Less than two years removed from their championship, my Los Angeles Kings haven’t started the new season well. Championship aside, hockey and the NHL aren’t quite the big deal here in Southern California that they are a little closer to the Canadian border. Perhaps it was the infamous trade of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, that at least garnered some attention for the sport during my youth and made sure my old Nintendo and Genesis consoles got some hockey action. Though not my favorite genre of videogame, I have been a fan of, and continue to play, sports games since I was young. I have always argued that sports games are just RPGs for a different demographic.
The most common criticism for EA Sports title are the pace at which they evolve the gameplay. NHL 14 does make some attempts though existing True Performance Skating engine has only received minor tweaks. That being said, the game does now use the core of FIFA’s Player Impact Engine and also Fight Night’s Enforcer Engine. What that means is that the skating and overall presentation is largely unchanged, though fights aren’t button mashing anymore and some RPG elements have been added to the “Be a Pro” mode which is now known as “Live the Life” mode. Unfortunately, online players have only gotten a token expansion from last year’s game, which was already a pretty robust offering.
In addition to the various difficulty levels, NHL 14 offers three control schemes. The most basic of which, ties in to the new “NHL 94 Anniversary” mode. For the most part, this new control layout simplifies the controls as an homage to the old Sega Genesis days. It is basically a three button, arcade style layout that’s more friendly for casual fans. This simplified configuration does include the new dekeing move assigned to the left bumper and Fight Night styled fighting mechanism that requires the use of both analog sticks for both tugging and throwing blows. The right trigger can also be used for ducking which sets up a counter. If you’re wondering why I am going into so much depth on the fighting, it’s because fights play a much larger part in this year’s NHL offering. The default settings of the game will have you engaging in fisticuffs a handful of times per game. Take a shot on goal after the whistle? Prepare to fight over it. You can even instigate fights by pressing the triangle button during breaks in the action. While the realism of tugging and throwing punches which the analogs sticks is immersive, by default it happens much too often throughout the matches. Luckily, you can adjust this gameplay aspect.
NHL 14’s “Live the Life” mode isn’t quite as robust as some other games’ “My Player” modes, but there is some hope that the addition can evolve. As you would expect, you can create your own player and set their career path in motion. You can even create a female player, though your options are terribly limited and they will be referred to as males by announcers during the game. Between games, your player will be given the opportunity to engage in various outreach programs like endorsements and interviews that will affect your relationship with teammates, management, fans, and your family. What that means in the game is that you are presented with text based scenarios and dialogue choices. These relationships can then affect your gameplay and character development. Twenty years ago, Wayne Gretzky won his final Art Ross Trophy and the Sega Genesis was king of the consoles, at least when it came to sports games. NHL ’94 is widely regarded as the best hockey game of its generation and EA has used the occasion of its anniversary to take another stab at it. What they came up with is a pretty strange hybrid of the new and the old. If you’re concerned about having to look at outdated graphics, don’t worry. The mode uses current models, animations, and rosters, and presents them in a way that’s reminiscent of the classic game. That just means, a top down view, a star under the player with the puck, and a 16 bit soundtrack.
NHL 14’s slight tweaks to last year’s version is an example of what many criticize EA Sports for, and cite as a need for more competition. As someone who was gamer when six or seven hockey games came out in a year, I can confidently say, that’s not always the case. While I was one of those incensed about EA pulling the rug out from under 2K’s NFL license, I don’t miss the handful of other football games that were forced off the market. While it may sound a bit Machiavellian, there are some benefits to survival of the fittest. NHL 14 is largely the same as last year’s, but NHL 13 was a pretty good game in its own right. While all of the additions aren’t great, there is so much here for both the solo gamer and those online, it’s hard not to recommend the game.
NHL 14 is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Violence. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360.