Thursday, 12 September 2013

Review: NHL 14 (360)

With the NHL hockey games, the question that EA Canada has to answer every year is: If a player holds up the latest NHL game and compares it to the previous year's release, will they be able to tell the difference?

This year, the answer, at least my answer, is, No, except for the inclusion of an "homage" mode to NHL '94.

NHL 13 was pretty darn good and was made all the more delicious because it helped fill the void left by the lockout that marked the beginning of the hockey season last year. And just because NHL 14 is essentially the same game as NHL 13, doesn't make NHL 14 a bad game, it might just feel a little "samey."

There are differences between the two, of course. Besides the NHL '94 mode, NHL 14 has much more fighting than NHL 13. It's not at the levels served up by NHL Hitz 2003, but it's much more noticeable. It was touted as a feature that got some attention early on because it seemed to run in opposition (at least on paper and in official League sound bites) to how the league is trying to clean itself up and shed that cliche of "I went to a fight and hockey game broke out!" As I get older, the fighting becomes less and less part of the game for me, wincing with each landed punch because I've developed an understanding of the kind of physical punishment the fighters are inflicting on each other, so to see it
over-represented here is kind of disappointing, especially because it's a compound fracture in terms of the flow of the game.

The on-ice gameplay is great. No issues there and it feels a little as if players have more prescence and weight on the ice. It's not a radical overhaul and if you haven't played NHL 13 for a few months, it might be difficult to notice. It's refinement if nothing else.

The NHL '94 Anniversary mode, which I was really looking forward to, falls short. Though the sound effects, view get, and overall speed are re-jigged to mimic NHL '94, the magic of that game, which I played for hours and hours on the Sega Genesis, is lost by not just going all-out with an emulation of the original. The graphics remain the hi-res property of 2013. The fact it's using the 2013 engine and is not an emulation makes it odd that this mode can't be played online (unless I'm missing something). That said, I still had fun with the Anniversary mode, simply because I enjoy a good arcade round of hockey.

It's also interesting to note that fighting wasn't included in the original NHL '94!

Still, I have to admit that it's cool of EA to at least make a nod to the fact that 20 years have passed since NHL '94. It's kind of a half-nod, in a "Hey, didn't we date for a few months back in high school?" kind of way, but it's nod nonetheless.

The "Be a Pro" mode (called "Live the Life") now has some off-ice activity that I wish EA Canada expanded to a fleshed out role-playing game. Without being burdened by having to do any of the heavy lifting and development duties, why couldn't we get a role-playing mode where the battles are actual hockey games? The developers pulled in tech from Fight Night and FIFA, why not Mass Effect as well?

Like NHL 13, the number and depth of the included modes in NHL 14 is really good and there seems to be something for every segment of the intended player base. Just play with a buddy? Get dirty as a GM? Take on an entire NHL season? International and AHL leagues? It's all there, it's just not all that different than NHL 13.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Looks, sounds, and feels great
- There's a mode for everyone
- NHL '94 gets a nod
- GM mode is better than seen NHL 13
- "Tweak" Sliders for just about every aspect of the game

The Bad:
- Might be difficult for a lot of players to discern any difference between NHL 13 and NHL 14
- More fighting than I've become used to

Score: 8.0 / 10