Believe it or not, the NHL season is right around the corner. I feel as though I just finished watching the Chicago Blackhawks hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in downtown Chicago after a thrilling series with the Boston Bruins. Nevertheless, hockey season is upon us yet again, even if the order of game releases seems a little strange from the EA Sports
lineup. NHL 14
is on the ice, ready to go and showoff a brand new physics engine and a brand new way of enjoying all of the fast paced action that hockey has to offer.
NHL 14 boasts two big changes to the franchise in the form of NHL Collision Physics and the Enforcer Engine. Starting with the physics, the idea from the developers this time around is that the game in past versions perhaps were a little too unrealistic with movements, momentum, and agility. Most importantly, though, is that collisions perhaps seemed artificial and needed to be worked on. The result of the work is Collision Physics, which makes sure to bring bigger and more thrilling hits to the NHL 14 experience. The controls have been changed up a bit and now simply skating towards an opponent, with enough momentum, will result in a hard check. Players can still use the right analog stick to dish out checks if they please, but the game will still be able to adjust to those who want to go with the new engine specifically. Motions are far more natural this time around, especially when it comes to setting up in front of the net or on shots from the point. In the last few years, pulling off a slapshot, no matter the angle, seemed to always work no matter what. In this year's title, holding the slapshot for too long and getting out of position from the puck will simply result in a whiff, as it should. It requires better timing and quicker reactions to get off the perfect slapshot.
The Enforcer Engine
is just all kinds of fun. Fighting has always been associated with hockey , and I don't believe it should ever change. When huge hits occur, a player can instigate a fight or a tie-up and then drop the gloves with the press of a button. Of course, the opponent may opt not to fight with you, but in most cases, it escalates very quickly. The engine basically makes a player have excellent timing using the triggers and analog sticks. Punches are thrown using the right analog stick while the triggers will dictate dodging or pulling on a player. It's a simple system that is a lot of fun, but one downside to it is that this new engine loves fighting so much, there end up being more than just one skirmish a game, on average. Yes, fighting is a great part of hockey, but I'd prefer it to be a little more spread out. In the career mode, I had a match where, as a playmaking right winger who had no aggression, I ended up in three fights. That should not happen, ever, unless Chicago and Detroit playing each other.
The gameplay additions outside of these engines enhancements is also impressive. As I mentioned before, player motions are nice and smooth, but very realistic. Line changes have to happen on the fly and, after a couple of games, it's easy to adjust to and quick to learn when and when not to do a line change if a player isn't the most in tune with the strategy of hockey. Power plays have a great feel to them and probably are the best that they've ever been, especially with the ability to use created plays if one is so inclined to do so. It's tough to pick up because it isn't like football where it's going to be simply setting up assignments, but with enough practice, getting a motion going and where to place players can truly give a player a huge advantage in a game.
One-touch dekes have been added in as a means to fake out defenders on the way to the ice. Older games, it became increasingly tougher on the offensive players to pull the best moves to get a shot at the net, but one-touch dekes now put the power back into an attacker's hands. They are a bit difficult to pull off, especially with players who technically aren't rated high enough to do these moves, but in the right hands, some of these moves are so fluid and easy to do, it almost isn't fair. Mastering the one-touch deke can prove to be invaluable throughout a game.
There are some minor things that I didn't like about the gameplay, besides the game itself wanting to do nothing but fight all the time. In the argument of auto versus manual aiming, I feel as though auto aiming cripples a player who isn't as good as a seasoned player. The auto aim tries to pick some of the most ridiculous angles to go for simply on goalie placement. For example, if you are controlling the right winger and coming up that side of the ice, the natural motion of a goalie is to cheat to that side. Players seem forced on the auto-aim to basically go for the farthest post because, technically, it's the most open spot. It is vital that a player learn how to do manual aim, or else winning games against others is going to be a much harder task than one should expect. Outside of this, only minor issues stand out with some minor hiccups on player motions, especially the dreaded quick spinning player to get a slapshot ready. However, I've come to accept that it will never go away.
The presentation of NHL 14
truly shines. While the insides of the arenas may not be completely perfect when it comes to accuracy, the ice surfaces absolutely are, down to every last little detail and mark. Replay angles are not overused and focus in on different players depending on what is going on. Tie-ups in front of goalies happen quite frequently and, if between the same players, tend to escalate further until the inevitable fight occurs. Realism is the name of the game, especially with the broadcast team of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, who never get old with me, unlike some of the combinations that have occurred in other EA Sports
franchises. One of the big reasons is that Thorne keeps it simple in the game with his calling of the game and never sounds robotic. Lines may get a bit repetitive, but it's very crisp with delivery and perfectly used throughout the game.
Moving on to the revamped game modes, arguably the best addition to NHL 14
is the anniversary mode, also known as NHL 94 mode
. Yes, it's been twenty years since that title hit the shelves in the 16-bit era. How I miss the days of playing as the incredibly unfair Blackhawks with Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios practically owning the ice, with human wall Eddie Belfour between the pipes. In this mode, though, while it takes us back with visuals, what it basically becomes is an arcade mode. Movements are far more simplified, line changes happen on their own, and it's basically a three button game with pass, shoot, and hustle. No penalties are ever called with the exception of fighting and even offsides is ignored. I've always wondered what the old Blades of Steel
would be like in this generation. This is about as close as it gets.
Career mode has been changed up this year and repackaged as the Live the Life
mode, which makes a player not only make good decisions on the ice, but off the ice as well. Players can start in the NHL or even go down as far as to the Juniors to work their way up. A fair warning to those who want to play this mode: Starting in the Juniors will take a lot of time to build up a character. While regular games have an accelerated clock except for during penalties, this mode will have the game run in real time, though the player will obviously only play their shifts, which does speed a game up. However, each game can take up to 20-25 minutes, depending on penalties, though simulations can be done to speed things up. The issue, though, is that experience is based completely on how the player does in a game and too many simulations will really hurt in the long run. Interviews help with likability and will rope in support from fans, teammates, coaches, and family, but will also earn endorsements and new equipment that give player boosts. This is one of the deepest career modes I've played, and it's a lot of fun.
Connected franchise is back in NHL14 as well, though there hasn't been too much tinkered with in this version. The Be a GM mode does offer a nice challenge in managing the team against the salary cap and making sure that a team doesn't get too old, too young, etc. Roster Management has been touched up, especially with some of the issues where some transactions would completely throw off a roster and overhaul it completely. Building up a team's worth hinges on success, quality of the roster, and many other factors, and it can become quite the chore from season to season to maintain these. The crazy part of the GM Connected option, though, is that as many as 750 players can play in one league at a time. Of course, it's broken down by GM, Commissioner, or as a player. The sheer volume of depth is quite impressive, and if anyone can get a league together that is remotely close to that, it has to be a blast. Ultimate team, of course, makes its return and, while I didn't get too much time with the mode due to time constraints, it does bear a similar look to the setup that both NCAA Football 14 and Madden 25 have as their interfaces. Packs are always available and players need to improve upon their team constantly in order to keep up a competitive advantage against others. Ultimate team always seems to get the most attention from online gamers due to the customization that it offers, but it hasn't changed much from last year to this year.
Wrapping things up, NHL 14 went through some moderate changes and came out quite ahead. The new physics and fighting engines offer up great realism and enjoyment, though I still think that there is a bit too much fighting that detracts from the overall experience. It's fun at first, but it can get a bit old having a fight every couple of minutes. Beyond that, the presentation is quite stellar and the revamped career mode will keep players heavily vested into the game since it practically forces someone to keep playing to truly build up a superstar and not having it handed to a player. Online mode will always lock in the hardcore competitors, and when you add it all up, it's a title that is definitely worthy of hoisting the Stanley Cup when it's all said and done.