Ah, it’s hockey season again, and oh how I have missed it. If you haven’t played an NHL game before, or are looking into jumping back into the series, read on fellow/upcoming hockey fan, and if you are a regular of the series, read on to see what’s different this year.
If you’ve played any sports game, you’re probably aware of what to expect in terms of games modes. As with any sports game, NHL 14 has a range of game modes ranging from Be a GM, Season and the newly named Live the Life game mode (previously Be a Pro). Live the Life places you in the skates of an NHL player and allows you to take part in events on and off the ice. The changes aren’t major in terms of how the mode is played aside from having to make decisions that affect your player’s likability among the team, fans and coaches etc.
The gameplay of the NHL games has seen some pretty big overhauls over the past few years, especially in the physics department. Last year new skating mechanics were added in to focus on momentum and maneuvers. This year, EA Canada has introduced NHL fans to the Enforcer Engine which focuses on the fighting/hitting mechanics of the game. Using the same engine that you would find in a game like Fight Night, you no longer partake in fights in a first person view, rather, you are now above the action in a third person view. While you’re fighting the refs will be right there with you, ready to stop the fight once somebody gets the final punch, but at the same time other players might start scraps of their own or just circle around and watch the action ensue.
While the new fighting mechanics are great and personally I find it much more fun to play over the first person mechanics that were so heavily emphasized since NHL 10, it happens a bit too often. Shooting a puck after the whistle, throwing a dirty hit or just pushing a player a bit too much will result in a fight most of the time, which is realistic. However, scraps in front of the net occur a bit too often and can be annoying. Players will grab each other and start pushing and shoving it seems after every whistle. Even if the game has been a relatively clean match, they’ll still get in each other’s faces. Basically, it’s just a little overdone and you’ll notice it pretty quickly.
Hitting and checking has also seen an overhaul in NHL 14. Incorporating the mechanics from last year’s NHL along with the Enforcer Engine creates the most realistic NHL game yet in terms of collisions between players. You no longer have to use the right stick to initiate a hit. Your position, size, speed and weight all matter in making the hit. Thankfully the Enforcer Engine also does a great job of making the impacts look realistic. If a player is coming down the boards and you come in at the right angle you will smash them up against the boards and if you have a good sound system you’ll feel like you’re right there behind the glass. Open ice hits are much easier to make with the engine overhaul in place as well. No more chasing players around smashing the right stick trying to hit them, just skate right in their path and watch the carnage.
Graphically NHL 14 is nearly identical to NHL 13. Obviously the next-generation NHL game will see an ample upgrade in graphics, but currently it’s clear that EA Canada is focusing on nailing the game mechanics of the NHL games and they’re certainly on the right track. The menus have been made a bit slicker over previous installments, but in all honesty, if you’ve played NHL 13 don’t expect a marginal upgrade in graphics with this installment.
One of the major complaints I have with NHL 14 is the commentators. Bill Clement and Gary Thornburg either need to learn some new lines or be replaced. After listening to the same lines for so many years, I’m close to just turning off the commentary altogether. Thankfully, as I mentioned before, the game itself sounds great and the updated soundtrack includes plenty of today’s hits.
One thing I forgot to touch on earlier in this review was the inclusion of the NHL 94 Anniversary mode which takes you back to the retro days of the NHL games, but with a modern touch using the game’s new engine. The game is fast, the hits are hard and if you remember the hockey games of the old days it offers some great nostalgic fun. I’ll leave some of the other surprises for you to see for yourself, but make sure you check the mode out if you pick up NHL 14.
NHL 14 isn’t that much of a step forward over NHL 13, but subtle changes here and there make the game the most physical and satisfying entry in the series yet. If you haven’t played an NHL game in a while, this would be a good entry point, but if you want to save that $60 for next year’s next-gen version of the game (NHL 15), that wouldn’t be a bad choice either.
(Review copy provided by EA for review, thank you!)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – NA
Gameplay/Design – 8.5
Visuals – 8/10
Sound – 8/10
Lasting Appeal – 9/10
Overall – 8.5/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: EA Canada