While I don’t enjoy watching hockey on television nor do I follow any leagues, the NHL games are the only sports games I still love to play. They play well, and the gameplay on offer is fun even for those ignorant of sports like me. At the end of the seventh generation and without making the jump to PS4 and Xbox One, it seems like NHL 14 is the big hurrah where the potential of modern hardware will be tested one final time. Seems like, anyways.
This year, EA follows up the super-refined skating mechanics with the super-refined Collision Physics. Taking into account things like weight, height, speed, and position, collisions now happen realistically and occasionally without even having to press a button. You can still check opponents, but running into another player has more consequences than simple model clipping. Furthermore, fighting can now be triggered by other AI and takes place in the same zoomed-out perspective as the rest of the game. Because of the more simple collisions and the improved flow of fighting (fights occur far more naturally now), I find myself having more fun and starting more physical altercations on the ice.
As for the new mode gameplay, NHL 14’s main offerings include Live the Life and NHL 94 Anniversary Mode. The former is essentially Be a Pro from past games but revamped to include things that happen off the ice, like endorsements, interviews, and social activities. These work into how likeable you are, which then translates into easier access to respected spots on the team and inevitably more money. I still don’t care much for these kinds of modes, but I can at least appreciate the effort put in to improve it. NHL 94 Anniversary Mode is simply a new way to play that brings back the controls, physics, and look of the old NHL 94 game. I have no nostalgia for the game and don’t find the simpler gameplay to translate into a better experience, but it is surely a valuable addition for anyone who really loved those renowned controls.
Those of you who love your online NHL will likely love EA Sports Hockey League, the new online mode for NHL 14. Taking aspects of Live the Life and combining it with the General Manager mode of the past, you can play online with an NHL avatar against up to twelve other players in a game that takes Online Team Play and stuffs a league into it. It’s far more interesting than most other online EA sports games I’ve played, and while GM Connected is back in almost the same shape as last year, it still isn’t that interesting to me.
Being the last NHL game of the current generation, seeing the series start to show its age a little isn’t that surprising. For all of the additions of the gameplay and revamping of physical gameplay, the game seems graphically unchanged and slightly rough by today’s standards. Like last year, the menu navigation is slow (and gets outright bad in online modes), the passing still feels a little too loose, the teammate AI is still weak in lower difficulties, and almost everything about the game outside of some mode additions, some updates, and the collision/fighting stuff feels exactly like NHL 13.
NHL 14 feels like a checklist of features intended for introduction this year and not a uniquely excellent iterative follow-up to NHL 13. There’s two major gameplay changes, a mode that could have been introduced at any point in the last few years, and an anniversary mode that is only exciting for a select group of people. NHL 14 is a good game that has some good updates in the physics department over the last installment, but so is NHL 13.
PS3 review copy provided by EA. NHL 14 is available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.