EA Sports released the latest edition of their popular NHL video game series to much anticipation Tuesday and I managed to beat the rush and get my hands on a copy.
This year’s version of the game came with just as many promises as its predecessors did and in the past, fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths (and lighter wallets).
"All they did was add a few players and make some roster moves" was a common phrase spat by dissatisfied costumers the last few years and it seems that EA was listening, because when they announced some of the new features, it looked like they were actually changing a good chunk of the game. Hitting, Fighting and Dangling were all to be redesigned and "Be a Pro" mode was getting a facelift, renamed "Live the Life". But could they really deliver on such hefty promises?
Promise: New Hitting Engine to eliminate unrealistic collisions and bring in real life factors (size, speed, positioning) into play when a hit is delivered.
Did They Deliver? Yes, it’s great
The new hitting engine is in a word, awesome. Hits look real, feel real and most importantly, COULD be real. That means we’ve left the days of Nathan Gerbe putting Zdeno Chara through the glass behind us. It also means no more weak pushes that result in a quintuple back flips or soft looking bumps that should’ve been devastating hits which could be really annoying and frustrating. It gives big teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins an actual edge in the physical department – something that can’t be said of past NHL games. I suppose you could say, #GRITCHART actually sort of matters.
EA introduced three "main" gamemodes which essentially adjust the gameplay sliders to adapt a certain style of game. There’s a "realistic" setting which is probably used by most users, a slower setting for those getting used to the game or who just want everything slowed down, and a fast, slightly unrealistic pace setting. I play the fast setting which just makes everything that much faster, harder and in my opinion, better.
Promise: New Fighting engine
Did They Deliver? Yes, KO’s for days
Gone are the first person fights that always ended with the same annoying animation. We now have third person bouts and the fights are realistic too as they allow you to throw a combination of different punches and if you’re skilled enough, one punch knockout you’re opponent. Every fight has a different outcome and not only can you celebrate your fight (unfortunately they forgot the McGrattan salute) but both players show the ill effects of the fight (scrapes, bruises) following the scrap. Job well done EA. Not only this, but the third person view also allows for multiple scraps to take place at once paving the way for an inevitable line brawl.
If I was to identify one issue with the new set up, it would have to be the oversensitivity the CPU has to anything you do. A big hit results in someone charging you and dropping the mitts and god forbid you shoot the puck after the whistle, you’ll immediately be met by a number of angry opponents ready to fight. It’s of course your choice whether or not you fight, but having the option to duke it out after every single whistle is a little unrealistic. There may be a slider somewhere that governs this, but so far I have yet to uncover it.
Promise: One Touch Dekes
Did They Deliver? Yes, but…
Undressing a defender is now a lot easier and I’m not a fan. Call me boring, but making it so that Shayne O’Brien can turn Drew Doughty inside out does not make the game more fun. Some might find this a nice addition but it doesn’t do much for me. This feature though does change the dynamic of the game – especially online – as you’ll see a lot more dipsy-doodling and dangling in game, possibly leading to higher scores because other than trying to hit the guy or attempting a poke check (both I find are pretty ineffective against a preset deke like that), there’s little you can do to stop it.
Promise: New Be A Pro Mode (Live the Life)
Did They Deliver? Yes
The way you play the hockey has remained the same but the mode itself is completely different. You now have real life events and actions that factor into your success as a hockey player. Before getting drafted into the NHL, you have to go through three pre-draft interviews which slightly affect your draft stock, depending on how you answer the questions they ask. The three teams that interview you are essentially the clubs that have the most interest in you and more times than not (if not all the time), you’ll be picked up by one of those teams. After that, as you play through your career you’ll be asked to answer questions (mostly from the media) or make decisions that affect your status with the fans, teammates, management and your family.
High ratings in each category result in positive things happening to your character (big contract, endorsements, captaincy) while low ratings result in negatives (getting booed, run out of town, forced retirement). Pretty basic stuff. The questions you answer are presented in a multiple choice format in which 2 answers are usually considered "good, safe awnsers", one usually being cocky and the other random. It’s a fun new fold to a mode that was getting old and outdated.
Besides the main changes, EA also made a bunch of other "improvements", the best of which was scrapping the stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid basic blue background they had for most gamemodes in NHL 13, reverting back to something derived from hockey. Everything also just seems to be cleaner and sharper looking; you can tell they put a lot more work into the design this time around.
Other nice additions include a "Twitter" like feature to the Live the Life and Be a GM modes that sees all 30 NHL Teams tweet info about the games they’re playing and also someone named "Hockey Analyst" who is essentially a Bob McKenzie/HockeyyInsiderr hybrid, tweeting signings and trades as well as rumours which is really, really cool. Besides this there are a number of tweaks and upgrades that improve your overall gaming experience.
But, is all this enough to invest 59.99 of your own (or your parents’) hard earned paper on? In my humble opinion, yes it is. If you’re a fan of hockey or still play the older versions of the game, NHL 14 offers way too many changes that enhance the overall experience and realism of the game to not purchase it. It’s a huge leap forward from last years version and between the much improved AI (all your past sure fire scoring techniques are useless now) and all the new engines that were introduced, you’ll more than likely feel your money was well spent.
My Rating: 9.5/10
They delivered on all their promises and delivered a fresh, new version of the NHL game we’ve all come to know and love.
For those who care about such things, here is what EA Sports thinks about your Calgary Flames:
Notice: If you’re thinking "hey not bad" while reading these, know that you are wrong and it is bad. The Flames have one of the bottom rated teams in the game – which kind of makes sense I guess.
Mike Cammalleri – 87 (That’s worth a 1st round pick right?)
Mark Giordano – 85 (Agreed)
Curtis Glencross – 84 (Agreed)
Jiri Hudler – 83 (Agreed)
David Jones – 82 (Hopefully)
Lee Stempniak – 82 (Sounds about right)
Dennis Wideman – 82 (I’d have him a notch or two higher)
Matt Stajan – 81 (Fair, maybe deserves a notch lower)
TJ Galiardi – 81 (Hopefully)
Mikael Backlund – 80 (I’d have him a few notches higher)
Chris Butler – 80 (That sound you’re making is called hysterical laughter)
TJ Brodie – 80 (I’d have him an 83, at least)
Kris Russel – 79 (Sounds about right)
Derek Smith – 78 (Pretty generous in my opinion)
Mark Cundari – 75 (Sounds about right)
Chris Breen – 73 (Ok)
Tim Jackman – 73 (Agreed)
Blair Jones – 72 (Sounds about right)
Greg FirstRoundPick Nemisz – 70 (Dat generosity)
Max Reinhart – 70 (Hopefully he proves to be higher)
Brian McGrattan – 68 (Should’ve been 99 but politics)
Sean Monahan – 64
Morgan Klimchuck – 55 (He has ridiculously high trade value)
Emile Porier – 55 (He has ridiculously low trade value)
Keegan Kanzig – 52
Joey MacDonald – 73 (Seriously, he’s the highest rated goalie on the Flames roster)
Karri Ramo – 69 (Could prove to be higher)
Reto Berra – 68 (Same boat as Ramo)
Laurent Brossoit – 61
Miikka Kiprusoff – 81 (Too bad he retired, right?)
No Joni Ortio in my version, which is weird. No Corban Knight as of yet either. Likely will be included in the next roster update.