Last year, NHL 15 hit the shelves and promptly received a chorus of boos from its loyal fanbase. A stripped down version of the title resulted in low review scores, angry fans, and confusion as to why such a popular franchise suddenly took a nose dive. Much of the stripping down was blamed on the jump to the next generation, but fans weren't buying it. Eventually, some of the stripped down modes got added back in, but the damage had been done. It became vital for EA Sports to deliver a far more quality title this time around, and I'm happy to say that NHL 16 has restored the franchise to its former glory.
The best move that EA Canada made was bring in fans directly from their forums to help with the process of making NHL 16 great. The program was appropriately entitled "Game Changers" and it appears to have made a major difference. Developers should absolutely take note of this process as it ended up working out positively for all parties involved. How good are we talking about, though? Well, the gameplay feels like its the best the series has had in awhile. Movements on the ice are still quite fluid, but the fine tuning that has occurred to take great controls to the next level makes this feel fantastic to play. While it may take a little time to get used to some of the touchiness of the right analog stick with shooting, face-offs, and other in-game mechanics, once that's mastered then it's business as usual for veterans of the series.
EA Canada, to their credit, promised all of the above and dubbed it "precision skating" and it's a beautiful experience. Learning the little nuances of the gameplay mechanics can make the difference between pokechecking that attacker at the last second or giving up that goal right before time expires. Timing is everything, but the new mechanics make it a cinch to pull off. While the primary skaters received some love with this, I cannot help but rave about goalie controls. I have always feared controlling goalies in past titles as it's usually just a combination of "get in the way" and "pray to a higher deity that I'm hitting the right button" in order to pull of saves. Those expierences are a thing of the past as learning the new goalie controls makes it less terrifying and more enjoyable than ever.
To pair up with the gameplay during a game, the presentation received a wonderful boost. The generic arenas are now gone and replaced by more authentic arenas. Madison Square Garden actually looks like MSG. The United Center actually looks like the Madhouse on Madison. The commentary team gives a great experience in the form of Eddie Olczyk, Doc Emrick, and Ray Ferraro. They've had some new lines added, though there is a bit of a cross up from time to time with the audio, especially when Ferraro is brought in and something big happens on the ice. Ferraro may just keep on talking while the team who scored celebrates, but this was a minor glitch that happened just a couple of times.
The biggest travesty from NHL 15 has been corrected, though: EASHL is back, and it's as wild as ever. As someone who is a huge fan of FIFA's Pro Clubs mode and having a possible 22 people trying to take each other on, EASHL is beautiful chaos. Mistakes will happen, especially on the defensive side, but it's easy to simply jump into a match with random people or join your own club. It was also easy to tell that people were getting used to the goalie controls as more people were willing to take the spot between the pipes than in years past, and that's the true test of gameplay. The best part of all of these modes and features, however, has to be the addition of the On-Ice Trainer. Players new to the franchise who aren't quite used to the gameplay and need a little assistance can turn this on with the simple press of the analog stick. Controls will appear above the player they are controlling at proper times in order to help them understand when and what they should be doing. I would expect that this comes heavily into play with players who have friends over who are new to sports titles and may be a little intimidated by having to know a ton of moves. The trainer ends this pain and makes it simple.
Be a Pro is back, and it's received a face lift like everything else. In the individual player mode, a player has the option of when to start his season and, thankfully, it no longer requires a ridiculously long stint in the minors. Players will opt into a simple tournament and, so long as experience goals are met, will shoot up the draft boards in an attempt to vie for the top pick. After getting drafted, it's all about doing the training games and earning experience while on the ice. Players will automatically start in most cases, but they may be relegated to the third or fourth line, which means less of a chance to make a major impact. Of course, if you aren't a fan of being a superstar, there's always Be a GM mode, which allows a player to take over their favorite franchise and lead them to Lord Stanley's Cup. Added into this year's franchise mode are trade demands, teammate relationships, and management relationships. A player controlling a coach can opt to sit down with any player and give a speech to them. It may be harsh. It may be praise. No matter what is chosen, though, it's a guarantee that it will have some type of effect on the player, meaning that it could boost a player out of a slump or send him into a tailspin and wanting out of your city. Be careful when doing this.
Ultimate Team makes a return to this year's version, and it's what you expect from EA Sports by now. The management of your Ultimate Team is a bit easier now and there are single player modes that will give players the chance to build up their squad without having to hop into an online match. It's difficult to understand why more single player modes in Ultimate Team weren't available before this year, but the big thing here is that the game now has them.
All in all, there really isn't much to complain about with NHL 16. The real issue I have is that this is the game that NHL 15 should have been. Players shouldn't have had to wait two full years to get the title they were clamoring for all along, but with the most beloved game modes added back into the title and a revamped gameplay system, NHL 16 is more than just a playoff contender.
I've been writing about games and entertainment since 2006 after starting out at Xbox Ohio. Since then, I have made the jump to Gaming Nexus and have enjoyed my time here. I am an avid gamer that has a solid old school game collection that includes the likes of Final Fantasy games, Earthbound, Gitaroo-Man, MvC2, and a whole slew of others. I have a primary focus on Xbox/PC games and PC peripherals and accessories. If you ever want to game against me, you can look me up on XBL with the gamertag GN Punk. View Profile