By Trevor Ezaki
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: September 10th, 2013
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Rated: E10 for Everyone (Ages 10 & Up) MSRP: 59.99
Dissimilar to the bombastic marketing campaign of the Madden franchise, EA’s NHL franchise over the past ten years has quietly put forth critically acclaimed games. However with 2K’s ceasing of their NHL 2K series, the EA NHL series has abstained from massive changes between each yearly game.
The one bright spot in NHL 14 is the gameplay tweaks. Even with the aforementioned stagnant change from game to game, this year’s iteration, NHL 14, added a new hitting and fighting engine. These new engines change the aspects of the game greatly. EA also tweaked the skating engine and slightly improved the player skating mechanics. As a former hockey player, I can attest that this tweak is the closest the NHL series has gotten to actual skating. My only criticism is that turns are not nearly responsive enough to be considered truly realistic. Despite these fantastic gameplay changes, the rest of the game features wallow in mediocrity.
One of the few modes hyped by EA was the new “Live the Life” mode. This mode replaced the aging “Be A Pro” mode. “Live the Life” heavily borrows elements from NBA 2K’s Association mode. To me, this mode seemed bland and more time should have been allocated to develop this mode. “Live the Life” is just a glorified “Be A Pro” mode with a questionnaire added to the end of each game. EA’s effort does not even match up to NBA 2K5’s depth in their version of career mode. This is particularly troubling since NBA 2K5 was released over eight years ago. I understand that the EA NHL team does not receive a lot of funding, but that does not exonerate them from putting out a mode that is even underwhelming for a game released eight years ago.
EA NHL’s Hockey Ultimate Team mode has always taken up my time ever since the mode was introduced in NHL 11. There’s something exciting about building a team from scratch to superstardom. This year’s iteration introduces a fantastic concept of promotion and relegation in HUT online play. This is more fun for beginners who in previous iterations would be matched against impossibly superior squads online. Outside of this, HUT remains largely unchanged from NHL 13. The one glaring issue that many people have experienced with this mode is the glitches that deride the experience of this mode. There are times when player cards in this mode that sometimes suddenly retire. Contracts in the NHL series were done with a few years ago and the code for retired players may not have been totally removed. Testers of this game should have seen this problem in beta. This is not an innocuous mistake and it presents an unfortunate and frustrating challenge for players who seriously want to dive into this mode.
Finally, the last mode EA introduced in NHL 14 is the NHL 94 Anniversary mode. While this mode is a nostalgia trip, it seems rather unnecessary. While NHL 94 was undoubtedly one of the finest sports games of the early 1990’s, this re-imagining of the game is rather puzzling. It adds little to actual gameplay and is a quick gimmick that players may only play once and is a tangential mode that took time away from improving other aspects of the game.
NHL 14 is a great game for someone who never owned any of the previous six iterations of the NHL series. However for those who have consistently played over the course of the past few years, NHL 14 is a shallow tweak of NHL 13 featuring overcomplicated menus which obfuscate users’ ability to find what mode they are looking for. Overall, NHL 14 is a decent game, but the series is a shell of its former self because of a lack of competition pushing the boundaries of what is possible in a hockey video game.