Published on September 10th, 2013 | by Mark Gibson, Editor/Community Manager
Back to the Ice: NHL 14 Review
After last year’s player lockout debacle and shortened season, the NHL’s 2014 season is set to return in full swing. Alongside it as always is EA Sports’ latest hockey franchise title, NHL 14. In this new edition, EA brings Ultimate Team to the ice, a brand new Be a Pro mode and improved mechanics with the new Infinity Engine Two.
Publisher: EA Sports
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 [Reviewed]
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2013
The NHL series really doesn’t change much from year to year, and quite honestly, it really doesn’t have to. EA Sports consistently produces a solid hockey game. It works the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which is something other sports games should follow. All the same game modes that have made the NHL and EA Sports franchise flourish have returned. Such modes as Be a GM, Connected GM and even the Winter Classic make that list. The game menus finally got a face-lift, which is something I complained about in last year’s review of NHL 13.
One problem you will find is that some game modes are still buried under layers of option menus. This can be slightly annoying, but once you get the hang of where everything is, it becomes quicker to navigate, but it’s still a nuisance.
Many were fearful in how Ultimate Team would become integrated into all EA Sports titles — the addition of Ultimate Team was inevitable. This game mode has been sweeping through all the EA Sports titles. There’s no doubt that Ultimate Team does have its ups and downs, and if you are into Fantasy Hockey, it is a great way to have a more interactive fantasy sports experience.
If you are unfamiliar or new to Ultimate Team, the game mode is essentially a virtual trading card game where you can play match-ups locally or online, earning points to bid on new cards and build a stellar cast of players.
The headaches of the experience comes when you realize that the player pool includes not only NHL athletes, but also all the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), Western Hockey League (WHL) and European leagues. It is quite the extensive player pool, and my first reaction was, “Who are these people?”
Once you get past the overwhelming feeling, hours can easily be spent building your team and working your way through challenges offline, and season match-ups online.
Be a Pro Mode has also received a few new tweaks. For starters, it is now called “Live the Life,” and is meant to focus on your entire career on and off the ice. By off the ice, it really only means more interaction with your agent and deals with contract mojo and gaining a fan base. There is a new fan counter that will track your progress, likability and fan favoritism. Which, to say the least, is the reason we all watch sports, right?
It is by no means an easy road to the top, and starting in the Canadian league is the authentic way to go. However, if you are impatient, there is an option to start directly in the NHL on your favorite team.
Like other EA Sports games, creating your own player is an integral part of Be a Pro mode. There is always the option to play as an already existing pro, but if you want the full sports role-playing experience, creating a custom player is the way to go.
The Create-A-Player feature has greatly improved. There are more options to customize your face, and with the new Infinity Engine Two, it looks a lot more realistic. However, for some reason, every model head has their mouth hanging open with droopy eyes, making your character look dumber than a bag of rocks.
The other downside is no GameFace integration. For those of you unfamiliar with EA Sports GameFace, players can upload a photo of themselves to the EA server and a wildly accurate computer generated model will create you as a video game character that you can use in most sports titles. It baffles me as to why the NHL franchise has still not utilized this technology. GameFace has been around for a few years now and went through a big upgrade in the last year.
Madden 25, NCAA Football 14, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 all have the GameFace feature. Even the upcoming FIFA 14 will include the feature. We will just have to wait another year to see if it makes its way to the hockey genre in future versions.
The Infinity Engine Two brings a plethora of improvements to gameplay and puck handling. Last year’s game introduced the precision skating upgrade that allowed for more realistic skate physics. This year’s improvement brings bigger hits, harder checks and more finesse on the ice. You can now shoot the puck while coming off a spin move, or have even more control with a goalie to stop the one-on-one rush.
The new one touch deck method makes big hits and checks a lot easier. It works similar as the “hit stick” does in Madden or NCAA. You simply tap a direction on the left analog stick and watch your player slam for a big open ice hit.
When you first pop in NHL 14, the game will take you through a series of questions to evaluate what type of player you are. At the end, what you are left with is a custom set of game mechanics and difficulty settings suited to your play style, instead of just picking from a generic group of options. This is a fantastic feature for gamers who are new to the series, or casual players who just like to pick up and play with friends.
For you old school gamers, NHL 14 has included the NHL ’94 Anniversary mode bringing you back to a simpler time of video games with more frustrating, unrealistic mechanics and sub par (yet, amazing at the time) graphics. The presentation in ’94 Anniversary is pretty nostalgic: Blue ice, organ music and stars under player models indicate who you have control of. If you are a true old school gamer and prefer the 1994 controller scheme, you can use it as a setting in every other mode. It’s a great game mode if you want to walk down memory lane and have a few laughs.
NHL 14 is a solid upgrade from last year’s game. The Infinity Engine Two brings even more realism to the skating physics and game mechanics. The sound and graphics are excellent as always, which is something I have come to expect from the franchise. The GameTrax are superb, the area sounds are perfectly realistic, and the graphics quality is bright and vibrant. The inclusion of Ultimate Team was an inevitability, but it is a game mode that can attract a lot of new fans, especially fantasy hockey players.
The only real downside is the not having the GameFace option when creating a player. It by no means diminishes the quality of the game, but this is a feature that should have been integrated several versions ago. However, seeing how Ultimate Team was just recently added, perhaps GameFace will make its way to the winter sport in the near future.
NHL 14 Review
Summary: NHL 14 is a solid upgrade from last years game. The Infinity Engine Two bring even more realism to the skating physics and game mechanics. The sound and graphics are excellent as always, which is somethings I have come to expect from the franchise. The GameTrax are superb, the area sounds are perfectly realistic, and the graphics quality is bright and vibrant. The inclusion of Ultimate Team was an inevitability, but it is a game mode that can attract a lot of new fans, especially fantasy hockey players. The only real downside is the not having GameFace included in creating a player. It by no means diminishes the quality of the game, but this is a feature that should have been integrated several versions ago. However, seeing how Ultimate Team was just recently added, perhaps GameFace will be making its way to the winter sport in the near future.