I am not a fan of sports. Growing up as a “hardcore” gamer, sports never really appealed to me, especially watching them. While I understand the rules and regulations of a large majority of sports, they just don’t have the same draw to me as they do to others. Why would I freak out about the achievements of other people? So when it comes to playing a game based on activities that I don’t really watch? No thank you. Why write an article about a sports game that is five years old? Because, this small game has lead to me to becoming a screaming fanatic, if only for a short while.
NHL ’09 is a hockey game (duh) released by EA Sports on pretty much every platform at the time. Yearly sequels definitely leave a bad taste in my mouth, but NHL came out at a time when all my friends were home from college, and there wasn’t that many other games to play. Players are able to form teams online, composed of six players, and compete against other teams in a league.
The Multiplayer – This is the main reason why this game is so thematic. There is a specific mode in multiplayer which allows you to team up with your friends and control one, and only one character online. Sure, sitting in the penalty box, or being stuck as a rear guard may not be as fun as constantly jumping around to where the puck is, but it builds this sense of ownership that big team games lack. If I crosscheck someone, I have to pay the price by sitting in the box. I have to watch as the other team gets a powerplay because of my actions. Being tied down to one character and one position forces you to learn the sport as an actual player, not as an all seeing overlord. Before ’09, I had no clue how to play any position, but after a few games, I would stay where I was supposed to stay, allowing my other teammates to set up plays.
The Camera – Controlling your lone character was a different experience then most other sports games. Gone was the overhead camera that allowed you to see 360 degrees of the rink. Being forced to a third person view, ’09 forced you to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Is the other teams power forward to my right? Is he coming in for a check? The low slung camera makes puck control and body collision a hectic affair, which I assume is pretty close to the real thing. Being so close to the action draws you into each and every match, almost to the point where you can feel every hit.
Included with the close camera view, the game also sports (heh) simple, but effective UI tips to keep players in the game. A blue arrow offers a “suggestion” line of where you should be heading to help keep the action close. The puck has a simple yellow ring around it, allowing players to keep track of it easily. While in my previous article, I stressed how important a lack of HUD was to a game’s theme, in NHL it is a necessity.
The Controls – As the only hockey game I have played, ‘09 handled puck control quite nicely. Using one joystick to control your character, and another to control your…stick, NHL ’09 allowed for smooth and fluid puck control, which is very important for a game that is all about where the puck is on the rink. Practicing these controls allowed for very flashy and effective looking moves, such as sliding the puck in between defenders legs. This control scheme, on top of the close camera, help bring players into the action. Checking in ’09 also feel great thanks to the hit stick. Whether I’m weaving in and out between defenders racing for the puck, or slamming some poor fool into the boards, the action in ’09 feels great.
The Friends – A team game without friends isn’t much of a team game at all. Without my the guidance of my real life friends, this game would have never even been on my radar. Sure, we lost a large majority of our games (I believe our record was 3 wins and 17 losses), I enjoyed every single one.
Look, if I wanted to play a sport, I would just go outside and do it. Catching a ball, or making a basket will always feel better in real life. There is some sort of visceral feeling missing out of sports games since they are all relate able. I’ve never killed a man, or cast a spell, so when I do those actions in other games, I have nothing to relate to in the real world. That is what I think holds sports games back for me. But with NHL ’09, I was a hockey player for those short 20 minute games. I acted just as I would have on the ice. Every goal was met with a giant yell and fist pumping. For those short 20 minute games, I was a hockey player.