NHL 14 360 Review

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If there’s a single word that comes to mind when you think of hockey, it’s probably this – fighting. No other major American sport so openly accepts the ultra-physical underbelly of competition, and, while hockey players are capable of dazzling athletic moves, very few people would argue that hockey is culturally identified as a passive sport. Though my European counterparts might disagree, nothing beats hockey’s combination of speed, quick decisions, and physicality. It’s an approach that has worked for years in EA’s NHL series, and NHL 14 continues that tradition in a great way. There are still some hiccups with physics and AI, but NHL 14 is a fantastic hockey simulator and the most enjoyable version of the series yet.

Like its Madden counterpart, the NHL series introduced a new physics engine last year, and this year’s improvements to that engine makes it perform better than ever. Thanks to the new Collision Physics, your fights, collisions, and movement are surprisingly weighted and realistic, even to the point where a simple challenge in the corner can lead to a drawn-out, breathtaking fight for the puck. Unless you’re playing as a team that features an acrobatic wizard, you can expect every possession to reflect the physical and quick-shot nature of today’s NHL. Perhaps it was the difficulty setting, but I noticed a stark difference between last year’s NHL 13 and NHL 14 regarding breakaways. The game feels far more balanced and, for every time I thought I had a clear path to the net, some nuanced defensive action stopped me.

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The best part about the improved defense is that the players reacted organically to the situation; poke-checks, body blows, and hip-checks happen contextually, and I played a far more physical game as a result. Put simply, expect to play this game at the edge of your seat. As you might expect, the updated physics engine also leads to more in-game fighting, which has undergone vast improvements. Start a fight, and you’ll transition into the new Enforcer mode – fighting has now moved to a third-person perspective, and it happens organically as part of the action (rather than being a Red Dead Redemption-esque showdown); a great change is that these fights don’t just happen because of a random body-blow or grudge two players may have for each other. The majority of them occur as a result of your deliberate actions, and it makes the fighting that much more personal. For example, I made a habit of engaging the opposition’s goalie after a play had ended, quickly attempting to fire a shot just out of habit (who among us stops pressing buttons because of an in-game prompt?). When one of the shots hit the goalie, the other team’s enforcer quickly helped me adjust my behavior by pummeling me to the ice; needless to say, I listen to the referees now.

There are, however, still signs of the classic NHL AI issues that have been present for years in the series. While other teams were often quick to ice the puck if the opportunity was presented, there was at least one occasion per game where I was able to clear the puck during a power-play and skate to it before icing could be called. This would rarely (if ever!) happen in a real game; another instance is the game’s insistence of bringing my defenders well beyond the red line into my opposition’s defending zone. At times, it felt unfair to defend one-on-one against a star player because the AI brought my skaters so far up the ice (especially since I rarely experienced that same situation in their attacking zone). Additionally, when I did manage to break out in a two-on-one, the opposing AI seemed to instantaneously become smarter, eventually leading to my surrendering the puck. These qualms are not game-breakers by any means, but, for those of you who enjoy a sincere challenge and play on the highest difficulty, you’ll notice it more often than a rookie who might regularly trounce the opposition anyway.

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Apart from gameplay, you can largely expect the same game modes from last year repackaged in a new gloss. You now have the option of playing in the EA Sports Hockey League, a mode that lets you take a created player online in a twelve player experience. This is perhaps one of the best parts of NHL 14 – playing against other created players is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had playing hockey; my only complaint would be that EA Sports Hockey League is separated from the offline create-a-player mode (known as Live the Life). Your player in Live the Life gets to socialize during off-days, enjoy press conferences, sign up for endorsements, and generally enjoy the normal schedule of an NHL player. As a result, it’s disappointing to not allow that same player to be used in EASHL. You can’t swap players or attributes between the two modes, which makes the prospect of taking two separate players through the motions a but daunting and time-consuming. Some of you will undoubtedly enjoy playing both modes, but it seems like a wasted opportunity to further unify the online and offline aspects of the game. GM Connected – the other main online m0de – offers a dynasty-type atmosphere in NHL 14 (you’ll scout players, manage transactions and trades, among other tasks), though it’s admittedly far more suited to players who relish the chance to control a team through multiple seasons. However, given that you have the chance to play as teams from across North America and Europe, this might be the place where diehard hockey fans invest most of their time. Still, after comparing it to the excellent owner mode in Madden 25, it seems like this mode will look even better next year.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite parts of the NHL 14 – NHL 94′ Anniversary mode. This is a fully functional recreation of the SNES masterpiece, and the 16-bit players will tug on the nostalgia strings of your heart. You’ll still notice some of the game’s glaring problems, but, if you ever played this game in the 90′s, you might find yourself wasting all your time enjoying the beautiful playing styles of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr’s dynasty Penguins (how’s that nostalgia, 90′s era Philadelphia fans?)

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It’s been some time since I’ve enjoyed an NHL game as much as this one – regardless of your interest in hockey, you’ll find that NHL 14 is the best hockey simulator available and a blast to play. Great fighting, great skating, and beautiful physics combine to create a gem of a sports title, and the added bonus of the NHL 94′ Anniversary mode make this a title you won’t be afraid to smile about (even if you look like this guy).

8/10

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Version tested: Xbox 360

Also available on: PS3

Developer: EA Canada

Publisher: EA Sports

Genre: Sports