NHL 14 Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Of the three main components of EA Sports’ Holy Trinity (Madden, FIFA and NHL), it often feels as though the NHL series gets the short end of the stick. With Madden and FIFA being huge in the USA and Europe, respectively, they both seem to get the lion’s share of new upgrades in each new iteration, while NHL often seems to get one or two tweaks here and there. NHL 14 is no different, with a number of changes to the formula of NHL 13, but not really feeling like a huge leap forward for the series. Still, with a nod to fans of past NHL games, changes that increase the longevity of already existing modes, and of course the yearly roster updates, NHL 14 does make a case to replace its year-older sibling on your gaming shelf.
The first thing that players will notice about NHL 14 is that the presentation looks cleaner and sharper than last year, both in the menu layouts and on the ice. Players and arenas look brighter and shinier, with a crispness that is certainly noticeable, but doesn’t make a huge impact on the gameplay itself. Text within the menus is similarly crisp, and it looks as if the whole interface has had a brisk spring-cleaning, although I couldn’t help but feel as if the menus were a little too close to resembling what was on offer in NHL 13, particularly in terms of the main menu. The pre-game and mid-game off-ice presentation looks identical to NHL 13 as well, and much of the commentary has been recycled from previous entries to the series. It’s not the worst thing in the world as, barring a couple of commentary mistakes (such as commenting on the wrong team scoring, etc.), the commentary is serviceable, and the short clips that show players entering and exiting the ice do a good job of showing off the teams. It’d just be nice if it felt like the $60 you’d just spent actually bought you a whole new game, rather than what feels like a yearly refresh.
Strangely, the two modes that are highlighted within the game as being new are either remakes, or a rehashing of what’s already been in the NHL series before, and they probably won’t be responsible for taking up most of your time with NHL 14. Firstly, NHL 94 Anniversary Mode brings back the two-button hockey of the SNES/Genesis classic, complete with blue ice and stars to indicate which player is on the puck. However, this mode can only be played as one-off matches, and feels more like NHL 14 with dumbed down controls rather than an actual throwback to early 90s gaming. The second highlighted addition, Live The Life, is a slightly more substantial gameplay experience, but only really adds a couple of neat touches to an already existing option within previous NHL games. Live The Life replaces the Be A Pro mode seen in previous titles (it still appears labelled as Be A Pro in loading screens), but exists to serve much of the same function. Gamers create their own hockey player, either male or female, and place them in the CHL, NHL entry draft, or directly into the NHL itself. Similarly to Be A Pro, matches are played controlling your one particular player, rather than the entire team, and your ultimate goal is to become the best player possible, through both improving your attributes, and beating real-life records with your play, such as scoring more goals through your career than Wayne Gretzky. What’s new in Live The Life is the addition of a Likeability meter, which determines how much your fans, teammates, management and family like you. In turn, this affects your career, either through how often your teammates pass to you on the ice, your reception from your fans, and whether or not your GM wants to trade you to another team. While your Likeability meter can be affected by your on-ice performance, what you do off the ice has an even greater effect. You now take part in interviews (presented as multiple choice questions), sign-up for endorsements (such as billboards), and get involved with events with your teammates. The Likeability meter adds a good incentive alongside playing matches to keep playing the Live The Life mode, as it makes you feel as if your actions within the mode have consequences that shape your career, be they to your advantage or not.
Another big addition that doesn’t receive much attention in the game’s promotional press is the inclusion of Seasons within Hockey Ultimate Team. This mode has previously been seen in the FIFA series, and exists as an extra offering to the Tournaments mode. Frankly, Tournaments are a little disappointing this year, as at the time of writing, there are only two to choose from. Whether there will be more added throughout the year, either permanently or in the form of temporary additions, is unknown, but only offering two currently seems like poor form, and it looks like EA Sports is attempting to corral players into playing the Seasons Mode whether they want to or not.
Within Seasons, players play groups of ten matches, with the number of wins or losses contributing to whether they get promoted, and face tougher opponents with the promise of bigger prizes, remain in their current division, or get demoted and receive lesser rewards. From personal experience it’s a fairly addictive experience, and is much more forgiving than the ‘one loss and you’re out’ mentality of the Tournaments mode.
NHL 14 boasts changes to the on-ice play as well, with new hitting technology being the big-ticket item that was advertised in the trailers and on the back of the box. To be honest, it wasn’t hits, but fights, that I noticed was the biggest change in this year’s game. Hits feel much the same as they did last year, though they can now be performed with the left stick as well as the right stick, by merely skating into an opposition player at speed. Fights, on the other hand, not only feel, but look, different, as they’ve moved from a first-person to third-person perspective, with the camera not moving from its default position when a fight breaks out. This makes the fights seem as if they’re part of the game, instead of a separate mode, and personally, I found the fights a lot easier to control and evaluate who was dealing the most damage. Perhaps the best new touch with fighting is the fact that if a player delivers a particularly nasty hit, an opposition player otherwise not involved with the action will skate to his teammate’s defence, starting a fight with the offender in an attempt to protect his buddy.
With NHL 14, the big question is whether or not it’s a significant enough upgrade upon NHL 13 to warrant a purchase. The answer really depends on how much of a hockey fan you are, and how fond your memories are of playing NHL 94, even if the representation on offer here isn’t a true recreation. For a casual fan, NHL 13 serves much the same purpose on what is on offer here, and the additions to the formula don’t really make a strong enough case to replace your existing copy, even if the rosters may be out of date. For the hockey nut though, (who will probably buy the game regardless of reviews) NHL 14 isn’t so much a reinvention but a refinement, with the additions to the game giving the experience more shape, and giving you more encouragement to keep playing.
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