up the red light...

All in all EA's Vancouver has reset the bar in hockey gaming and completely changed the way you think about the game. BAP mode has changed the game to focus more on your individual performance and less on wins and losses. Generally I am a team-focused person, but in this medium the shift in philosophy totally works. As an example, I played a game offline last night where my team lost 7-4, but I was still able to walk away positive because I had played well (two goals and an assist). My team lost because my goalie stunk up the joint, and guess what... sometimes that happens in hockey. Then I played another game right after and we won 4-1 even though I was held off the scoresheet. Again I was left with a good feeling after the game. And that is what it is all about. Everyone who even marginally enjoys sports games (not just hockey) owes it to themselves to at least give NHL 09 a rental. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Don't look now, but the boys are back and their gloves are golder than ever! Head over to Faceoff Factor for some top shelf training camp coverage.

Just to give you an idea of where things are currently at with me... I am totally engrossed in NHL 09 and The Originals in particular. That said, I will have an NHL 09 review up here some time this week and then next week I will get into season prediction mode.

In other exciting news, I got my Pens/Stars tickets yesterday! March 1st can't get here fast enough.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Hits Keep Coming

I have to say that arguably the best part of NHL 09 is the new hitting engine. It is so gratifying to lay out an opposition player with a big check that I have, from time to time, found myself running a little out of position to land a big hit. Especially on the forecheck. With that in mind, here are a couple of my big hits for your viewing pleasure.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goodbye World

So after much anticipation (and about four trips to Best Buy) NHL 09 is finally here, and more importantly in my possession. Among other things, this means that there probably won't be much content showing up here in the next few days.

I will at some point in the next week or two be posting a "full" review of the game here. I put quotes around full there because I will probably be playing the Be A Player mode exclusively. I played a few games offline last night and it is as fun and addictive as I had hoped. I also jumped online and played a couple games with my EASHL squad The Originals. It was a lot of fun and all the guys on my team who I have played with so far seem really cool. I also managed to snag the shootout winner in the second game I played in. The only problem is that there is some kind of bug in the online play currently so neither of my games were recorded either for myself or the team. Hopefully EA comes up with a fix for this soon, but in the meantime I think I found a workaround on the EA forums.

Until next time, I'll leave you with my first ever goal. The words "warhorse with hands of silk" spring to mind...

Friday, September 5, 2008

No Running By The Pool!

It is update time! First I'll hit on fantasy hockey. Yahoo is back up and my league is open. I still have plenty of spots open currently so if you want to join up:

  • League ID: 5752
  • Password: LetsGoPens
Now, on to NHL 09. The response to me trying to start up my own EASHL squad was less than desired. Because of that I have scrapped my GM plan and have signed on with the EASHL squad The Originals. So if you are playing NHL 09 online and want to throw down, look for us.

While we're here, I guess I will give my thoughts on the NHL 09 demo. It is freaking awesome! I am loving Be A Pro way more than I thought I would. I tried it out in FIFA 08 and wasn't that impressed by it, but I think it translates way better to hockey than soccer. My one complaint with the demo is that you can't choose your position. It is not that bad since I will be playing as a center when NHL 09 launches, but I was looking forward to the chance to strap on the pads and give goaltending a go. I guess that will have to wait a few days...

Look at what I just found...

NHL 09 Custom Covers

It has been well documented by now how jazzed I am for the pending release of NHL 09 next month. Those of you who have been coming around here for a while also know that I like to put together custom covers. So with that in mind, here is my custom cover thread for NHL 09.

It took me a little longer than I had hoped to get these ready because I made my own template this year. The good news is that the hard work is over and new covers will be relatively easy to produce. So... if you want to request a cover you can leave a note in the comments or e-mail me and I will get to it as soon as I can and then add the finished product to this post. Additionally, if there is a particular image you would like me to use feel free to attach it in the e-mail or include a link in your e-mail or comment. Enjoy!

Pascal Leclaire added. Martin Brodeur and Brenden Morrow are on the way!