Platforms: Xbox 360/Playstation 3 Genre: Sports
Developer: EA Canada Publisher: EA Sports
Platform Reviewed on: Xbox 360
NHL 14 set out to improve upon the strengths of the previous NHL titles as well as make the game much more life-like, and for the most part EA Canada has succeeded in accomplishing these tasks. The collision physics that have been imported from the FIFA franchise make the on-ice hits significantly bigger, the new enforcer engine brings more depth to brawls that occur between players, and the improved career mode titled “Live The Life” makes you feel as if you are a hockey star.
The moment you start up the game, you are asked a few questions about how you would like to play and your experience with the NHL franchise. How you answer these questions will affect the settings of the game, but they can be changed at any time so there is no need to worry about how you initially answer. I strongly recommend trying the game on all three simulation settings as there are some significant differences between the three options. Not only will you be able to experience the different styles the game has to offer, but you will discover which setting you find to be the most enjoyable. After you finish the setting questions you will be given the opportunity to take a brief tutorial which will teach you the basic controls and introduce the new features such as one-touch deking and the new method of fighting. Even fans of the series may find this introduction useful towards the end of it as it does explain the new mechanics, however this tutorial is entirely optional and if you would prefer, you can simply jump right into the game.
The GM mode has returned with both a single player offline version as well as the online equivalent allowing you to play with and against other people. While not everyone will absolutely love being the GM of a team and having to manage every aspect of the team, you are once again able to manipulate the settings as you please before you begin. This means that as in previous NHL titles, if you decide you want to play GM mode but are not a fan of salary caps, you can turn them off. Of course, if you wish to play the actual games as well while you manage both the NHL and its minor league affiliate, you are more than welcome. It is a great feeling to watch all of your hard work pay off when your team wins the Stanley Cup. Although the opposite can also happen and if your team fails to win it all, you really do feel what we can only assume the actual GM of an NHL team feels. The amount of effort required to play GM mode will vary depending on the difficulty and how invested you are in the game mode, but you will find the most enjoyment comes from truly caring about your team and actually participating within the league as a GM would.
Perhaps the biggest game mode of NHL 14 is Live The Life which allows you to create your own player and advance them through the NHL or start in the minor leagues and work your way up. The biggest changes within this game mode are the inclusion of off-ice events such as press conferences, as well as a “likeability meter” for various people in your life. The off-ice events are prompts that will appear on your screen outside of the hockey games and you must choose one of four options for each situation. These choices may be answers to questions the press is asking you or they may be a decision you make about whether to go out and party with the team. Your choices in these scenarios will affect how various people in your life think of you, it may land you a sponsorship deal, and it may result in your statistics taking a bit of a hit for the next game.
Of course, you do not know what effect your choice will have until you make it and there is no way to avoid making a choice. Is going out and celebrating with your team worth risking an injury or having the management dislike you a little bit? Is deciding to stay in your hotel room that night worth having your team mates think a little less of you? The choice is yours, as are the consequences in Live The Life. You will also be given on-ice tasks by your coach and it is up to you to ensure they are completed. These may range from getting several shots on net in the first 10 minutes to winning faceoffs, blocking shots, screening the goalie, or scoring goals. The tasks are not always the most descriptive so there were several times when I was unsure of exactly what I was expected to do which was a little frustrating. These incidents were not terribly frequent, but it left me wishing there was a little more elaboration on some of the tasks.
There is also a plethora of online modes you can play depending on whether you’d like to play one-on-one, six-on-six, or do something as simple as a shootout. Regardless of how you play the game, there will be an online mode you enjoy due to the sheer diversity. The EASHL makes an appearance again, allowing you to join a club and try to fight your way up the standings in the league. Depending on the size of the club, it may be somewhat frustrating to find a time when there are enough people to actually get a game going (as at least two of you need to be waiting in the game lobby simultaneously in order to play a club game), but fortunately the ability to have a drop-in game returns as well. The drop-in function allows you to play a game of six against six but without any club affiliations, making that style of gameplay much more accessible to those in a small club or even without one.
One of the most popular game modes in the NHL franchise is the Hockey Ultimate Team mode where you collect hockey cards to create your fantasy team and play using them. This mode combines the joy of collecting cards and being unsure of what opening a new pack will hold with the fast-paced and competitive aspects of hockey. It is not a new mode for the series, but it continues to be improved with online games now resulting in your team being moved up and down within and between divisions. This allows the better players to play against one another while the gamers who may not be the best play against each other until they reach a point where they win more than they lose. It is not a perfect ranking system, but it allows for more balance than most online games. Another improvement made with the HUT mode is that you no longer earn pucks strictly from playing HUT games, but also from playing other game modes. Playing HUT games will net you far more pucks (the currency utilized in this mode) than the other modes but it is refreshing that you are no longer restricted to playing that particular mode in order to earn them.
NHL 94 Anniversary mode forces players to use a simplified control scheme as well as removes things such as icing, offsides, and penalties. This game mode is perfect for when friends get together and you just want to cause some mayhem on the ice. While you have the option of using this control scheme throughout any of the game modes, if you are not accustomed to them it takes a while to adjust. Due to the fact that one of the buttons now shoots the puck rather than one of the analog sticks, with the same also going for bodychecks, it is a large deviation from the default controls, and a throwback to a simpler time when there were only a handful of buttons on a controller.
In regards to how the game plays, it is quite evident that EA Canada put a lot of hard work into ensuring the game was as polished as possible. The player movements are smooth, the hits feel much less scripted, sticks and skates interact far more with other players and the puck, and the speed of a player while they are using a speed boost is much more noticeable. The AI used for the goalies has also been improved and all one has to do in order to take notice of this is play a game. The movement speed of the goalies seems to have been decreased slightly, but they are much more aware of their surroundings. Rather than focusing solely on the player with the puck, they will no longer fully commit to that one player and are faster to make the move across the net to stop the one-timer if a pass is made.
There is one fairly significant downside to some of the changes that have been made which is that for the most part fighting is not optional. It is understandable that during a hockey game if a player is hit hard, the team’s enforcer will take a stand, however if it is a clean hit it is far less likely. In NHL 14, the AI doesn’t always make this differentiation and any time you lay an opposing player flat on their back, you run the risk of getting into a fight whether you want to or not. Those who played the demo noticed it was incredibly frequent and while I am happy to say that it has been dialed back significantly, it still happens on a regular basis if you happen to be a player on your team who checks the puck carrier to put an end to the offense. Once you see your player stop in their tracks and throw off their gloves, you know you’re about to spend five minutes in the penalty box and there is no way around it. Conversely, if an opposing player happens to hit one of your team mates a little too hard or runs into your goalie, you may see a box appear in the top corner of your screen allowing you to step in and engage in fisticuffs. You can choose not to, but it is nice to be able to automatically have that choice.
While it may seem odd to be in favour of initiating fights while opposing mandatory fights, it is the choice that I am in favour of. If you choose to instigate a fight, you are making that choice, but merely bodychecking someone should not classify as choosing to fight. The frequency of the AI doing something to give you that option is fairly rare, but it does occur which is refreshing. Rather than having AI opponents and team mates who never break the rules, NHL 14 seems to have let the computer loosen up a bit so that they will occasionally be offside, ice the puck, and get into fights with one another. As someone who has a very physical style of play in NHL games, it is nice to see two AI go at it in a fight while the rest of our teams stand around and watch.
It may be argued that the changes made to sports games year after year are minimal, but even the most jaded gamer must admit that there are some titles where the changes are far more significant and truly alter the experience for the better. NHL 14 is one of those games and it is evident from the minute you start playing. Whether it is the more extensive career mode, the deeper level of online play, the improved goalie AI, the physics engine which leads to bigger hits, or the new enforcer engine, the changes are noticeable and for the most part, very welcomed additions to the series. The NHL franchise is becoming more realistic but modes like NHL 94 Anniversary allow the players who want a break from realism to take to the ice and focus more on fun than the rules. Despite that mode not being new to this game, it is important that they carried it over as it allows a healthy balance between realism and shameless fun. There is a game mode in NHL 14 for every hockey fan regardless of how much detail they enjoy.
- Improved collision physics
- Improved goalie AI
- More immersive career mode
- Frequent mandatory fights
- Occasionally unclear on-ice tasks
Eric is an editor for Analog Addiction where you can find all the latest gaming news, previews, reviews, and everything else that rhymes with those words. ‘Like’ Analog Addiction on Facebook to receive all of the updates as they’re posted.