The past few years have been kind to ice hockey gaming fans. EA Sports has been doing fine work, but NHL 09 is undoubtedly the best ice hockey game yet. 

EA Sports NHL series has been heading towards greatness for at least the past few years. Each iteration has added one or two new facets that dramatically improve gameplay, but this year's improvements have gone above and beyond what we might normally see out of a sports development studio in several years with the introduction to NHL 09 of Be A Pro mode and online leagues.

Combine this with an already fantastic game of hockey that has been given a few minor tweaks and NHL 09 is the best video game representation of ice hockey so far.

Slower is better

Players returning from last year will be at home with NHL 09 right away as nothing too drastic has been changed when it comes to the actual controls. Perhaps the most important improvement is the addition of a few new defensive abilities that allow far more ability to get accurate poke checks, sticks in the passing lanes, along with a dedicated button to raise the stick of an opposing player.

Bodychecking has also been improved in NHL 09, taking away the almost magnetic and near instant movements that were a staple in last year's edition and making it far more dependent on good positioning. The speed of the game has also been tweaked to be a little slower, and while it isn't immediately noticeable it does much to improve the flow of games - allowing for players to realistically set up in the zone more often than used to be seen.

The addition of these facets has made NHL 09 far more defensive orientated, subtly getting rid of some of the offensive excesses the game has fallen into in previous years. In previous years you could go streaking into the opponents zone and be confident of picking apart his defence with a few well timed one-timers, but no longer. Setting up in the zone, having a good passing game, and mastering the shooting controls are now the key.

NEXT PAGE: building an ice hockey career

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