There aren't many remaining sports where there are two fully licensed major players in the market, but ice hockey remains defiantly committed to sowing its wild oats. The problem for 2K Sports' effort is that EA's competitor was leagues ahead in the gameplay stakes last year and has a much bigger online following. How can 2K10 compete?
The answer is by filling in some of the gaps EA still haven't covered. Where EA's NHL 10 rarely departs from its high ground as an ultra-realistic sim, NHL 2K10 lets you pelt around the ice at high speed, charge up shots even while your player is in the process of being flattened and score without having to work the defence anywhere near as hard as its super-serious cousin.
The controls are simple, allowing you to get by with just the joystick and a couple of buttons, but there's enough flexibility to give you a wide range of tactical options once you get past the basics. Play somebody who knows what they're actually doing, for example, and any button-mashing tendencies you have will be brutally exposed.
Given its arcade tendencies it's surprising that NHL 2K10 doesn't portray the physical side of the game quite as well as the EA title. Everything from the sound of a player being pounded into the board, to the accompanying animation is less visceral in 2K10, and fights are disappointingly weak.
That's not to say it lacks any cool touches of its own. It looks great when players get their sticks tangled together, and the ice looks nicely cold and shiny. Plus there are the bonus modes, which are completely absent from the rival game.
Pond hockey puts you in a higher-scoring four-on-four game set outdoors. Mini rink shrinks the playing area and reduces the player count to two, which makes for something vaguely akin to the XBLA game that EA released separately. Also included is Zamboni mode, for anyone with a burning desire to drive the ice-polishing truck. Unfortunately you can't do this during a proper game. Maybe next time...
Practically everything is in place for a long-lasting hockey experience, from franchise mode to player creation to all manner of custom online functionality, and if you're looking for a game where you won't have to practice for hours before even being able to score without AI assistance, this is the one.
But once again we can't help but be drawn back to the superior controls, visual polish and deep online team play of the EA game. All other things being more or less equal, 2K10 still comes off second best but the gap isn't quite as big as last year.
Solid and very playable hockey game that's a clear number two in its field.