Also On: PS3
Developer: EA Canada
When you hear the words “EA Sports, it’s in the game”, there are those franchises that stick out in your mind like Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, and NHL. While they may have had or still have rivals, no one company has been really able to stand up to the attention to detail, authenticity, or realism these series bring to gamers. Every year we seem to come ever so closer to meshing the real and virtual sports worlds so that one day we might not be able to tell the difference. That is of course as long as fans still ask for more and the developers refuse to take it easy and each year create the greatest versions possible of their beloved franchises.
NHL 14, while a step above EA Sports' previous attempts, doesn't seem to bring its ‘A’ game when it comes to offering loyal players new features to enjoy or experiences that they haven’t had in the past. NHL 14 is still great, don’t get me wrong, but the new and innovative features seem to be missing and have been replaced with a nice tribute to NHL 94 and improved fighting, but little else. NHL 14 still plays an amazing, if not a better game of hockey than previous installments and it is still stunning, even if the series is starting to show some cracks in the ice.
Visually, NHL 14 is virtually untouched, which may not be a bad thing if you are new to the series. Graphically, little has surfaced in this year’s version that really separates it from last year, with the exception of some new hitting animations. These upgraded touches to the hits, checks, and collisions with the boards are impressive indeed, but the rest of the game just seems to look very familiar. This includes the create a player mode that hasn’t changed in many years and makes gamers wonder why they haven’t included the company’s touted Game Face feature. I mean you have it in Madden, but there you can hardly see the faces, at least in the NHL they don’t wear face blocking masks (except the goalie of course). The sad thing is that one of the game’s few new ideas brought to the table called “Live the Life” makes an emphasis on the created player, so why no option to add a feature that has been used in Tiger, FIFA, and even Madden? Otherwise the game still looks solid with great animations, fast action, and even a new fighting engine that makes fighting in the NHL series exciting again.
Audio is another area that really needs a shot of adrenaline as while Gary Thorne and company do a fine job of broadcasting, it is apparent that the once impressive play by play has been rehashed for years, with the exception of the new catch phrase “Yikes”. That being said, the game is loud and full of energy, and easily has some of the best crowd sound effects and reactions of any sports game on the market. Gamers will be happy to turn the volume up to hear every hit, check, and bone crunching hit to go along with a great soundtrack and roaring atmosphere.
While the gameplay hasn’t been reinvented, the game’s A.I. has become increasingly balanced. Of course don’t take this as the A.I. being dumbed down, but I would really refer to the game’s A.I. as fair and realistic. Shots on goal are on par with actual games, hits and checks are greater balanced, and scoring doesn’t come in as a rarity or overblown either. It all just feels right. The more games you play, the more you feel that the dedication by the developers went to into making NHL 14 not only feel right, but as authentic as possible as well.
That is of course unless you are playing the new NHL 94 Anniversary Mode that takes the game play controls back to the days of the 16 bit era when they were more simplified. Here the game pace is faster, the hits are harder, the scoring is plentiful and the ice is blue. This retro nod is a nice addition for those who want to play a game for kicks, but to be honest the nostalgia will wear off quickly, especially for purist buffs like me.
NHL is still chock full of modes, but other than the two aforementioned additions of Live the Life and NHL 94 Anniversary, the game is, as far as features are concerned, the same. You have Quick Modes like NHL Moments, The NHL Winter Classic and Training along with online Modes like GM Connected Career, Hockey Ultimate Team (card collecting online mode), Versus Play, EA Sports Hockey League and Online Shootout. The newest Live the Life mode is a revamped and more immersive version of the formally known as Be A Pro mode.
In Live the Life Mode, you create your player, choose your position, and from there you select an expectation that the owners are looking from you as a player such as 79 shots on goal, 10 goals, or 28 assists if you are skater for instance. New to this year is a likability meter that rates your play and decision making from 4 different communities; fans, teammates, management, and your family. What you say in pre and post game interviews as well as how you back up your words on the ice will affect these likability meters and it is your job to try and manage them all and keep a happy balance for all. You ultimate goal is of course become the next great NHL Legend.
Overall while there are subtle improvements in visuals, audio, gameplay, and modes, one can argue if there are enough new features to draw back the already loyal fan who has bought the series for many years. My answer is while the enhancements from last year may seem minor, there are differences to the actual 2013-2014 NHL season such as division restructuring, roster updates, new rules, and as far as the game is concerned, is still an improvement and more polished than in previous years. Toss in the Live the Life mode that is a more refined and better version of Be A Pro and the fun to relive the past with the NHL 94 Anniversary mode and there may be just enough for you to play possibly the last version of NHL for this generation. The choice is ultimately yours. Newcomers to the series will be treated to the best version of this game this generation, while long time fans may feel a little short changed in what little has been added. This is a year I can say for sure the developers seemed to have a greater focus on gameplay than features. To be fair there are so many modes already, other than reinventing one as they did with Live the Life, what more can you really ask for? There is plenty in NHL 14 that will satisfy each and every fan out there, and in the end that should be the ultimate goal.