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.
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.