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With their rival, 2K Sports, backing out from this year’s cycle of NHL video games (for X360 and PS3, at least), EA Sports is getting set to release the best installment of their NHL franchise yet. The game is rated E 10+ by the ESRB and it hits the shelves on September 7th.

Remember: the EA NHL franchise has won 22 Sports Game of the Year Awards and there’s no evidence they’re stopping now.

Now I’ll synopsize some of the salient improvements and noteworthy new features that Electronic Arts has in store for us:

IT’S A DOUBLE BLACKHAWK ALL THE WAY: Jonathan Toews, recent Olympic gold medalist from the Vancouver games and Conn Smythe trophy winner, will headline NHL 11 as the game’s cover athlete; Toews’ teammate Patrick Kane was the cover athlete of last year’s edition.

INCREASED REALISM: In puck-play (essentially the puck will no longer be chemically bound to your stick until you shoot); in goalie play (reducing the frequency of goalies playing those perfect angles); and on face-offs (allowing the puck to bounce upon hitting the ice, making it harder to win the face-off, and allowing the player to shoot directly off the face-off). The player will be able to jump over others lying on the ice (the absence of such feature has proved annoying in the previous years). Furthermore, this will be the first time that broken sticks will be included in the game.

NO MORE CANNED ANIMATIONS: Tired of the scripted, predictable reactions to hits and checks? Well, NHL 11 utilizes all-new AI programming with the ragdoll effect for all hits and checks. The game’s new physics engine was designed in part by the people who created that of EA’s boxing game, Fight Night.

Here’s what Game Informer had to say about it:

Like Natural Motion's Euphoria technology, this procedural system generates animations on the fly, getting rid of the repetitive canned animations that plague so many sports games. Whether you're on open ice or along the boards, every collision looks unique -- players can catch the buckles along the benches, get their skates tied up, or even keep their balance if the checker only gets a small piece of him. Players rebound viciously from the glass after getting checked into the boards, and if you hit your victim hard enough, he may drop his stick or suffer a gruesome injury.”

FINALLY, EH?: In addition to the plethora of European teams, those belonging to the three member leagues of the Canadian Hockey League, the OHL, QMJHL, and WHL, will all be playable in this year’s version.

HOCKEY HAIR METAL: The NHL franchise has been widely regarded for its soundtracks over the years. This year will be no different, bands including The Ramones, The Black Keys, Airbourne, Bullet For My Valentine and Megadeth, among others, will be on the soundtrack, creating an intense arena-esque experience.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: The Hockey Ultimate Team: the one feature that EA has been touting all summer long. They call it the biggest online dynasty mode ever–essentially a large, online fantasy league. The twist is, you actually get to play in the games. Your players are virtual hockey cards, and you can buy new and better ones by winning games, thereby collecting pucks (the feature’s currency) and using them to either buy new packs of cards (players) or go to the Auction House feature where you can trade for a specific player.

 

Any way you cut it, EA Sports NHL 11 is going to be an exceptionally realistic, fun, and exhilarating experience. I strongly advise you to pre-order it now, as it will be a hot commodity, come September 7th.