Review - NHL 14
So back in the day, my friend Jeff and I played the hell out of NHL '93. Neither of us were the largest hockey fans; I think I knew who the Stars were and he had a commemorative puck from a now defunct minor league team in San Antonio. All we knew for sure was that in NHL '93, we could get into fights and maim each other with slapshots. For a couple of second graders, that was plenty. Jeff and I have both come a long way since then, and it seems so has EA Sports' NHL series. But now, at least for NHL 14, they're taking it a little bit old school.
According to the cover art, the series has won number critics' choice awards and this year is celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the much loved NHL '94. They're doing so by including an Anniversary Mode, which swings the camera into its old over the top position, has four button controls, stars under players, and 16-bit sounds and music. The only thing really missing is some kind of graphics filter to make it look old school. That would've been awesome.
In the game's normal style of play, the fighting that so many people are eager to get into, has been given a real face-lift with the Enforcer Engine. By adopting the mechanics of their boxing series, Fight Night, EA Sports has made the most accurate hockey punch yet. It also has to be a well timed punch because a little bob-and-weave will go a lot further than button mashing did in the past. Even the little wingers have a chance to take down big defenders thanks to the Enforcer Engine, and you won't have to go looking for a fight because the computer will bring the fight to you. EA Canada made sure the AI was itching to scrap a little more to deliver what fans had been asking for. Regardless of who loses the fight, players still win with NHL14's upgraded damage models. Now when someone's been on the wrong end of a hockey punch, they go to the penalty box with a black eye for a souvenir.
When you're playing NHL 14 for the hockey and not the fights, that part's not too bad, either. The big addition to the body of the game is the Player Impact Engine coming over from FIFA and creating a more realistic experience. The NHL Collision System has made a game with an emphasis on hitting easier and more enjoyable when it comes to knocking the crap out of the other guy. You don't even have to worry about what button to push to force someone to make love to the boards. Instead, all you have to do is run into them. Hip checks and poke checks still require pressing some extra buttons, but if you just want to be a human cannonball, now you can. On the other hand, if you want to avoid eating a snow cone made with fresh shaved hockey rink ice, the new One Touch Deke feature will let you get sick with your stick to stay on your skates.
As someone who doesn't play the NHL series regularly, there were some moments early on in playing for this review where it felt like the march of simulation sports games to ultimate realism had resulted in an unwelcoming learning curve. But as time went by, it showed that EA Canada had made the effort to make NHL 14 accessible to players like myself and to hardcore hockey fans that craved the most realistic controls and hockey sticks with different attributes. If you decide you want more of an old-school arcade like experience or the most realistic games NHL 14 can offer, the game's hospitality settings can also help set things up to be the way you want to play.
Those players who want the real deal will also appreciate the upgraded Be a Pro mode, now known as Live the Life. The core mechanics of Be a Pro have gone unchanged, while your “life” has expanded significantly off the ice. Players are introduced to a group of meters that chart things like your popularity with fans, your status with the team, what the press thinks of you, and how your home life is. Depending on how it is, your home life can actually affect your attributes, positively or negatively. If you're being a great guy, things like endorsements, interviews, and getting that Captain's C on your sweater are yours for the taking. If you act like too much of a douchebag, teammates won't even pass you the puck!
NHL 14 delivers on a lot of fronts for people with different levels of what they want in a hockey game. On one end, the die-hards can play the game as close to how it really is, and on the other end, we can just knock the hell out of each other. Some people can live the life, and I can hockey punch people with the Enforcer Engine. It's the new thing, and I like it. I could even fire up Anniversary Mode if I was hanging out with Jeff and we could take slapshots at each other again. That'd be fun.
I'm a diehard hockey fan (as evidenced by my user ID and pic) and this game is pretty sick so far. I love the be a pro mode and while the interview questions get old after a while, the on ice package is still great. I love taking my player down the ice, winding up for a slapshot, scoring a goal and hearing the goal horn go off...Such a great feeling.