Published on September 25th, 2013 | by David Guild0
Review: NHL 14
Hockey season is upon us which means another annual NHL game release by EA. While yearly sport games aren’t really my thing, I couldn’t pass up playing NHL 14. I bought last year’s NHL 13 so I was going to give this year’s game a miss, as I don’t agree with paying for EA’s premium priced sports games year after year for minimal improvements, but this year they “improved” my favourite feature of hockey… the fighting! So shall we get on with this review and will NHL 14 change my opinion of annual sport games? Is EA’s annual release worth the high price tag?
Booting up the game for the first time will show you a preview of this year’s newest features and will go in to detail on the Enforcer Engine but will also give a quick tutorial on how to skate and shoot within the game. This can be handy to newbie’s who are new to the NHL game series as the game uses both analog sticks, one to control the player and the other for puck control or checks but there are options to change the controls to a button configuration. I do suggest sticking it out and playing with the twin sticks as the amount of control you can get by using them both is far superior to the simple button set up.
Once in to the main menu screen you are welcomed with EA’s usual EATRAX playing out the tunes and I’ve always loved the music selection in the NHL games. Plus as I selected Detroit’s Red Wings as my favourite team, so I see the one and only Pavel Datsyuk who was in the running for this year’s front cover but lost out to NJ Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. Anyways we are going off track here, you will also have a selection of options on how to play the game with the usual game modes for single player and online game play but under ‘Career’ you will see ‘Live The Life’ which is your chance to be a hockey legend in the virtual world. Create your player and either start in the rookie leagues or jump straight in to the Pro’s. Everything you do on the ice and off will shape the outcome of your legacy. You will spend more time on the bench at the start but the better you get and complete some career goals, you’ll be heading to the 1st line and have more ice time. Sadly I think this mode will be over looked and only real die-hard fans will play it while others will stick with short games or Season Mode.
Another mode which will get over looked by the casual player will be Hockey Ultimate Team which is a big hit on FIFA. Think of it as a collectible card game, the more games you play the more pucks you will gain and you will be able to buy more packs of card which means more players. You can use real world cash to buy more packs that way along with trading with friends and folk online. It will take a lot of thinking to get a well balanced team. But again it’s for those die-hard fans that know about the players of the sport and want a more in depth game. Sadly despite how much I love the sport, I’m not that kinda fan. I watch and support my team and cheer on the players but I’m quite a simple supporter, I just enjoy watching a good game. So in the end this mode was lost on me.
There is a new mode which is quite close to my heart, as mentioned with every review I do now, I’m quite a retro gamer, and NHL ’94 was probably one of my all time favourite hockey games with Blades Of Steel right behind it. Anyway, EA hasn’t forgotten how good that game was and added an NHL ’94 mode which brings back the classic blue ice and star icons around the players along with the sound of the 16-bit classic. The mode is a blast to play and our Master In Chief, Tony who is not much of a hockey fan (silly footie fan) loved this mode. The game is brutal, with fast paced gameplay and hard hits, could it get any better? Sadly it could by adding online support which EA hasn’t.
Maybe I should jump in to this year’s improved key feature, the Enforcer Engine or ‘Player Impact Engine’. For the non hockey folk out there, Enforcer is really an unofficial role in hockey, they are usually the “fighter”, “tough guy” or “goon”. It’s their job to protect their team and enforce against any dirty plays which the opposition has done. Enforcer’s primary role is to respond to those dirty plays with more aggressive checks or even fighting. With every successful check and won fight they boost their team moral and showing the other team not to mess with them. So EA was going to focus on these tough guys and give them a better role in the game, and it shows. The Collision Physics in the game are even more realistic than ever, plus simple checks are easier. This is due to the momentum being simulated, so now the players won’t just bounce off each other, every hit looks natural and actually feels real.
Along with the usual offensive moves, the fighting has had some work done on it and now plays like EA’s Fight Night. While I do agree some hockey fights do look like cuddling, think about it this way, these fights are bare knuckle fighting. So grabbing and pulling is a major thing, grab them close and give them a few blows to the head. Plus you are able to dodge and even counter the other player’s moves.
Last year’s big overhaul the ‘True Performance Skating’ has had some tweaks here and there but nothing too special to notice, it still feels very slow and even though the skating looks great with how they move, the loss in pace takes away from the fast action hockey is all about. Sometimes going for that realistic feel can hurt a game and in this sense I felt it did, hopefully in a few years EA can keep tweaking the skating engine and get the perfect balance of speed and realism.
This all may sound confusing but EA has fixed that with the usual options in the game, from Simulation, ‘High Impact’ to easy mode. Each has their perks and will suit any player. Simulation will be for the realist who wants to play a pure game of hockey with all the rules and penalties while ‘High Impact’ gives the player some good old fashion harmless violence where it’s ok to check folk hard and maybe through the plexiglass, why not drop your gloves and start a fight because he looked at you funny? ‘High Impact’ is basically like NHL ’94 but far more up to date. Plus for all the newbie’s out there just switch off some of the annoying rules like offside and move the sliders as you wish to make the game easy for you until you get a hang of the gameplay.
The multiplayer hasn’t really changed much, the lobbies are full and everyone can usually beat me quite easily but it is a blast to play. I mainly stuck to local multiplayer or if playing with my friends over the internet as they are more on my skill level. I didn’t appear to have any frame rate issues or lag, the only problem I had was everyone I played was mostly a mute or an American who kept reminding me I shouldn’t play hockey.
The game looks great and plays great in the end, my only real problem, apart from the slow pace, is the commentating. I swear it is the same stuff they have been using for years and can be quite repetitive so mute that and turn up the rock music and let loose this fantastic experience of an Ice Hockey game. Mostly everyone will see a team they love to play as their own unless you are like me and live in the UK and just keep praying that one day EA will add EIHL teams, one day I want to play as the Fife Flyers just so I can find Dundee Star Jeff Hutchins and body check him through the plexi. Yes I may have some deep anger issues but this is why I watch hockey.
So what am I trying to say? Does NHL 14 change my opinion of EA Annual Sports Games? No of course not and especially at the price.
The game has rarely changed over the last few years and in my opinion if you are a hardcore hockey fan then go on and get your yearly dose of the game. The new engine for Enforcers is great and adds some “ouch” moments while the casual gamer like myself who likes the sport but doesn’t play and follow it enough to care, just miss out every 2nd year. The game looks and feels great and with the extra addition of NHL ’94, will make for an awesome night with the mates.
The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360.
Summary: NHL 14 is your standard EA yearly release sports game with slight improvements. This years NHL focus's on hard hits with its Collision Physics and brings back the classic NHL '94 for some old school hockey.