NHL 14 Review
EA Sports hits the ice with their newest addition to the NHL series with NHL 14. Allow me to start off this review by saying this game is the best in the series. The game may come with its flaws, but at the day, NHL 14 is the best hockey game for casual and hardcore fans.
The NHL series has been somewhat stagnant in recent years, but the series really began to rebound with NHL 13. EA introduced True Performance Skating in 13, combined with Hockey I.Q., which provided for (somewhat) better AI players. NHL 14 builds off past success with the new Enforcer Engine, One Touch Dekes, and all new Collision Physics.
Fighting in the past NHL games was boring, with only two players pairing off. NHL 14 fixes this with the all new Enforcer Engine. EA used technology from the Fight Night boxing series to construct a new package that nearly captures the essence of a real NHL fight. During a fight, all players on the ice are live. You could skate around, watch the fight, or even try to pair off against someone else. If you are playing in a Drop-In game or in EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL) game, an all-out brawl could break out. Fighters can pull their opponent’s jersey, duck, and counter. The fights now feel like a natural part of the game, rather than an aspect removed. Players can pre-stage fights off the draw, or fights could break out based on game play. If you shoot on the goalie after a whistle in online play, expect five guys to skate over and try to fight you.
All new One Touch Dekes are an absolute game-saver at times. The new system levels the playing field by allowing a player to deke with the push of the LB button (L1 on PS3) and moving either joystick. Spins are also easier to pull off, with a simple tap of the LT button (L2 on PS3). One Touch Dekes provide a quick escape if you are about to get run over by a D-Man. Manual dekes (LB & Right Stick) are still in place, and still work just as well.
EA sports vastly improved its hitting engine from last year with all new collision physics. Hits look brutal and more realistic than ever. Size and speed play a major difference in how hits play out. If someone like, Martin St. Louis were to run Zdeno Chara, there is a chance Chara would fall, but St. Louis would most likely bounce off. If Chara runs someone, well, expect an injury on the play. Speaking of which, injuries seem to occur more in online play. Countless times I have been run in EASHL, or my star forward gets boarded in Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT). It forces players to think before they try to go end-to-end in a straight line.
As for gameplay, games are more tactical than ever. Goalies are not the brick walls like they were in 13, as they’ll now give up more rebound, five-hole, and screened goals. Players are given better defensive tools, such as better strafing and more effective stick play. Hits in the corners or at the lines can make or break plays. Combine that with offensive one touch dekes, you have an exciting match that is never over until the final buzzer.
GM Connected returns, and seems a bit more polished from last year’s version. Though I have yet to put it through a full season, it seems to be more accessible than in 13, definitely worth a look with some friends. The load times are also far less than in 13, which certainly helps.
Hockey Ultimate Team is back and better than ever. Single player tournaments return, but online ones are replaced by online seasons. As you win, you move up a division and qualify for that playoff. It is a guess that playoffs happen more often, rather than monthly. I’ve noticed that the HUT games are much closer, where Versus games are higher scoring. Returning users are rewarded a puck bonus based on games played in 13, existing puck balance, and player collection size.
NHL 94 Anniversary mode is a highly recommended experience. It’s not NHL 94, but it is in spirit. The game play features blue ice, throwback music, cheesy celebrations, and massive hits. All of this runs on the NHL 14 engine, meaning the game looks great. Penalties are turned off, and everything is run on button and stick controls. You can’t play this mode online, but that doesn’t stop you from having a few friends over and running them down.
Be a Pro mode is revamped, and is now known as “Live the Live” mode. Decisions you make off the ice now come into play. You have the chance to answer media questions how you see fit. You can also make choices before games, but beware; your choices come with consequences. Feel like partying? It will help improve your standing with your teammates, but you’ll be tired in the next game. Are you out to dinner with your family? Make sure you sign every autograph, or an angry fan could push you and ruin your wrist shot accuracy. You can sign endorsements and make a living off the ice. Will you be the fan favorite? Or will you be the player management wants out of town? The choice is up to you.
One of the few drawbacks to this game is the stale commentary of Bill Clement and Gary Thorne. There are a few new lines, but it is literally the same stuff you’ve heard since NHL 08. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, but for veterans of the series, it is tedious to hear the same game cast. Clement and Thorne are passable for newcomers, but enough is enough.
Accessibility is another drawback. There is simply so much to do; newcomers won’t even know where to start. Those new to the series will also be flustered with the infinite number of controls (One-hand windmill anyone?). Where games like NHL 94 needed very few controls, NHL 14 simply has too much. EA attempts to remedy this with all new Hospitality Settings, which allow for standard controls, hybrid controls between the complex current system, and minimal NHL 94 controls.
If you are strapped for cash, I would highly recommend waiting a week for the newest Grand Theft Auto game instead of purchasing this one. If not, go out and buy NHL 14 right now.
On that note, NHL 14 receives an 8.5 out of 10. This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.