A few weeks ago, power reader Joey Traina, Jr., approached me about writing a review for the EA Sports video game, NHL 14. I thought that was a smashing idea, so here we are! Enjoy the review, and feel free to leave you opinions on the game and any other thoughts you have for Joey in the comments section below.
This year’s latest installment of the NHL videogame series, developed by EA Canada and published by EA Sports, NHL 14, is more of an incremental update compared to the huge changes that were seen from NHL 12 to NHL 13. Fighting in NHL 14 is a huge improvement; last year fights were in a first person perspective, but this time around player brawls are seen from a third person perspective and have been modeled after EA’s Fight Night games in what they are calling the “Enforcer Engine.” Watch:
So now when big John Scott gets into a skirmish with his next victim, he will carry the bruises on his face for the rest of the game. EA Canada has tweaked last year’s “True Performance Skating” and made it more responsive. Player collisions are also improved; now when Mike Weber takes a guy out next to the board they won’t go flying 10 feet into the air like in last year’s engine. It is all around a much better system for what is undoubtedly an integral part of the NHL experience. The best game play tweak implemented has to be “One Touch Dekes”. In NHL 13 trying to use the left controller stick to move your player and trying to deke then pull of a shot with the right stick could be very frustrating.
The audio presentation is one part of the game that seems like it hasn’t been improved upon. The sound effects are great – hit the post with a hard shot and it rings out loud and clear. My main gripe is with the commentary. Play by play and commentary is still done by Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, but they have simply taken a lot of the voice overs from last year. Not only that, but things can get repetitive quickly. Play an 80 game season and you will hear the same quotes over and over. The one thing they did get right is the music. Hearing Wolf Mother blasting through your speakers before a faceoff with the crowd cheering is a good way to get pumped up.
EA Canada has also provided a bit of nostalgia this year with “NHL 94 Anniversary Mode”. It is a call back to a popular 16-bit era game that was more arcade style hockey than today’s simulation game play. The ice is the same baby blue color from NHL 94 and your player has a star indicator that denotes who you are playing as. Controls are simplified as well, one button each for shooting, checking, passing, and a spin move. The engine is the same though, but “True Performance Skating” isn’t in play here allowing your players to stop and change directions instantly instead of speed and momentum influencing movement on the ice. Only downside is you can’t play this online, I did some looking around on the internet and found that EA said it was to recreate the feeling of playing NHL 94 with a buddy in the same room. Shame really; maybe if there is enough fan backlash they could change it with a downloadable patch in the future.
Check out this preview for Anniversary Mode!
The newest feature in NHL 14 is “Live the Life”, a different take on “Be a Pro”. You create a player for a team and have start off in the minors. There are also menu based media interviews and off ice instances that determine your likeability among fans and coaches. Give a bad interview and you may find yourself sitting on the bench. The off ice incidents are things like choosing to go to a party and although I didn’t encounter it when I played, I wonder if the option to assault and rob a taxi driver is in there too (I kid, I kid). Another incident, that I didn’t expect, was to choose to give some autographs to kids. The game said I cut my hand and a fence doing it and it affected my stats for a few games. Not really fair to be penalized for picking a better option than ignoring them. It improved my likeability but hurt me where it mattered, on the ice. The way you perform on ice also comes into play, hog the puck and your team will do the same, they won’t pass to you and the coach won’t give you a lot of ice time. Instead of being a simulation of the game of hockey itself, “Live the Life” is more about recreating the TV experience. I found that even if you score a ton of goals your likeability is far more important in determining the amount of time your player is on the ice and in the game.
“Live the Life” wasn’t what I was hoping for but does add a bit more depth to the standard season mode and online play. The things you do as a player on the ice seem to be less important than how the media, fans, and coaches perceive you. I like starting as a young up and coming player and moving up from the minors and fighting for a chance to be drafted in the NHL, but it seems like it isn’t a fair recreation for the life of a hockey player. Not every player gets sponsorships or endorsements. I mean, I get how on ice performance doesn’t always mean you are well regarded by fans (Steve Ott comes to mind, definitely not a high scoring superstar but certainly a leader in the locker-room and well liked by fans).
In addition to “Live the Life”, carried over from last year are a handful of other modes. There is GM Connected which is online based. If you have a bunch of friends with the game, you each can create a team by drafting players and play each other online. This isn’t a mode I have spent any time with so I can’t really offer an opinion on it. If you want to manage a team offline, you can do that as well with be a GM. Also from last year are “Hockey Ultimate Team” and the ability to play past Winter Classics. You also have the option to jump right into a game, play through a season and play through the playoffs. There is online play as well; you can choose to play against random players or people you know.
I think that updates to the game engine and the variety of game are enough to warrant a purchase of EA’s latest. Anyone who is new to the series will find it easy to pick and play, and long time players will find a lot of small details that make the game addicting to play. NHL 14 is definitely a game hockey and video game fans should add to their collection.