Review: NHL 09 is video game crack rock; prepare to get addicted

EA Sports' NHL 09 is the deepest hockey game you'll ever play.

After months and months of hype, videos, screenshots, and rumors, the game finally hit stores yesterday (many places received the game on Tuesday) and let the shunning of loved ones begin!

Wysh had a dynamite interview with EA producer David Littman who touched on the many features you'll find in NHL 09. The biggest additional to the "offline" game is the new Be-a-Pro Mode, which puts you into the game as a self-created player or living vicariously through a current NHL'er.

As soon as you load the game you'll be prompted to create your own player. From different head sizes to facial hair to various equipment choices to what type of player/position you'll be, you can customize your player to your individual liking. From there you enter the world of Be-a-Pro and will find yourself selecting an NHL franchise to join.

Immediately, you'll be placed on the American Hockey League affiliate of the club you choose, and receive goals to hit during the season ($20 says Wysh puts himself on the Iowa Chops). Depending on the type of player you are will affect what goals you are given.

I put myself as a right wing and my general manager expects me to put up 70 points and 50 assists in my rookie campaign. No sweat boss!

If you never experienced the Be-a-Pro mode in the FIFA soccer games, you'll find NHL 09's version to be pretty addicting. During games, you're graded on your positioning on the ice, team play, and statistics. Team play is graded by how long you stay on the ice (when it's time to change lines, you change lines) as well as how often you call for the puck and hang on to it.

In between periods and when you're on the bench, you'll receive feedback about your play; if you heed the advice, you'll see your grades increase and progress improved. When skating on the ice, if you're found out of position, an arrow will point you in the spot where you should be. After about a minute or so on the ice, the player indicator above your head will start pulsing and that means it's time to skate over to the bench and change lines. Immediately after you come off for a shift change, the camera angle remains from the bench until your next time on the ice.

After each game you'll earn progress points which can be cashed in for various increases in different attribute categories. The cool part about Be-a-Pro is that you can take your created player online and increase attributes that way, whether through the EA Sports Hockey League, which you can read about here, or through regular team-online play.

You'll also have a hockey card featuring your player, which can be changed by each milestone you hit or through the new Instant Replay camera, which allows you to save pictures or videos of game play to be uploaded to the EA Sports World Web site.

Outside of the Be-a-Pro mode, the dynasty mode option is back and pretty much similar to what we found in NHL 08. The one change which I was happy to see is that any free agent from your team that you do not resign yourself will be put into the free agent pool come July 1 of your dynasty season. In NHL 08, if you did not resign a free agent and let him be, come July 1, the CPU automatically signed the player, which was a pain.

Gone is the financial option of setting ticket/concessions prices, which was useless, as well as the mailbox feature. In its place are pop-ups indicating any trade offers from teams, as well as any pertinent league information such as salary cap numbers.

If you're fond of international play, back are the national teams: 21 in all, including Italy, England, Poland, and Japan if you're dying to play as Yutaka Fukufuji. Once again, EA did not acquire an IIHF license and therefore you'll find the national team jerseys as generic as possible, featuring the country's colors and the flag across the chest.

Speaking of international, you'll also find five European leagues in the game from Sweden, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic, as well as the Russian Superliga featuring Jaromir Jagr (88 rating) and Darius Kasparaitis (80 rating).

No word if, in dynasty mode, the Kontinental Hockey League will poach your team's players.

To help celebrate the Montreal Canadiens centennial this year, EA has included a legends team featuring helmet less players, as well as the Canadiens Cup challenge. In this challenge, you have to beat seven NHL teams in order to face off against the Habs greats to win the Cup. Unfortunately, the jersey selection for the Canadiens legends is limited to just the current home red and away whites.

But fret not young button mashers: There are indeed plenty and plenty of vintage sweaters in the game, including some for the Canadiens. For the full list of what classic jerseys are available to choose, head on over to Going Five Hole.

As you choose each team and select what jersey you'd like to play with, you'll see some blacked out options which are obviously reserved for the upcoming third jersey's being debuted by teams over the next few weeks. While searching through the Sabres' options, I noticed there were two blacked out options available. We saw the leaked photos the other day about their rumored thirds, but are they also bringing out a second one? The 2006-07 royal blue retro jersey is a selectable option, so who knows what this might be?

Rumor has it that EA will release the code to unlock these jerseys once all of them have been revealed.

Let's hope someone drops the ball again this year and leaks the code early.

As far as game play additions, EA has included the flip dump, which helps in setting up a forecheck down low; the stick lift, which is a great way to prevent one-timers; as well as a 360 degree defensive skill stick, which will make defenses that much tougher. Gone are the easy passes; this year, you'll have to be sure your passes are accurate otherwise you'll be upping the turnover count.

Also, say hello to the one-handed stick deke which is still giving Corey Hirsch nightmares thanks to Peter Forsberg.

I played NHL 09 last night for five hours straight on the PS3, learning the different controls and testing out the new modes. I can easily predict that you'll be playing this game on a consistent basis until they release NHL 2010 sometime next September (which they've already started working on). The Be-a-Pro mode itself is deep enough to keep you occupied on a daily basis and I can only imagine the increased addiction once the EA Sports Hockey League gets up and running.

(note: I was unable to test the game online as EA's servers were down last night)

Graphics: 9/10

Mostly the same from 08, but still solid

Gameplay: 10/10

The new skill stick additions are great additions to an otherwise deep game. If you're not a fan of lots of controls, there is an option for "NHL 94" controls, which keep the game much simpler to play.

Audio: 9/10

Gary Thorne and Bill Clement are back and while the commentary is decent, can someone tell Thorne that it's Jeff Taffe and not Taffy?

Replay Value: 10/10

Dynasty mode has always been fun to keep replaying, but the Be-a-Pro mode itself will have you playing video game hockey like you haven't before: as a goalie, defenseman, and not just as a forward.

Overall: 9.5

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