NHL 09 First Hands-On

It's hockey your way with the upcoming NHL 09, and we've got a hands-on look.

by

Whether you're a fleet-skating center, a brick wall goalie, or a search-and-destroy defenseman, EA Sports' upcoming NHL 09 aims to let you play hockey your way. The follow-up to NHL 08--one of the more universally applauded sports games in recent years--is coming with high expectations from puck fans looking for this year's game to one-up the previous effort. It's a good thing, then, that NHL 09 looks to have plenty of new tricks up its sleeves as we found while playing the game for the first time at EA Sports' recent pre-E3 press event.

The new Be a Pro mode, first seen in last year's FIFA 08 and this year's UEFA Champions League 2008, will next be seen in NHL 09. So far, it's bringing an entirely new dimension to 6-on-6 hockey. As with the soccer games, in Be a Pro mode, you create a player from scratch (or step into the skates of bona fide pro) and then take on the career of a future star in the NHL. Unlike in the main game modes, you play your position in Be a Pro mode--and only that position.

Last year's NHL game saw the evolution of the offensive skill stick. With NHL 09, the defensive stick gets its turn.

Any spot on the ice is open to your player--you'll start in the AHL before eventually making it to the National Hockey League. And while every position on the ice looks to offer its own experience, our goal was to check out the defensive position. After all, playing a forward, it seems, won't be terribly different from playing a normal game of NHL--always looking to push the puck up ice, spreading the puck around with passes, and looking for scoring opportunities every chance you get. On the other hand, on defense, you have a chance to try all of those things while focusing on playing solid defensive hockey.

It's not exactly easy to do, but that's not necessarily meant to sound like a criticism. Like in the EA Sports soccer games, playing NHL 09's Be a Pro mode in a defensive position forces you to go against your instincts. Instead of always rushing into your opponent's offensive zone at the first opportunity, you're forced to hang back and try to break up breakaways or look for ways to intercept passes (which seems more effective than ever this year). Then, when you aren't crunching guys into the boards and causing chaos for the opposing offense, you can trail across the blue line, call for a pass (by pressing the right trigger on the Xbox 360 controller), and take a big slap shot from the line.

For those new to hockey and the demands of the different on-ice positions, NHL 09 will provide you with some handy clues. First and foremost, there is a positional arrow that will tell you when you're really far out of position and where you need to go to get back in the right spot. In addition, loose pucks will sometimes be illuminated with a colored circle, indicating when it's wise to go after the puck (as opposed to merely smashing the guy with the different colored jersey next to you).

That kind of instantaneous feedback is helpful, but you'll also be getting feedback from your coaches after every shift and at each intermission. When you're on the bench, a couple of things will happen. First, you'll get a brief summary of your last shift, including letter grades that indicate how you did in terms of position, team play, and so on, as well as some specialized feedback. Your coach might say something positive about the hit you put on the opposing center or chastise you for missing an open shot at the point. Simultaneously, you'll be regaining your stamina back while you're on the bench; a small meter in the lower right-hand corner will indicate how much stamina you are regaining, and you can call to go back in the game at any point, even if your stamina is not fully regained.

For every defensive move, there's an offensive counter.

When you call to reenter the game, it will be executed as an actual line change, with your teammates coming to the bench before you can hit the ice, which means you'll want to be mindful of position and not call a bad line change at the wrong time or else you'll risk giving up a goal. NHL 09 producers were quick to point out that, in addition to playing the "realistic" way and playing in shifts, the game will let you play continuously with your created player (not taking shifts) or let you take control of another player while your Be a Pro character rests on the bench.

On the ice, some new improvements to gameplay are apparent both in Be a Pro mode and the normal hockey modes too. One of the biggest gameplay additions is the ability to lift the stick of an opposing player when on defense. It's surprising how quickly this becomes part of your regular defensive repertoire once you acclimate to it. Lifting the stick is as simple as pressing the A button, and it's a great way to break up one-timers, break up passes, or otherwise disrupt plays when you can't really lay someone out. Another important defensive feature will let you swipe your stick across the ice using the skill stick, which is a great way to break up passes.

Of course, for every new defensive trick, there are some counter moves on offense. One new feature we hadn't seen before is the ability to protect the puck when it's in your possession by simply pressing the A button. Here, the player will intentionally put the puck out of reach of a defender and, better yet, position his body in between the puck and the defenseman, making it that much harder to break up the play. Another fun addition is the ability to push the puck in front of you while skating up-ice with a hard-charging skate. By freeing the puck momentarily (by pressing the right button), you can give your skater a slight burst of speed he might need to get around a pursuing defender. Producers were loathe to call it a "boost" or "turbo," instead choosing to point out the authenticity of the move--players can skate faster without the puck than with it--but essentially that's what it is and it seems to work pretty well, without being overpowered.

Be a Pro will let you strap on the skates and take control of your NHL career.

Beyond new controls, the team is hard at work looking to improve the differentiation between players in the game. Third and fourth line players don't have the same abilities as your top-line starters, and in NHL 09, that disparity should be larger than ever. As a result, you'll need to change your strategy depending on who's on the ice. If you put your third or fourth liners in, for example, it's "dump and chase" time. NHL 09 doesn't seem to be resting on the laurels of last year's game, with bigger and badder hits, as well as a fighting system that can end on-ice scraps in a punch or two. There are also the new controls on the offensive and defensive sides of the ice. Plus, there's the matter of that brand new online feature, which EA Sports is keeping under tight wraps until later this year. Rest assured, we'll be all over whatever announcements the publisher has for NHL 09 in the coming months, and we look forward to bringing you more hockey throughout the summer.

Discussion

83 comments
hardcorps1110
hardcorps1110

I dont know if people from gamespot look at these comments but you best check the screen shots for NHL 09. You've placed some NHL 2k9 shots in the wrong place :-\... woops

bleedgreen2-1-5
bleedgreen2-1-5

yo barnone 101, i feel ya man, im tryna decide what games to get but there are way too many im definatley gettin this tho altho i think they will be a little jerky and roboish again from what ive seen in the trailers. i turn the game speed down last year and it made the game look good. that online superstar looks hot! i hope they change the fight engine too cant wait till hockey season so i can rep my flyers!

wo1f
wo1f

"ability to protect the puck when it's in your possession by simply pressing the A button" "ability to lift the stick of an opposing player when on defense" doesn't 2K had those feature for years now ? Anyway let's hope the players movement isn't jerky roboish like last year.

BarNone101
BarNone101

jeez...why are there soo many awesome games coming out....im not gonna have enough money to buy them all...time to start sellin blood boys..

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

This game already sounds like Sports GOTY.

Paytheplayer
Paytheplayer

Why are people even here if they don't like NHL? Anyways the changes sound great. Im curious to see if they start adding things again such as Fantasy Draft. Also, making offer sheets to restricted Free agents would be great too, a little more depth to the GM aspect. This game should be sweet.

grambyte
grambyte

Let's say that NHL isn't my thing. Never liked it and never will.

gamah_killah
gamah_killah

Wow, I never knew hockey games would look that nice

Hungry_bunny
Hungry_bunny

The tackles could have been more brutal >_>

volcomstoner180
volcomstoner180

this game will own hockey is not meh...you probably are a fan of the borefest we all know as baseball cube of moon

Cube_of_MooN
Cube_of_MooN

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

carstairs
carstairs

The defensive stick sounds great.

playstation_wii
playstation_wii

Finally, defense was so hard to play. Scoring was just going straight to the hole.

Strife88
Strife88

This is the definitive year for the NHL series, it seems they got everything right now.

ConstiPlopz
ConstiPlopz

this game looks really good but you guys should check nhl 2k9 for the wii. FULL MOVEMENT CONTROLS WITH THE WII MOTE

Foppe
Foppe

instead of euro teams, I dont know anyone who likes playing with them in north America anyway What about European gamers? ...why not include them exclusively for the European market? Because then the NA market would whine about how Europeans always get something extra in their games.

gut_eater
gut_eater

Game looks great! but I hope they've improved the checking system. Something that drives me nuts w/the EA games is the scripted pre-game warm-ups, national anthem, and video cuts...THEY'RE ALWAYS THE SAME.

darkblaze93
darkblaze93

09 LOOKS SICK! 2k sports will not sell as much. I cant wait for the new defensive skill stick.

hardcorps1110
hardcorps1110

After 08' I'm sold on EA instead of 2k. I don't even see how they will begin to compete with this. 09' looks great. I put in my pre-order today at gamestop. GO BLUES!

BontraXenderKyl
BontraXenderKyl

These kind of games are so linear, thats why I hate Sport Games

Egatti
Egatti

the only way this game could sound better is if they added old nostalgic teams such as, 80's oilers, 70's flyer's, 94 canucks/rangers etc (bring back Gretz, Bure, Bobby Hull, Al Mciness, the Rocket and so on). instead of euro teams, I dont know anyone who likes playing with them in north America anyway. Besides hasn't Madden had the old teams since the beginning?

xcxfrankxcx
xcxfrankxcx

Be a pro mode sounds awsome ..LMAO- *bornforshadow* i really think its dum that they still make a ps2 version , the nhl 08 version looked sooo **** compared to next gen consles.. i think they r wasting time.

valttu
valttu

Wow, this rly seems nice!

the_lost_knight
the_lost_knight

lmao, probably never, ps2 is not likely to get any of the new features til later years, obviously because they have a weaker team with a lower budget, but it make sense, doesn't it?

bornforshadow
bornforshadow

Will be a pro be in the ps2 version? Will you be able to play net in BAP?

Josepiphus
Josepiphus

Might be the first hockey game I get in quite some time. Be a pro mode sounds really cool.

Neosword
Neosword

Be a Pro seems to be coming to a lot of the new sports games. Good thing, I think it's one of the better features to be added in recent years.

wilmepe
wilmepe

@ martoon96 I agree. The control schemes on these games have gotten so ridiculous. I miss the old pass, shoot, hit.

motownboy
motownboy

I absolutely loved the Captain your Country mode in Euro 2008 (which expanded on the Be A Pro Mode) and have a feeling that this mode will improve over that. I don't follow hockey closely, but I have a feeling I'll pick this game up for the Be A Pro experience.

Scooter540
Scooter540

Oh god,please hurry up September.This game will complete my life.

BulletsnOctane
BulletsnOctane

Looks amazing. I missed it ( NHL 08 ) last year, so I'm definitely looking forward to it this year.

SolidSnake35
SolidSnake35

"they need scrums after the whistle where you can rough up the other team and also more realistic injuries and blood" Hehe. I used to love shoving the other team after the whistle on NHL '99 for the PC, and seeing the rest of my team get involved too. I had so much fun with that game. :P

hockeyfan37
hockeyfan37

finally they put delay of game as a penalty

Lightz39
Lightz39

EA keeps on listening to me...well maybe not but they seem to be putting in features I ask for every year =)

NAF4141
NAF4141

they need scrums after the whistle where you can rough up the other team and also more realistic injuries and blood

martoon96
martoon96

Sound like you need a third arm to work the controller effectivly.

coolman437
coolman437

As long as my online is fixed because nhl 08 my rank and games locked at 48 games so my rank was stuck at 1 ( i was terrible when i first played online it happens) but its very agrovating when you record is like 250-90-20, when your stats say 25-15-8, also slap passes need to be removed i use them when people do it to me its just really cheap you can score 95% of the time with them

xxxMoreBeerxxx
xxxMoreBeerxxx

NHL 08 was the best sports game since MVP 05. This one looks to continue the trend. And please for the love of god, do not bring back speed burst!

wniffene
wniffene

I'm a big fan of these be a pro modes in sports games, and I love the fact that they've included shifts as part of this one. I'm interested to see how it will work as a goalie though, if they can get that right I may never need to buy another hockey game again.

llcoolmj
llcoolmj

i am definately looking forward to this next edition of ea's nhl installment...the fighting was so bad in 08....all well gamespot just lured me into buying my 3rd straight ea nhl game...

RangersRock30
RangersRock30

YES THERES DELAY OF GAMES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! REJOICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

hovanPS3
hovanPS3

Please fix the online this year !!!