NHL 09 Updated Hands-On

We strap on the skates and start making plays happen in our look at the EA Sports Hockey League in NHL 09.

One thing's for sure about this year's NHL game from EA Sports: It won't be lacking for features. Sure you've got your standard single-player games, but NHL 09 will also feature a new Be a Pro career mode where you'll play the role of a hockey hopeful looking to make a name for yourself in the AHL and, eventually, the NHL. Online, the game will feature full six-on-six play across 12 different consoles, online leagues, and--perhaps the biggest online feature in this year's game--the recently announced EA Sports Hockey League. During a recent trip up to EA Sports' Vancouver studios, we got a chance to strap on the skates and take a few shifts in the EASHL to see how this feature is coming along.

Whether you're sniping from up top...

Essentially Be a Pro mode played online, the EASHL feature will let you take your created character and play online on teams made up of other players' created hockey pros. You'll use the same character you create in the Career mode, and all of the attributes you've built offline toward your character will apply to his performance on the ice in the EASHL. This is particularly important when picking the role you'll play on the ice, as we'll explain below.

In addition to playing with full six-on-six teams online, the EASHL will let you organize hockey "guilds" with your fellow puck fans (and if this is beginning to sound like a on-ice version of World of Warcraft, that's no accident; the developers at EA Canada commonly refer to the EASHL feature as a burgeoning sports MMOG, one on which the team intends to build for years to come in future versions of the NHL series).

While we didn't get an extended look at how the guild system will work, we did get into an online EASHL game, which looks to be a snap. Players congregate in a lobby until the game is launched, wherein players are then given the chance to claim their positions on the ice. During our time with the game, a team composed of gaming press took on the development team, and when it came time to claim a position, it seemed like a mad scramble to choose an offensive position.

Based on the character we had hastily created (a tall, hefty "play maker"), we quickly snapped up the left wing position, hoping to use our player as a passing expert who would make things happen in front of the net. It brought to mind the potential problems the "catch as catch can" nature of choosing your position might pose for regular EASHL fans. After all, there will be a certain segment of the NHL 09 fan base that looks to create and play defensemen (and a smaller segment that will be brave enough to live between the pipes as goalie). However, it seems that the more casual fan might want to only play in center or on the wings. Will we see lots of last-minute dropouts if players don't get the positions they want?

Regardless of this potential problem, you'll need to play whatever position you play carefully. As with the offline Be a Pro mode, NHL 09 will give you lots of feedback during the game on how you can improve your play on the ice, including a big blue arrow that will point out where you need to be if you get out of position, as well as handy (and often insightful) tips during intermission detailing what you did right or wrong in the previous period. If you're a shooter, you might be praised for taking lots of shots; if you're defenseman, you'll want to make sure you're laying plenty of hits on your opponent--or else you'll hear about it from the coach.

…or stoning fools between the pipes, you'll have a spot on the ice in the EA Sports Hockey League.

In our session against the EA developers, it was interesting to watch our team dynamic evolve during the course of the game. When the puck was dropped at the beginning of the game, it was like Pee Wee Hockey, with every player heading directly for the puck and virtually no positional play on the ice. Because we were all playing in the same room, our communication was a bit easier than it will be in the final game, where people will be talking (or more likely yelling) into headsets calling for the puck in their individual living rooms. However, as the game continued, each player got a better feel for what was required of him on the ice (thanks in no small part to the aforementioned feedback). In our case, we were able to make some nice passes, including one gorgeous two-on-one dump to our center that nearly resulted in a goal. We even managed to light the lamp on a handy one-timer in front of the net.

Sure, the EA devs were probably going easy on us--we won the game handily--but that didn't take away any of the pride we felt as we skated out onto the ice to accept the applause of crowd as the third star of the game. While the EASHL is just one in a full suite of features in NHL 09, it seems to be the one with the brightest future as the series progresses, and we look forward to following its progress. NHL 09 is scheduled for release on September 9; look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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Discussion

47 comments
Stringbender
Stringbender

Wow dude, this hockey spectacular must be a mind-blowing review. A full week and not a peep. Hmm.

heartbreakkid84
heartbreakkid84

wow...when does gamespot feel like making a review for this game??? and 2k9...?

corybates
corybates

Well, just played the demo, and am really disappointed. Looks just like last year's game, and a guy like me doesn't want to take the time to get 11 friends together from all over the world just to see if the EA season will work. I don't know 11 people with an 360. Anyhow, i just want to play the game, and it looks like i don't have to go any further than NHL 08 to do it, so i'll update my rosters and get on with it.

wogglies5
wogglies5

Should I get this game instead of NHL 2K9? It sounds great but I wonder what 2k9 is going to be like. what should I do? Also is the fighting fixed, I had a good laugh when I seen them fight for the first time.

Maztheman
Maztheman

Can u have a party of six for ur team? Or do u just get put on a random team?

blowtrees
blowtrees

I'd like to know if the AI got any better. A) it was easy to dominate on the hardest settings, and B) EASHL will use AI players for anybody who doesn't take a spot (ie 2 players, 4 AI on the ice). I'd hate to lose a league game because of the same crappy AI NHL games have had for nearly a decade now.

Rokpp
Rokpp

It's worth of ~60€, that's sure. :o Even fighting looks so good I can allow them to happen. :D Hopefully there are some good updates for dynasty modes (like upgrading training places etc.)Of course BAP is the most interesting feature.

Fentekreel
Fentekreel

I am really interested to see the be a pro mode. Though an idea to keep the idea of last second drop outs if people don't get their positions would be to match players by the position they play. This would be especially helpful if you could have multiple players. I wonder if you can play BAP mode with multiple people on one console...

marcod1
marcod1

I live and breathe this hockey game. If they were to stop making it.....goodbye cruel world

mach-stem
mach-stem

stewiegriffin20 Posted Aug 15, 2008 12:08 am ET Why not just play real hockey? That's as stupid as saying "why not join the army if you want to shoot people in a videogame"...idiot

buzzguy
buzzguy

Man, I loves me some video hockey! Another year, another pair of sick games to pick-up. I love it.

superbradleyo77
superbradleyo77

The checking system in 08 really annoyed me. I hate how when you move the right stick into the person you are trying check, you suddenly become a homing missile.

b4ll4z
b4ll4z

Why cant we play both, real and video game Hockey? I like both..in different ways..

gladi8or19
gladi8or19

this game is a good one... ive played it b4, and all im gonna say is that yes there have been alot of bugs that have been fixed.

Crocosaur
Crocosaur

stewiegriffin20 - What about those that cannot get out and play real hockey? I know I would if I could...but for those that really can't, this is as good as it's gonna get for them. Still, it doesn't compare to the real thing, but it's close enough.

trav_have
trav_have

I simply cannot wait for 09 to come out.. I thought I was excited for last years.. This year is a whole new form of excitement.

patschamps04
patschamps04

I'm getting both of the NHLs this year...I'm a hockey junkie and gonna junk out on both..The EASHL is gonna be an absolute innovative and outstanding addition this year and cant wait for that although I'm sure there's gonna be some schleprocks quitting because they can't be the position player they want.

patschamps04
patschamps04

Da Bomb...ya Redden could teach the new guys things..like how many joints in a lid....How to free base w/out really trying....NHL player have guaranteed contracts so if he's a problem child there's no way he's just gonna get dumped w/that salary...He's the Rangers problem for the foreseeable future

patschamps04
patschamps04

HARDCORPS....Good luck buddy. Semper Fi...Do or die..Hoo rah Hoo rah Hoo rah...What makes the grass grow...blood Blood blood...Actually I'm an Army guy myself... Got out in 93...Godspeed brother

Flames344Life
Flames344Life

That is one of the best ideas that i have ever heard. One issue though: who would be willing to bite the bullet and play on the fourth line and get less ice time?

BigBangBear
BigBangBear

Haven't bought any of the NHL franchise since about 2002, but I think I will be picking this one up. Can't wait.

Veritys
Veritys

GO BLUES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

juanito-24
juanito-24

edmonton oilers are goin to be the best team in the game

hardcorps1110
hardcorps1110

Hockeyfan37.... Yea man, on the nhl09.com site it says they're releasing it late this month. It'll have a demo of both "Be a pro mode" and regular gameplay. No exact date though. lol, anyone else see the NHL 2k9 screen shots up and to the right?

DA_B0MB
DA_B0MB

Stucazzo: If he's as bad as you say he is he won't last in the garden. He's getting paid $6.5 million a season for 6 seasons. Ranger fans know how much he's making and if he doesn't perform he'll get the axe, but he's a veteran and could teach some of our younger guys some things. The biggest reason we got him was to quarterback the power play. Until he proves to be less than what his contract makes of him, I'm excited.

drwaldy
drwaldy

It would be nice if GameSpot would talk about something other than the online features / be a pro in every preview. Like have they fixed the various bugs, the game crashing, the ridiculous goalies that freeze right on top of pucks without actually grabbing them. Not all of us are going to play this game online...

hockeyfan37
hockeyfan37

does anyone no when or if there will be a demo for this game.

Stucazzo
Stucazzo

DA_BOMB: I'm a Sens fan, you're not going to like Redden, especially for the money he's making. He's soft, shows no character and makes too many mistakes. He's also got a drug problem that everyone knows in Ottawa. You're better off without him, trust me...

juggalo
juggalo

I'm with you guys. I had the OTHER hockey game for the last few years as it kicked EA's ass. Then last year I was gob smcked by just how much of an improvement EA had done...one of the greatest sports games ever! Fingers crossed this year does the same!

ohjtbehaaave
ohjtbehaaave

This online stuff is taking things up a notch! This NHL 09 Dev team kills anything else EA has. Day 1 purchase no doubt! Let's Go RANGERS .... Clap Clap .... Clap Clap Clap

tzv
tzv

Old_Gooseberry are you kidding me? NHL 07 & 08 have been the best sports games made the past few years. For years every Madden and NHL was the same but finally EA has changed their ways. NHL 09 will probably take precedent over Spore for me, which is saying ALOT considering I built a computer just for it... Do yourself a favour and buy NHL 09, in the mean time go tune up in 08

MegamanX97
MegamanX97

looks to be another promising NHL game from EA. I was getting worried way back when NHL 05 and NHL 06 were less than stellar, but once i got my hands on 07 i knew it was going in the right direction. 08 was amazing and i say 09 will be something nice and fresh.

killercuts3
killercuts3

Old_Gooseberry, so just like every other sports game out there (especially Madden), right?

Old_Gooseberry
Old_Gooseberry

I haven't had fun with a EA NHL game since 2001.... They are just too much the same old thing year after year.

Autum_scout
Autum_scout

Ahh…are you sure about the character that you create to play off line with being the same as the on you take online. I am pretty sure David Littman stated in your Hotspot podcast that they are 2 separate entities. He even mentions that you start out at an 75-6 and can max out at 85-86. I could be wrong but I was under the impression that he online and offline in regard to character creation we not connected.

mjinhubgyvftcdr
mjinhubgyvftcdr

I cant wait to find out more about the new fighting mechanics in this game and be a pro sounds sweet

m-mmafia
m-mmafia

i just hope that the fighting is better but still am pumped to get it

DA_B0MB
DA_B0MB

There is *no doubt* I'm picking this up day 1. I never really got the money for NHL 08 so I play the demo... a lot. I've never played a demo so much in my entire life and I couldn't care less for the Senators and Ducks! I alway play as the Sens though because they're the home team and the bigger reason being that Wade Redden, who just signed as a Ranger, is on the Senators. So no one should be more excited for a demo than me! lol btw Staal and Lundqvist FTW!!!

NOOOES
NOOOES

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

NeoGen85
NeoGen85

I've been looking forward to a lot of other games such as Spore, Fable 2, Fallout 3, The Force Unleashed, Animal Crossing, and Gears of War 2. But my hype for NHL 09 is going to make the hockey game priority #1, and that has never been the case.

hardcorps1110
hardcorps1110

Sounds great! I leave for boot camp Oct. 27th. NOT ENOUGH TIME TO PLAY IT! lol

ssj4gokuomid
ssj4gokuomid

just preordered this game today cant wait