What a save by EA Sports!
Another October is drawing near, and that means another hockey season. To accompany this, EA Sports has released its yearly iteration of NHL 16 to appetize hockey fans with its first current-gen exclusive title. While skating, checking, shooting, and scoring are as fun as ever, has EA managed to changed some of the major issues that plague the franchise? With last year’s version being stripped of game modes and all-around fun, is the new version worth picking up?
NHL 16 glides it way back into the fold re-introducing fan-favorite game modes that were not included in last year’s iteration. Fans were disappointed to see that NHL 15 included exhibition play, season mode, and 1v1 online matches only. Fortunately, EA corrects this grave error by bringing back modes like EA Sports Hockey League and Hockey Ultimate Team, EA’s card-collecting mode which allows players to develop and coach their own unique squad. However, the overall changes to the look and feel of the game will prove a great change of pace for newcomers to the franchise and veteran players.
Past versions of NHL included instances in which offenseman could easily skate into the offensive zone unchecked with a little bit of speed and skill. In this title, each player on the ice works to be far more aggressive on the puck. Defensemen are keen to track the puck carrier and force them to the boards more often which results in more dump-and-chase scenarios. It’s refreshing to see strong defensemen who shut down skaters that try to get a little too fancy in the offensive zone, just as would happen in a real game. While the game feels a bit heavier and aggressive, the scenarios are much more in line with the more frantic pace of the high-speed game. It is crucial to assess clear passing lanes and shooting opportunities, lest you turn the puck over time and time again.
On the same note, controlling defensemen gives the player much more control. The skaters display more realistic changes in movement while maintaining the ability to line opponents up for crushing checks followed by a quick breakout. The most important defenseman, the goaltender, also features improved control which allows for more responsive post to post coverage.
One of the biggest additions in NHL 16 is the on-ice trainer which not only teaches newcomers the sometimes intimidating controls, but helps all players develop a better vision for the game. The trainer follows the play and indicates the most appropriate action for your currently controlled player to take such as whom to pass to or which side of the goal to shoot for. It is especially helpful for winning face-offs, which can often feel like a game of rock-paper-scissors. In addition to the trainer, the coach’s feedback returns, giving you overall suggestions for improvement after each twenty minute period.
While the game feels different than in the past, the franchise still seems to suffer from its own type of exploitable goals. NHL 14 saw players with the ability to score all too frequently with wrap-arounds and short-side goals, whereas the puck finds the net almost nine out of ten times with a shot from the point in NHL 15 and NHL 16. It leaves much to be desire when you realize that all it takes is one good slapper to score or be scored on. Goalies still leave some to be desired in this regard, even when you’re using someone like Lundqvist or Quick.
Both Be a Pro and Be a GM modes make their return as well. Choose to create your own or play as any existing player and guide them and their team to the Stanley Cup Final. You can also enter the mode in the minors and work your way through the Memorial Cup and into the NHL Draft. Be a Pro differs from standard exhibition in that your focus is to play one primary position as well managing your ice time like the real pros. I’ve always found sitting on the bench between shifts to be boring, but fortunately, you can still sim to the next shift as you could in past games. Be a GM mode puts you in an entirely different position in which you are responsible for building and guiding your franchise to success. While this mode didn’t grab me personally, it is an appetizing inclusion for those who enjoy managing squads, lineups, and making those exciting deadline day trades.
The most exciting mode to return is the EA Sports Hockey League. This mode allows you to create your own skater and play with five other online players as one team. Your player will accumulate experience points for the position that they play in each game which you can spend to increase specific attributes. This creates a fun, personal experience in which you can make the player that you think is best. With your limited experience currency, it’s up to you to decide whether or not acceleration or shooting accuracy is more important. You’re free to play however you want. One of the best parts is the ability to further define your role beyond simply being on offense, defense, or playing goaltender. For example, a power forward skates aggressively, and throws heavy checks which create turnovers for your linemates to score off of.
Hockey Ultimate Team, or HUT, returns in the same fashion it appears in all EA Sports games. This mode entails collecting or purchasing card packs with in-game currency. These packs contain random cards such as players, contract extensions, coaches, uniforms, and so on. The goal is to build the most effective team possible with the cards that you have. Your players will have chemistry together based on their real life teams or nationality and it is up to you as their coach and coordinator to find lines that produce. As you win more games and place in tournaments, you earn more pucks which you can spend on new packs that have a better chance to yield more valuable cards.
While NHL 16 looks often indistinguishable from a true television broadcast, NHL 15 largely looked identical. The look and feel of the characters is true to the athlete’s proper movements down to the flow of their jersey as they accelerate. However, most of the skaters still do not look anything like their real-life counterparts. That feature seems to be exclusive to prominent names like Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby. This is extremely frustrating as games like FIFA go to great lengths to see that nearly every player resembles reality. The gameplay angles and replays, however, look remarkable and seamlessly replicate the experience of watching a live hockey game.
With last year’s game, EA decided to introduce the NBC Sports Night Broadcast with Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk. Hockey fans love to hear Doc’s excitement and passion for the game, which is where the problem lies. Doc and Eddie’s voiceovers and play-by-play call are absolutely lifeless and frankly annoying to listen to at times. It is extremely dissatisfying to hear Doc give a deflated “save!” after your goalie made a game-saving stop. It is unexplainable as to why EA brought Doc and Eddie on only to utilize them in horrible fashion. EA also decided to drop the licensed music within menu travel in favor of orchestrated music, which I’m not so sure was a good or necessary change.
NHL 16 is leaps and bounds improved from last year’s title. While all of the returning game modes are warmly welcomed, it can come off as a cheap marketing ploy to take them away in the first place, only to reinstate them as a selling point. The feel of the game replicates a more authentic simulation in both look and gameplay. The on-ice trainer will come in handy as you attempt to adapt to the more defensive-heavy style. While the game falls short in various areas, it is still an extremely entertaining way to experience the game will get fans primed for the upcoming season.
By the way; Let’s Go Pens!