NHL 14 Review
Written : Monday, September 09, 2013
By: Richard Walker
As sports franchises go, EA Sports' NHL is one that's consistently been delivering strong games for the last few years, keeping its take on ice hockey fresh with each new iteration, where it could otherwise be in danger of turning stale and hard, like a puck. Each and every year, a new NHL heralds the arrival of roughly ten million additions, refinements, and other bells and whistles, but this year – perhaps sensibly – it's been scaled back to a few immensely worthwhile new modes. NHL 14 is another superb annual entry in the series, but then you probably already knew that.
What makes this year's version worth visiting then? It's undoubtedly the shaking up of the game's erstwhile 'Be A Pro' mode, which has now evolved into NHL 14's arguably more comprehensive and involving 'Life the Life' mode. It's one of many modes that'll effortlessly consume hours at a time, as you create your NHL Pro (including female skaters, still amusingly referred to in the commentary as 'he') and lead them to glory, starting from the CHL, the NHL draft and working your way into the big leagues. Or you can simply start in the NHL proper and go from there.
Described as 'all-new', the Live the Life mode is still Be A Pro mode, albeit in much fancier clothing, with media interviews to take part in and likeability gauges to keep an eye on after each post-game interview. It's not strictly speaking 'all-new.' Keeping the fans, your teammates, the management and your family happy is quite the balancing act, and saying the wrong thing can rub one group up the wrong way or delight another group. Obviously the idea is to become universally liked, and eventually use your star power to broker endorsements and get your face on billboards, magazine covers and even on the front of the EA Sports NHL game box.
"Get away from my puck! It's mine!"
Live the Life is remarkably deep and compulsive, whereas NHL 14's other big new mode is almost the exact opposite, and isn't strictly speaking new at all. If anything it's old. Really old. We're talking about the brilliant NHL 94 Anniversary mode, a classic game of stripped down ice hockey from the halcyon SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive and SNES era that provides fast and furious arcade-style gameplay with none of the rules and other distractions. It's pretty much how you remember it, but prettier and without the bleeding heads. It's also the perfect party mode for playing with friends, allowing for hilarious big hits into the glass and plenty of fighting.
Ah yes, the fighting. On ice scrapping has undergone something of an overhaul too, utilising Fight Night's Enforcer Engine for third-person 'planned fights', while 'heat of the moment' brawls happen at the drop of a hat (or your gloves) and involve punching with the right analogue stick, pulling at your opponent's jersey with the left. NHL 14's fights are a step up from the previous games, making punching teeth out more enjoyable than it's ever been. Oh, and the AI won't be shy about instigating a melee either. Revamped fights aren't the only gameplay feature to have been given some attention, of course, and you'll find that there's a bunch of other stuff that makes NHL 14 another eminently playable ice hockey game.
There are new one-touch dekes that simply require you hold the left bumper, while a spin on the left trigger enables you to dodge and evade the opposition for a shot on goal. The Skill Stick is still very much front and centre, letting you wind up a slap shot or react with a quick wrist shot, making shooting as intuitive as always. 'True Performance Skating' also carries over from NHL 13, ramping up the speed and fluidity of movement, which coupled with the game's new collision physics makes smashing into players an unbridled joy as always. You can either hit players while running, or stick to the old method of using the right analogue stick to wipe out the opposition and make them eat ice. The latter proves preferable.
”Get up and fight, you wuss!”
From the outset, you're able to tailor your gameplay experience, setting your 'hospitality settings' for simulation or hardcore simulation with manual passing and more collisions, or for the more immediate thrills of a high impact game of NHL 14. A video intro then tells you all about the game's new stuff, before you're free to wade through the usual slew of game modes, online stuff and a bolstered range of customisation options.
Hockey Ultimate Team (AKA HUT for short) returns once again, and like Live the Life, it'll eat up hour after hour as you assemble your team, purchasing packs of cards with the pucks you earn in each and every part of the game. GM Connected is back too, as are the other online and career modes, like Be A GM and Become a Legend. Again, the massive wealth of content is what makes NHL 14 such a great value package year after year, and ensures that you'll remain fully invested until NHL 15 rolls around.
NHL 14's online offering is massive as per usual too, with Online Team Play, the aforementioned GM Connected and any number of leagues and tournaments to participate in, as well as shootouts, quick matches and so on. You could conceivably just play NHL 14 online and still get your money's worth, but that would be stupid, especially given how good the Live the Life career mode and NHL HUT is. NHL 94 Anniversary mode is just the icing on the cake, making for the biggest and most all-encompassing game in the franchise's history yet. As a celebration of the series' 20th anniversary, it seems fitting.
Ah, just like the good old days.
This year's achievement list is essentially in keeping with what's gone before, again encouraging you to explore practically everything that NHL 14 has to offer. You'll be spending a great deal of time in the Live the Life mode keeping everyone sweet to max out your NHL Pro's likeability, and in NHL Hockey Ultimate Team purchasing packs of cards and buying and selling stuff in the mode's auction house. The lion's share of achievements are dedicated to GM Connected, HUT and Live the Life, as well as performing various actions on the ice, such as travelling from one end of the ice to the other without passing and scoring a goal, scoring with your goalie pulled or jumping to a teammate's aid in a fight. These tasks are pretty neat and enjoyable, making for a fairly robust achievement list all in all.
Another remarkably playable, intuitive and brilliantly presented ice hockey game, NHL 14 is a sure sign that EA Canada is continuing to push the franchise in the right direction. While it's undoubtedly superb, it's not a particularly gargantuan leap over its predecessor, but sidesteps an overload on new modes in favour of introducing a few worthwhile additions to the already unfathomably immense range of game types. Yet another pucking triumph, NHL 14 remains an unrivalled sports title that's up there with the very best.
The usual rockin' soundtrack joins another stellar commentary, with all of the usual crowd atmospherics and authentic sound effects. Punching faces sounds good too.
Another excellent showing for EA Canada's NHL series, the players look great and the devil is in the details. The game's new collision physics reduces clipping and makes everything feel meaty.
Far and away the most immediate and intuitive NHL yet, with a ton of controller options and other adjustable options to tailor the game to your own specifications. Quite simply brilliant.
Enormous as usual, NHL 14 brings back all of the staple modes, then overhauls Be A Pro turning it into Live the Life, and chucks in the NHL Anniversary Mode for good measure. Incredible.
LIke last year's list, there's less in the way of having to grind out achievements, although you'll still be in for the long haul. A mix of fun achievements and mode-based tasks make for a decent blend of goals to pursue. Not bad.
EA Canada has smashed the puck right into the back of the net once again with NHL 14, providing masses of content, unparalleled gameplay and the usual superb presentation you expect from an EA Sports game. It's perhaps not as big a leap forward over NHL 13 as you'd hope, but regardless, NHL 14 is a winner once again.