In a year of excellent sporting updates, NHL 14 is no exception.
Having been lucky enough to take in a few NHL games on my travels over the years, it’s always the physical recreation of the sport that disappoints a little in videogame form.EA’s brilliant NHL 11 and subsequent revisions made huge strides in addressing player motion, skating physics and stick control, but contact has been on the back-burner. Sure, the hits have been large and the fighting system gradually expanding year on year, but repetitive timing, some cheap tactics and slightly woolly controls provided ample room for improvement, and ample room for a few new headline systems to make their way into NHL 14.This year is all about those collisions.
Taking a cue from several other titles in the EA stable of homogenized sporting products, NHL now has a fully-baked organic physics system in place for physical contact; and it’s brilliant.
Fight NightIn fairness, the physics system that governs 14’s player-on-player interaction is probably exactly the same as that found in FIFA or Madden, but Ice Hockey provides a far better showcase. Defensive hits are now bound by weight and inertia that feels true to life, providing players better opportunity to use momentum and physical positioning to their advantage. Holding the right analogue stick still zeroes in for a particularly vicious check, but simply barrelling into an opponent at speed is often enough to trigger the system regardless, which has a surprisingly noticeable effect on the flow of the action. I found myself far more aware of turning arcs and speed than ever before, with a greater need to anticipate an opponent and work to either throw them off balance or catch them as flush as possible.
Ice Hockey then, basically.
All that additional contact also provides numerous opportunities for gloves to be thrown to the ice and mullets flared in temper, with fights triggered with much greater prevalence than before.
EA’s new engine for throwing punches is unsurprisingly built on their own Fight Night technology, with a basic selection of controls for straight wallops to the face, uppercuts, blocking, pushing, pulling and clinching to the floor. The resulting punch-ups aren’t going to win any awards amongst boxing fans, but they are gratifying, and particularly so when playing online. The double humiliation of crunching somebody against the boards and then decking them in the subsequent mano-a-mano battle is much more keenly felt in 14, and a lot more sobering when it’s your own temper being manipulated to a quick end.
Poke checkElsewhere, NHL 14 plays largely the same game of Hockey you may or may not know, attached to the same set of modes and distractions that are canon within the EA Sports lineup.
The most notable differences occur in the “Be a Pro” mode, which is now entitled “Live the Life”. Taking a cue from the likes of NBA 2K, Live the Life offers up the same fully-fledged career but now with a vast range of off-the-ice media interactions that add colour to the experience. These are mostly text-based choices tied into some rudimentary popularity checks and balances, but they’re nevertheless a welcome addition to the most compelling singleplayer content. An offline-only throwback variant of NHL 94 is also included on the already cluttered menu, but its heightened camera and blue ice are about as much of a novelty as you’d expect, and only worthwhile if you can get a few of you together that were brought up on that era of videogames.
The punch-ups aren’t going to win any awards amongst boxing fans, but they are gratifying, and particularly so when playing online.
Outside of that, most players will still find welcome respite in Ultimate Team online, which is the same addictive beast that may or may not have destroyed your life already in numerous other EA titles. The new EA Sports Hockey League is a sort of mish-mash of Live the Life and their connected online leagues, and it’s a vast and all-encompassing prospect for anybody that has the time and energy to devote to it. Your online and offline pro players are kept firmly seperate though, and no progress ever transfers between the two.
- Fantastic new collisions
- More varied gameplay
- Momentum & Pace
- Fantastic controls
- A little long-in-the-tooth visually
- No major overhauls
- Ready for a hardware upgrade
NHL 14 ReviewSo despite a total lack of competition, NHL 14 manages to impress with its changes and additions to an already refined formula, with brutal collision physics making for a more dynamic defensive experience. There aren’t that many alterations to the base gameplay outside of those compelling hits and fisticuffs, but then the rest of the action was already polished to a ridiculous shine. Presumably the next generational leap will come with new console hardware.
Where skating was all the pleasure in previous games then, in 14 it’s the sensation of contact and hammering your opponent with a well-timed or sneakily late forearm to the face. For me at least, those are elements of the sport that I always wanted amplified, and they’ve made NHL 14 stand out in a year of excellent sporting updates.
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