Once again our friends at EA Sports gave us an advanced copy of an upcoming title. And this one, I have to admit, is the one I was looking most forward to the most being a hardcore hockey fan. So I was elated to find out that they choose me as one of the reviewers for the upcoming title.
I went into this game not knowing what to expect, while I played NHL 13 a lot, I found myself towards the end of the games cycle growing increasingly tired of the slow menus, choppy gameplay, and the slow connection to the online games I tried to play. NHL 13 while it was played a lot really never clicked with me. And it isn’t because the game was bad, because it had good qualities, including the new skating engine. It was playing the career modes and managing my way through the slow menus that got me fed up with NHL 13. NHL 13 unintentionally, really tried my patience and it got to the point to where my patience was gone, and that was the first time in a long time that I lost interest in a hockey game over a calendar year, which is a day I never thought could or would ever take place.
Now enter NHL 14’s demo, and it seemed like a breath of fresh air. There was definitely a chance at some success for EA’s NHL franchise with the game play refinements. Not only did it play very well but was also lot of fun.
But if you were like me and hated the menus in NHL 13 than you probably tinkered around with the menus to see how fast they were to the best of your ability and overall you probably saw potential in the game.
The signs were pretty promising, but does that translate well into the final product? Lets take a look.
The gameplay in NHL 14 received a few changes from NHL 13. The first thing people will notice is the improved hitting, the hitting engine which is physics based carrying over from the engine used by EA’s FIFA soccer franchise and boy what an outstanding result came of it. The hits are easier to lay out, and much more like real hockey hits. No longer are you hip checking people into the crowd like in NHL 13 if you bothered to try to replicate the Hercules check. And if you’re a big enough dirtbag (raises hand) you can even lay a nice hit from behind pretty much at will and most likely you’ll have to pay the price via a fight.
This might be the second thing you’ll see that’s been greatly improved. The fighting system is a outstanding improvement over the previous year. Gone is the first person view and in is a third person perspective. This is a nice improvement to go along with better mechanics during the fight including but not limited to tugging, dodging punches, and take downs. Also during fights you’ll see other players grabbing on to one another off to the side, and rarely you’ll see another fight or two on the side. It may be a rivalry thing or something along those lines to how often that happens. I’ve only seen it twice, ironically both times in the demo. Once I play more it should be more and more frequent. I just hope that the hatred builds throughout one of the offline career modes such as be a pro (live the life is what they call it now) or be a gm.
Oh course if seeing all of this physical stuff scares you because of the lack of penalties than you will be pleased to know that NHL 14 has a much better penalty system. Gone are the days of rampant interference and charges, usually one or the other is called if you go to far out of the way to make a check. The only thing this game misses on is a lack of instigating penalties for the auto fights. If the CPU wants to start a fight after you lay a clean but hard hit than they should get an extra two.
The other noticeable differences were the improved skating, more so in a laterally (side to side) making defense a little easier, and it also helps with lining up nice hits.
Goaltending appears somewhat improved, I’ve yet to come across a goal that was really bad, which happened more than it should have in NHL 13. That isn’t to say that goaltending is perfect, there are still goals to be had but you’ll find yourself having to work for it instead of just flicking it on net hoping for a crap goal to go in more times than not.
Overall gameplay felt really defined and in a good way, this might be the best playing game in the series to date. The only question is, is it the best in the series? I will let others make that decision but it is definitely one of my favorites.
Live the Life: Burning Bridges in Connecticut
The Live the life mode is actually kind of addicting. Not because Be a Pro is more fun to play, but more so the interviews. First off there is little change in Be a Pro at all, the computer team mates are somewhat smarter, but still fail to really make the mode a go to mode. The only thing that may be a saving grace in this case is the media interviews. You can answer them as you please, whether that means you answer them in a positive manner or negative manner, it really is up to you.
I was drafted in the first round by the New York Rangers 22nd overall, so it was rather easy to become the next Sean Avery, in fact, it made the decision that much easier. So as I choose to be a complete utter a-hole, it made the mode much more fun than giving crowd pleasing answers. I am so happy that EA made this possible because as I write this review my fan likability meters are historically bad, in fact it is kind of humorous as you will see pictured above. Even Sean Avery didn’t tick off the fans that badly.
On the ice the team is performing well to my ill-advised comments, it is like me being a douche makes them more determined. I mean sure it’s true that none of the losses are my fault, it isn’t my fault that they can’t win with by themselves.
I wasn’t always a conceded a-hole, it all started with the NBA 2K series, and it carried over into NHL 14 and it is a blast ticking off management. I have yet to be traded from this particular one, but I was drafted by Toronto in another Live the Life mode and I was traded immediately by the Maple Leafs after being asked what I thought of a recent demotion to the AHL and I pretty much called their decision a bad decision and piled on with the comment something along the lines of “This isn’t a big surprise, this team is known for its history of bad decisions. Two days later and I was traded. It was hilarious.
So to wrap up Be a Pro, there is not much reason to play it on the ice, but off the ice the mode has a chance to shine. If only EA can patch in more questions and answers so it feels more fresh instead of having similar questions throughout the season.
I think next on my current game is to request a trade. I am clearly not going anywhere in the this organization, especially the Big Apple at this rate. All of that despite single-handedly leading the Hartford Wolf Pack to the Calder Cup Playoffs.
(NOTE: For this Be a Pro game, I decided to simulate. It gives me an opportunity to progress through a season a little faster and seeing how the mode operates later in the season. I turned off sim penalties so that my player can still progress and get PT while I played and simulated through the mode)
Be a GM
Be a GM is actually a nice surprise. Not only are the menus much faster (which you know has been a gripe of mine in NHL 13) but the mode got some nice changes along the way. As you might have noticed in the Be a Pro screen, there is something called Message Center, and what this is in a nut shell is something along the lines of a twitter feed.It is a good addition, as it makes the mode feel more immersed in the mode, in fact I have even made used it a couple times because it posts trade block rumors, in particular the San Jose Sharks were shopping Patrick Marleau in my second season as the GM of the Oilers. I looked at the trade block, and surely it was true. While I was there I noticed that Dan Boyle was also on the trade block so I acquired him in a deal.
Another nice and unexpected touch was the improved line changes screen. Now when someone gets injured or traded you will be able to spot the holes in the line up much easier thanks to the fact that they shaded the unfilled part of the line-up in red, this is a great improvement. It makes it much easier to spot the unfilled position and lessens the chances of it being missed which was a commonplace if you did the roster manually but sped through it out of frustration with the menus and excessive injuries.
Another nice addition was they added the option to have the assistant coaches rotate the goalies on the depth chart. This is good because if you are/were using manual edit lines you would have to swap the goalies manually to get them both playing time, or you risked an injury to the starting goalie.
Another nice addition was that they added an option to retain salaries so that you can attempt to make a trade with a team that might be low on cap space, it helps the likelihood of a trade being made with a team that has salary cap restrictions.
Other good things they did with trades was they added the ability to change trade difficulty, I choose the hardest, and while it isn’t impossible to make a deal, it isn’t easy either. Draft picks also are not as valuable as they were last year, especially the later years picks. EA also added an extra year of draft picks so instead of four years of future draft picks, you can now trade five years worth.
Overall Be a GM is great again, mainly because the menus are no longer dragging the mode through the mud. But the new features add depth to the mode and it makes the mode even more fun.
NOTE: I did see a report of a bug that happens if you try to release to players of the same rating at the end of the season in Be a GM mode. If you release one player, and you want to release another player of the same rating you can, however because the game shows the picture of the top player that is who is recognizes so instead of releasing the player with say the 58 overall, you could be releasing your best player on the team or best player at the position even if the games confirmation screen says it is the 58 overall. It is an odd glitch but potentially a costly one too. The best way to avoid this glitch is to make sure the game has the picture of the player that you are trying to release and not your best players picture because that is the player that is going to be released regardless of who is highlighted. Click here to see the glitch in action.
NHL 94 Anniversary Mode
I played a little in the demo and I assume it is the same in the final product, and while it’s a nice addition, it is also one that doesn’t do much for the game overall. When they said they’d have something to honor the 20th anniversary of NHL 94, I was hoping it was NHL 94 but re-mastered in HD as an Xbox Live or PSN game. Or something of the likes. But unfortunately it is just no rules hockey using the NHL 14 game engine, and while the blue ice is kind of cool, that’s pretty much the only thing that was carried over along with the sound effects.
Overall NHL 94 mode doesn’t do it for me, and while I am not going to use it much, I am not going to factor this into my final verdict, because it is a well executed mode, but being able to play the real game in its 2D glory would have been a nice nod to the past kind of like what Sega did for Sonic in its collection of games on one disc that was released for this generation of consoles.
Because of the brief time I played the game for this review, I didn’t get much of a chance to try out the online part of the game because I was reviewing and playing the offline modes since that is where I typically start any game review. But just because I didn’t get to play online doesn’t mean I didn’t at least go through the modes, and below I will post the changes that I noticed to the modes online.
I’ll break down each Online game modes below.
GM Connected: I will keep this brief since I didn’t get much of a chance to try this mode. In fact I haven’t advanced to the first week of the season. However from the little I played it seemed to run faster through the menus while I admit it isn’t to the likes of the offline modes, but this is still a much better improvement. I can’t really say the mode is better or worse yet, I’ll follow up on this part of the game at a later date.
One thing I did like is that the options to start the mode are plenty, you can turn on and off pretty much every rule that effects gameplay including icing, penalties, etc and just have a GM Connected that looks a lot like NHL 94 mode if you choose to. The best thing is, no one can influence otherwise.
EASHL: New to EASHL is seasons, and you can select the position from the main club screen that A) Saves time and B) Avoids a situation where a player quits because he lost the race to his desired position.
Keep in mind that I didn’t play any games online so I didn’t get to test the stability of the games, such as lag. I am not going to reward or dock points from the game because of that. If I encounter a problem I will make a separate post pointing it out.
- There were several new uniforms put in NHL 14, including new ones for the Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Charlotte Checkers, and Providence Bruins. The only unfortunate part is that a couple of the uniforms were messed up one way or another. For example Providence doesn’t have the gold helmet that goes with their all gold home uniforms.
- The Hartford Wolf Pack and Utica Comets were added to the AHL as well.
- Game menus are faster across the board.
- There are is a new tuner update and a new game mode tuner update available for download when you first start up the game.
- Also included are hospitality settings which is how you set up the game to your liking when the game first starts up. You can choose control schemes (classic, skill stick, and hybrid) and game type (high impact, simulation and hardcore simulation) depending on how you prefer to play.
NHL 14 is easily one of my favorite hockey games of all time. This is really what NHL 13 should have been but regardless this game is pretty smooth on the ice outside of an odd hiccup along the way. The goal scoring is hard on Hardcore Simulation setting and so is passing, with some tweaks however the game can be harder or easier depending on how you adjust it.
The Be a GM is running smoothly and got some nice additions to make it more enjoyable to play. The injuries aren’t as bad which makes for a more enjoyable experience. Unlike last year’s game where you were dealing with 5 injuries all season. Sure there are still some injuries, and some add up once in awhile but that is not as big of an issue as last year. The mode is just a blast now that the mode is no longer a straight replication of watching a snail race.
Live the Life mode is pretty much Be a Pro but with interviews and likability meters which isn’t the worst thing because with the way I am playing it provides some humor to it.
The menus across all the offline and online modes are faster which makes for a much less frustrating experience whether you’re playing in an offline game mode, or a game mode associating with online play. I can’t say whether the load screens leading into games are any faster, but getting set up is surely faster moving from screen to screen.
Overall as a whole NHL 14 feels and plays like a much more polished product, which was all that was needed in my mind. I think EA nailed it with NHL 14 in terms of making it fun and accessible to all, if you want an arcade game you can use the high impact game setting, but if you want a closer version of the real game simulation or hardcore simulation will do the trick to the best of the ability of a video game.
I am loving my time with NHL 14, it is up there with MLB ’13 the Show (not reviewed here) as my sports game of the year. NHL 14 truly is a great game, which is what makes NHL 13 seem even more of a disappointment. While many would dub NHL 14 as NHL 13.5, which is a fair criticism, it also just shows what potential NHL 13 had if the additions were executed as well as they are in NHL 14.