The overall pattern of the EA Sports franchises for 2013 seem to revolve around offering the "complete package". In terms of game modes, NCAA Football 14, Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, and now NHL 14 are offering fans plenty of ways to play to keep busy. Granted, with NHL 14, most of the modes have already been here. If you are familiar with the recent NHL games from EA Sports, then you will fit right in.
EA Sports always seems to bring its “A” game when it comes to its hockey franchise. Annoying nuisances are always discovered by hardcore players during the duration of the year. The overall experience, however, is an unheralded experience. NHL 14 brings a new collision engine and a new fighting engine to retool the physics of gameplay. Combine that with the introduction of one-touch dekes and spins, along with enhancements to the True Performance Skating that was introduced last year, the product on the ice plays much tighter and faster.
The new NHL Collision Physics are a derivative of the Player Impact Engine from FIFA. With these new physics, any type of contact between players has a result. Simply running into a player at full speed will cause a big collision. There is no need to use a button or the Right Stick to hit people (however this still can be done for more bone-jarring hits). The other way this works is based on player size. Martin St. Louis running full speed into Zdeno Chara is not going to result in anything, and that is the way it should be. These new physics allow for more realistic deflections on shots, as well. There is not an over-abundant amount of hitting to ruin the flow of the game, as the game as a whole feels very entertaining.
To help bring the on-ice experience full circle, True Performance Skating has been tweaked to include improved acceleration and quicker pivots. The result is the most responsive and tightest controlling NHL game to date. NHL 14 plays fast and really takes players attributes into consideration, more so than in the past.
Something that has been missing from the series since the last generation of consoles now returns. One-touch dekes and spins are now incorporated into the gameplay, making special moves much more accessible. Lots of people have trouble with using the skill stick. Now simply doing L1/L2 or LB/LT will allow for a quick deke or spin. This is almost equivalent to the modifier in Madden NFL 25. However, the difference is simply pressing the button creates a reaction. These can also be used to set up some beautiful moves or passes against defenders and gives plenty of more options to play on the ice.
The biggest change to NHL 14 involves a forgotten past time about hockey. Fighting. Using technology from the Fight Night franchise, the Enforcer Engine brings a third-person presentation view to fighting. True size and strength differentiation between players make the difference in matchups. Players can go toe-to-toe, or you can reach in and grab your opponent and try and pull them to the ground. Blocking, leaning, and landing clean hits help add strategy to this extremely fun feature. Landing a hard hit and seeing your victim’s buddy come sprinting across the ice to sprawl is fantastic. Even after the whistle, players can jostle with the ability to agitate your opponent enough to start a fight. This is the best representation of fighting in any hockey game, ever.
With the biggest changes coming on the ice, there are still a few issues with the gameplay. The A.I. is still suspect. Although there have been improvements, players won’t break out correctly, or multiple players will chase the puck instead of staying in position. Passing decisions are still an issue as aiming for the open man ends up putting the puck towards the boards or somewhere not remotely close to where you intended. Lastly, there seems to be a good amount of soft goals in NHL 14. This reviewer has played at least a dozen games and has seen goalies put in their own goals, floater goals from behind the blue line, and bad deflections from teammate A.I.
All the main modes of play return for NHL 14. Be a GM, Be a Pro, Be a Legend are the main single player modes. Live the Life is a more in-depth Be a Pro mode. Live the Life helps focus on the off-the-field elements of being a player. Your player will be interviewed and those answers help determine the type of player he/she is (female players can be created). Likeability is the focus of Live the Life as that is broken down into fan, teammate, management, and family. Your player can also receive endorsements for advertising. Your player can start in the NHL or CHL with the choice of choosing to start before the NHL Entry Draft of after. For on the ice options for your player, NHL 14 allows for simulating the game to your player’s next shift.
As for Be a GM, this mode remains mostly in-tact. The mode is now a bit stale (hence you’re still using a Blackberry from three years ago for your GM decisions). EA has included a twitter-like message feed to keep you more involved with your league. The feed is mostly goalie matchups and a lot of news can be lost when simulating through off-days. It is easier to sort transactions like trades and free agents, and stats can also be viewed just for a quick overlay of who’s leading the league. NHL 14 does include the new realigned divisions.
NHL 14 also ditches their Offense, Defense, and Athleticism attributes for six skills. These skills consist of Shooting, Puck Skills, Sense, Skating, Physical and Defense. These account for a player’s “worth”, which in turn will assign each player a role. Roles consist of 1st line player, 2nd line player, top 2 D or top 4 D. All of this will account for your team’s worth. There are four different rankings for the team’s worth: Champion, Contender, Hopeful, and Rebuilder. Once a team is aware of their worth, they will then look 3 years to guage what type of team they will be in the future. These will influence the decision on player personnel. This concept is an excellent way to handle a franchise-type mode.
For multiplayer options, Connected GM returns along with the EASHL and Hockey Ultimate Team. HUT can be played offline, but also integrates online. Earning pucks through completing different challenges in NHL 14 will help earn perks for your Ultimate Team. Online Ultimate Team allows for play through ten divisions of opponents. Much like Madden NFL 25, there are playoffs and division winners. The biggest change for Connected GM is the ability to make changes through the Mobile App. The playing options still involve single player, user vs user, Co-op, Build Your A.I., or coach mode. Build Your A.I. allows for customizing of your playing style via strategies if you are unable to attend a game.
The last two modes are the return of the NHL Moments Live and the highly anticipated NHL 94 Anniversary Mode. NHL Moments live allows for recreation of past events and changing history. As for the NHL 94 mode, it’s neat. The sound effects from the 16-bit era are in the game, along with the blue ice. The action is fast and arcade and is worth a try. It would be better to not include commentary or cut scenes as it mixes up the nostalgia involved. It would be nice to see the actual original version included with modern rosters.
The graphics in NHL 14 are largely unchanged. The biggest change comes in the form of facial degradation during fights. Faces can get cut and bruised during the game, especially after fights. Otherwise, the player models and rinks are largely unchanged, but this isn’t a bad thing. The game still looks amazing.
The presentation has left much to be desired. The menus received a font change and a slight facelift. The in-game presentation still lacks behind every sports game out there. Bill Clement and Gary Thorne return and it’s simply time for someone new. There is some new commentary, but overall, it doesn’t help the same ongoing experience. There are a few statistical overlays and mentions of a player through a game, but it’s minimal. Lastly, there needs to be new entrances to start the game.
While the dialogue might be stale with Thorne and Clement, they still sound excellent. They are fluent and offer some pretty good banter between each other. The crowd seems to be a bit more dynamic this year to go along with the action. Boos and jeers are more apparent, which is a nice touch to add to the atmosphere of the on-ice action. The sour note for the sound portion is the sound track. It features generic, low level, modern rock that just doesn’t seem fitting for the NHL. Madden and NCAA have gone the way of doing their own soundtracks and NHL needs to follow suit.
While NHL 14, as a whole, is a familiar experience, the changes to the action on the ice are much more than just a coat of paint. The fighting adds a whole new dynamic to the gameplay as you will look forward to these moments. The one-touch dekes and spins add a whole new element to splitting defenders that is much more accessible to everyone. Yes, outside of the gameplay enhancements, NHL 14 is stale but offers the complete package of this generation of hockey.
+ Best incorporation of fighting in a hockey game ever.
+ New collision physics allow for the best game of hockey this generation.
+ One-touch dekes and spins allow more accessible hockey while creating opportunities for advanced players.
- Outside of the gameplay enhancements, the experience is stale and familiar.
- Presentation is untouched.
- Bad soundtrack.
A copy for PlayStation 3 was provided for review.