It's been quite a while since I've been able to really get into an NHL video game. I bought NHL 07, but just couldn't get excited about it. Being so into the actual Atlanta Thrashers, I just didn't get excited about playing GM and making my own trades and drafting virtual players. I just wanted to play with the team we had in real life. My roommates and I ended up just playing a lot of games as Team USA with line changes turned off, using a custom built line of Chris Drury, Tim Connoly, and Eric Cole. The CCD line.
I never bothered to play, let alone buy, NHL 08, and that may have been a mistake. When looking online to see when NHL 09 was coming out, I found out that 08 got several awards from whoever gives video game awards, including Sports Game of the Year. So when somebody told me the other day that he had bought 09 and it was well worth it, I decided to give it a go.
The result: Damn.
If you've played the college football game from EA Sports in the past year or two, you're familiar with their Campus Legend mode. In this feature, you get to either create a player of your own, or pick a player on an existing roster, and go through his career, playing the games just as him rather than the entire team. You don't choose the plays, you just run them as that one player. If you're a quarterback or running back, it's a lot of fun, since you're involved in almost every play (you simulate the defensive plays). You go through the season, running the plays as that character, building your abilities and stats as you go.
Some genius at EA Sports realized that this would be infinitely better in hockey. Thus, they have created the "Be a Pro" mode. You create your own player when you first put the game in your console, then you assign them to your favorite franchise. You start out as a recent draft pick, and get sent to the minors. You can choose what position you play, and what kind of player you are. I of course, chose to be a power forward drafted by Atlanta. So I was sent to Chicago to play for the Wolves, and was put on the third line as a center.
You play the game, controlling only your character. A blue arrow shows you where to go in order to stay in position, and you can call for passes or yell for your teammates to shoot when you're skating around without the puck. The coach gives you feedback after each shift, period, and between games. Do well, and you can work your way up the depth chart from third line to first and eventually get called up to the show.
It's not just your skills with the puck on your tape that matter (as the Czar learned when he first came to America), but also how you are as a team player. So you have to stay in position, pass well, only call for the puck when you're in position and open, and not take too long of shifts, or the coach will be upset with you.
When you're not on the ice, the view shifts to a perspective from the bench, watching the action while your stamina regenerates. When you take a penalty, you spend your two minutes watching the game from the sin bin. It's truly the most realistic video game hockey experience on the market.
Well, enough of the free advertising for EA Sports. I'm going to go back to watching the Tide paint Athens "Overrated" then play some more NHL 09. I just got moved up to the top line on the Wolves with Darren Haydar, and hope to make it to the NHL to center a line with Bolts and Marty Reasoner soon...