NHL 09 First Look

Last year's game was a hit; what is EA Sports doing this year to maintain their hockey momentum?

Where do you go when you have one of the highest-rated sports games in recent memory, a game that just happened to receive honors as sports game of 2008 (including from this very Internet establishment)? If you're the developers at EA Canada, the guys responsible for last year's critically lauded NHL 08, you keep your eyes forward, like Sidney Crosby heading toward the net, in the hopes of keeping that momentum up for the next game in the series, NHL 09. During EA Sports' spring press event, we got our first look at NHL 09, and had a chance to hear about some of the exciting features that will be in the game when it's released later this year.

First off, the biggest feature in NHL 09 seems to be the brand-new Be a Pro mode. Inspired by the feature of the same name from last year's FIFA 08, this mode will let you strap on the stakes as an up-and-coming hockey player. After creating your player from scratch, you'll sign up with an AHL team (EA naturally has the full AHL license) and begin to find your way through your career as a hot minor-league prospect.

Last year's NHL game from EA Sports was our sports game of the year. The recipe for NHL 09: Bigger and better.

As with the Be a Pro mode in FIFA, when you're on the ice in NHL 09's Be a Pro mode, you'll be focused on your player alone, thanks to a third-person camera that will be focused tight (but not too tight) on your created player. According to producers, this close-up camera angle will give you more opportunities for shooting in a variety of different angles on the goalie, from up high to five hole, because the targets will be that much bigger on the screen.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Be a Pro mode in NHL 09 is the different types of roles you'll be able to serve when creating your player. Not only will you be able to play as a goalie, but you'll also be able to choose different types of roles as a regular skater, from a grinding, checking defenseman to a speedy, shot-taking sniper. As a result, when you're on the ice with your team, your coach will have different expectations of you depending on your role. It's these individual expectations that will form the basis for how your performance is judged in the game and how your player progresses as a result.

You'll be judged in three main categories: position, team play, and statistics. Given that your position on the ice is so crucial to the success of you as a player and your team as a whole, you'll always be judged by how closely you fit into your proper position based on your role. If you're not sure where you need to be during a certain point, a handy arrow will appear overheard to point in the direction you need to go if you're out of place. How often that arrow appears will be a measure of how often you're in the right (or wrong) spot on the ice, and you'll be judged accordingly.

Think you can fill Tomas Holmstrom's skates? Find out in the brand new Be a Pro mode.

The second aspect of your performance is team play. This takes into consideration a huge number of factors: everything from the number of shots you take to the number of times you call for the puck through a pass. Sometimes calling for the pass is a good thing; sometimes taking a shot is a good thing, even if it doesn't go in the net. That said, if you start calling for a shot every time you touch the puck, or call to go back on the ice during a line change (yes, you will sit on the bench when your line is between shifts), your team and coaches are going to notice and might even dock your performance in the process. After all, there are shots and then there are good shots, just like there are passes and good passes. The CPU will know the difference and, after a while, so will you.

These team-play expectations will change depending on your player's role. For example, if you're playing a checking defender, then you won't be expected to take a lot of shots; you'll be expected to lay guys out on the ice each and every game. Naturally, the final aspect of your performance will be statistics, and you'll be expected to put up numbers both in the minors and once you make it to the NHL. If you fail to perform, you can expect a long road to the Big Show; if you're already an NHL regular, you might be traded if your output isn't up to your potential.

One-handed dekes will give you another weapon in your offensive arsenal.

As you progress in the game, you'll be able to purchase attribute points, which you can assign to your player to improve his performance. In addition, at a point further down the line in this mode, you'll earn the chance to get your own hockey card, which will detail your accomplishments through the minors, into the NHL, and on to the ultimate goal of becoming an NHL legend. One cool feature included here is the ability to take screenshots of your own in the game and then use those images for your hockey card.

As for the game's controls, the development team is still further enhancing the skill-stick system that began in NHL 07. Last year saw touches such as the off-puck dekes--for NHL 09, you'll be able to perform one-handed dekes that will find your player pushing the puck out far to one side with either hand, then pulling it back on the fly to get around a defender or even a goalie. Of course, only the best players will be able to pull off a move like this, so you'll want to make sure you use it at the right time, and with the right player.

One-handed dekes mean one more move in the offensive skill-stick arsenal, but NHL 09 will also finally give you the ability to take advantage of the skill stick on defense. You'll be able to swing the analog stick back and forth to make your player mimic that movement with his hockey stick, taking away passing lanes in the process. Of equal, if not greater, use will be the ability to lift an opposing player's stick off of the ice with a press of a button. It's a simple defense against the prevalent one-timers that can become a cornerstone of the game, especially online; by lifting your opponent's stick off the ice, you take away his ability to smack that one-time pass toward the goalie. Nevertheless, you have to be careful because there's an associated risk with this defensive reward: If you miss the timing on the lift, then you might end up inadvertently smacking your opponent's player in the head, resulting in a penalty in the process.

Last year's game offered the ability to create plays from scratch on the ice by positioning two or more players exactly where you wanted them. That feature returns in NHL 09, though you'll now be able to create plays using the entire length of the ice, not just the offensive zone as in NHL 08. A typical example of this might be starting a play with your center positioned behind his own net, giving the other forwards and the defensemen a chance to set up before beginning a charge up the ice and into your opponent's zone.

The Wings got it done against the Penguins. Time for some redemption, Pittsburgh fans.

Another big feature in last year's game was the three-on-three online play. In NHL 09, that's been moved up to full six-on-six play online. It certainly sounds like a hockey fan's online dream come true, though we suspect it's going to take a certain type of person who wants to sit in net for an entire game. Then again, goalies are a different breed in real life, too...

In addition to that, NHL 09 will boast online leagues, tournaments, and at least one other mystery feature that the producers behind the game are promising will be absolutely massive. Unfortunately, they weren't ready to spill the beans yet, but we'll certainly be on the lookout for exactly what this game-changing revelation will be later in the year. With heavy expectations on the game, our hopes are high for NHL 09, which appears, at least in terms of ambition, to be keeping pace with last year's stellar entry. Stay tuned for much more on the game in the coming months.

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Discussion

149 comments
hardcorps1110
hardcorps1110

Domenico54, they probably had to pick a D man to promote the defensive skills stick. Having Crosby would just feel typical. Put an all star on the cover. Its cool to have someone who isn't in the limelight all the time make the cover. ...Although there is a guy making custom covers for the game in EA's forum. They look outstanding.

alex13echo
alex13echo

Hopefully it don't freeze when you download roster updates this time.

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

Can't wait to play this game! What are the chances they finally give us a "Fight mode" that doesn't suck a rats ass?

NYCgoalie
NYCgoalie

There was no "fantasy draft" mode in NHL 08 (360 version)...which was EXTREMELY dissapointing!!! And there doesn't seem to be one comming for NHL '09. Also...letting us select a "classic" jersey for my favorite teams would be a nice touch. Guess I'll wait till NHL '10 comes out.

BKbroilerXC
BKbroilerXC

so get a 360, NHL 08 = best sports game to come out last year cannot wait for 09 go Devils

DeViLzzz
DeViLzzz

Does anyone on here not remember the choppy horrible eye destroying framerate of 08 on PS3 ???? What is this talk above about 08 and how great it was ??!?! I said to my brother there should have been some sort of class action lawsuit or a nice generous refund without having to go through court ... EA saw their product and it was garbage on the PS3 ... forget the new features ... get the framerate right making sure we can look at the game this time !!!!

Thrust90
Thrust90

This game is gonna be amazing i can't wait for it to come out. Been waiting for the Be A Pro mode too. Sept. 9th baby. Wooooo.

kjort
kjort

Be A Pro is a great Idea - hope they do a good job My only legitimate complaint about 2008 is that you cannot change your offensive/defensive pressure on the fly after the whistle. Its especially a problem for offensive/defensive zone face offs late in the 3rd. I would enjoy a Highlight Reel news-like setup between games for dynasty/online.

aarong604
aarong604

the mystery feature is online dynasties, but just the be a pro mode makes me want the game even more. Its going to be sweet, and i'm going to own all.

PsychoBear
PsychoBear

new mode sounds interesting, been meaning to get back into the hockey games, not played it since the mega drive :D 09 looks like a good time to get back in, look forward for further reviews.

Kevbodian
Kevbodian

2 other things... 1. before 08, the best game out was 07. 2. I hope they get the PS3 version to perform as quick as the 360 version in the menus... ea is such trash, but they make a pretty darn good hockey game

Kevbodian
Kevbodian

Why does EA always release the games with the promise of features... downloadable rosters and in 07 I think there were 2 updates and maybe 1 in 08. Secondly, in multiplayer, they have all these roster checks when it should just set everyone to the default roster. I never play online because half the time I can't select my team. At least have GUI that tells the other player not to quit because one system is still loading. A big piss-off when trying to join a game and the other dude leaves because he thinks you are frozen.

cueofdeath
cueofdeath

why not add historic teams like in madden? 80's oilers and islanders...70's canadiens and bruins....that sort of thing???

G-Rat06
G-Rat06

kentontrace is right i want to be a FLINT GENERAL!

kentontrace
kentontrace

Why doesn't NHL have AA like MLB games? I want to play with ECHL teams!!! then work my way up to AHL...then of course NHL.

JediKnight66
JediKnight66

nvm, i just found out that it's phaneuf.

JediKnight66
JediKnight66

aww, they didn't say who was going to be on the cover. =(

bornforshadow
bornforshadow

I wonder if be a pro will be in ps2..since I only have wii and ps2 :D

taj7575
taj7575

looks like the same crap ea has been showing us for years. looks great, end result is crap...

bcooper56x
bcooper56x

Cant wait for this game. Canada rules at hockey, we rule BTW!!!!!!!

BKbroilerXC
BKbroilerXC

You know what would be a nice touch, is if the ice actually says Stanley Cup Playoffs on it in the playoffs, and if the players actualy grew playoff beards that would be original.

guile_charlie
guile_charlie

Until NHL 08 came out, NHL 2K7 was the best hockey game out, to me. So if NHL 09 is just like NHL 08 but, like they say, bigger and better, that will be it and I will be reserving it!

fecalmatter
fecalmatter

Looks like every other NHL trailer EA has been showing us since about 1995...

DeltaSpirit
DeltaSpirit

@bizuit, that a good point but look NBA Live it's still competing but doesn't do anything

dark1alex
dark1alex

Be a Pro seems interesting, now lets put in a fantasy draft that works and cut out the duplicate players that created teams cause and we could have a solid game.

maverick_76
maverick_76

I almost forgot, GO WINGS!!!!! Woot! Woot!

maverick_76
maverick_76

Man I can't believe I missed NHL 08, I definitely need to check this one out.

peckygoose
peckygoose

Game looks sweet, I like how it looks like they're going to make rivalries bigger and better in 09, hopefully they make the hitting slightly more effective than last year, which made it useless.... but anyway BLACK-HAWKS ALL THE WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

bizuit
bizuit

darknferno12, they wont let it become Madden for one HUGE reason....Nhl has competition to deal with unlike Madden. If NHL starts to suck everyone will just go to 2k and EA knows this which is why they wont let this one start to suck they did with Madden

Proman84
Proman84

The complete recipe for success: this should come to PC.

hvypetals
hvypetals

Does Crosby dive 5 times a game like in real life???? YAY!!!

Domenico54
Domenico54

ok WTF.. carry price is VERY overrated to be on nhl 09 cover he almost lost against boston 8th seed in the league when montreal was first,and also lets note that Sid the kid DIDNT get a cover yet....

Worsley7
Worsley7

EA must focus on authenticity of stats and performance. Unnecessary sensationalism, detracts from the game, and avoids addressing PP, PK issues [there is no delay of game penalty option for EA 2008. Also, why not have 30-40 annonymous named GENUINE ATTRIBUTE draftees. We can 'figure out' the name of the unnamed player, and edit accordingly, through correct DOB, weight, height . Some will make AHL teams. Some will make NHL teams. We will no longer have to rely on Petr Puck to create and edit players.

debweb
debweb

I thought that the shooting-with-the-analog-stick sucked big balls. Never got the hang of it. Might buy it tho, to do the Be a Pro thing as the goalie.

gabrielrobert
gabrielrobert

Does anyone know how for long they will keep updating the NHL 08 rosters? Or will they just stop when 09 comes out?

jonzilla_basic
jonzilla_basic

This sounds awesome!! 08 was excellent. Blew the 2k series out of the water.

DeltaSpirit
DeltaSpirit

looks great but to make it near perfect they have to work on the skate engine, power of the checks, making dekes more manual IMO. hopefully they won't lay back and let NHL turn to Madden

BiggShuggar
BiggShuggar

First let me say that the game sound great of course the pro mode will be awesome and by the way Zetterberg is the The best Complete player in the entire NHL so sorry Sidney ``Cry Baby`` Crosby's Fan but your player got own by a better man !!!!

BKbroilerXC
BKbroilerXC

sbunn10 you make awesome points, I spoke without thinking haha still want to know more about this game!!! me and my friends have had so many tournaments with NHL 08, and we have one trophy that we keep adding names to, it's epic, can't wait to continue it with NHL 09

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

I've not played a hockey game since 2000 or 2001. Maybe this game will help break me out of my slump.

Sn0wOn420
Sn0wOn420

Sounds like a rip off to me.

MrQuest77
MrQuest77

I love the 'road to the show' mentality that sports games now have where you have to work your way up to the big show, and this game will hopefully continue the good work

nhlhero89
nhlhero89

i can't wait for this game i love what EA has done for hockey games

sbunn10
sbunn10

agreed.. but they are both different players, ovechkin is more of a sniper really, and Crosby more of a playmaker.. Howbout we all agree that they are both amazing and leave it at that ? :) o and you could play as a goalie in 08 also... it was tough though

shaunwoz6
shaunwoz6

I wouldnt say hes the only one with talent, they have Alexander Semin(who is going to be great), Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Federov and Victor Kozlov and thats only forwards. I think that if Crosby was placed on that team he could still get around 70 assists compared to Ovechkin who gets around 45-50 consistently.

FlashCharge
FlashCharge

Playing as a goalie would be awesome. Will look forward to reading and seeing more videos on this game.

sbunn10
sbunn10

first of all, I'm not a pitt or a washington fan, but I'll admit, Crosby is pretty damn worth the hype. He would have led the league in points had he not been hurt. With that said, I understand the talent argument. But still.. look at how many shots Ovechkin takes. He was the only person on his team with a lot of talent, so he took tons of shots every game. He led the nhl with 65 goals, but had 446 shots, also the most in the nhl. Well, apart from the best player argument, I think the conn smythe trophy winner should be on the cover every year.