NHL ’14 | Game Review

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Author’s Note: This review contains personal experiences based on the Playstation 3 version of the game. The views and remarks expressed in this post are of that of the author, Mike Fendor.

NHL 14 was distributed at midnight the morning of September 10, 2013 bringing in the next iteration of the award winning franchise from EA Sports, a division of Electronic Arts. The game’s publisher has spent all summer strategically promoting the release event to the video game and hockey communities. Now that I’ve had a significant amount of time (and I am told that I can actually go to sleep after writing this blog) I can tell whether or not this game lives up to the hype and expectations.

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Starting with the cover boy choice, Martin Brodeur was selected through a tournament of online voters. This strategy, in my view, has become quite tricky to pull off. Last year’s edition, NHL 13, featured Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux. That’s great – if you’re a Flyers fan. But if you’re a fan of a rival team, the game’s going to be oozing with rival team propaganda. I think someone within the company realized this or caught on to more feedback from NHL hockey fans from all over North America. They sold a collector’s tin box copy which instead features the Stanley Cup and no “offending” Flyers effigy in sight. There was a catch. It was for a much steeper price than the standard $59.99. Well played, EA Sports. Well played.

NHL 14 promised through its viral marketing to be another step further into the future of sports video games by introducing improvements on several areas of the game most fans have been clamoring after for years. The fighting between players in the game has had many different perspectives and before this year’s edition, it didn’t capture the true nature of a real hockey fist fight.

While this game has an enormous amount of work with every aspect surrounding the NHL game experience, I will try to focus (and hope) that the good can outweigh the bad.

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The Good:

The one thing hockey fans demand from their game is the realism. NHL 14 is a full immersion into a real hockey game experience without actually being at a hockey game. I recommend wearing surround sound headphones while playing. Each game has it’s own fully animated arena filled with their own fans cheering and sometimes chirping.

On my own home hockey blog, I’ve often called for the inclusion of female hockey players to be used right along with the NHL male counterparts. This year, we are treated to a true USA Hockey legend and Hockey Hall of Fame star Cammi Granato. Her appearance in the game is a real surprise when most advertising campaigns this summer didn’t focus on any “mystery” player inclusions.

The detailing in jersey sweaters has to be the stand out feature. It’s brought so much diversity to the game that it never feels repetitive. Before the hockey game even starts, I can select from any number of past or present uniform combinations I want.

The game also continues the long legacy of including not only all 30 National Hockey League teams, but  also giving you all corresponding American Hockey League minor league teams, almost all the elite European leagues from Switzerland, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, and the entire Canadian Hockey League junior development level teams. Add in the “Create a team” function, and you have an infinite amount of teams any video game player can use. I am very fond of this feature.

But with all those team’s rosters, someone has to manage the whole thing keeping it current to real life rosters. NHL 14, as with most recent editions, has a free service where you can download the updated rosters via the internet connected game consoles. Back in first generation consoles, I would often keep a keen eye to the NHL’s roster trade news and manually move the players back and forth as necessary.

The new fighting controls that EA Sports spent the majority of the time talking about in press releases are the best yet. It’s a complicated and controversial aspect of hockey and whether or not to give it this much attention to detail can stand for even more debates in the comments section. NHL 14 fighting is the most realistic experience in the entire franchise. Game players are now free to grapple and strategize how they are going to win the fight. In earlier editions, hockey fights were just a test of endurance how fast game players can controller button mash. It’s another great big step in video game evolution.

The remaining noteworthy new addition to the game is the new direction that the “Be a Player” mode has taken. In this portion of the game, you simulate what it is like to get the hockey life experience by moving up through the ranks as a junior player to hopefully hoisting a championship trophy. Here’s the really great thing about it. You get credit for the professional endorsements that you sign outside of your simulated career.

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The Bad:

With every contest there will also turn people who will look for any advantage and exploit it. This is the one heavy complaint about the game that I have had for a few years now. While most video game consoles are connected to the internet, this allows for many fans to play one another even if they are on the other side of the world. Granted, the gamers who play online aren’t controlled by nor at fault by the game’s makers and publishers, they still should promote good sportsmanship to their fans.

My experience with NHL series playing real people online is that I am constantly paired off with another jerk who doesn’t distinguish me from playing the computer CPU which doesn’t get upset if you try to cheat. Most all online users will act overly aggressive in their defense. Many players have figured out how easy it is to knock a hockey player off the puck control. Or the other convenient mechanism in the game is the ability to control players sprawling dives on the ice. It gets very tiresome to try to execute passing plays and control a realistic flow to the game. Even on simulation mode, hockey players controlled by the CPU don’t play that aggressively.

I have continually complained to and discussed with the game designers who still don’t acknowledge the lack of sportsmanship that runs rampant with online gaming. I hold out hope that the experience will change with the next generation of consoles.

Secondly, I was disappointed at the removal of pioneering female hockey stars that were featured (and supported by) in the game. In NHL 13, for the first time in any sports video game, players could select Team USA’s Angela Ruggiero and Hockey Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser. I searched all around through the players lists and they weren’t to be found anywhere. It was a true step forward for women’s athletics equality. It was really fun having Angela out there on an all-star team of my favorite players, but now it feels like my team is missing a player.

Third most significant note is the need for a code that calls for the withholding of the jersey designs that have not been released by the team in time by the publication date. The game players are to wait until an unknown period of time before those jerseys become unlocked and usable in the video game. I’ve always felt like the game’s creators are never giving us full value of the game when we know they are withholding portions of the game back.

The in game soundtrack didn’t really impress me all that much. Where the other games introduced me to some great tunes, NHL 14 only had one song that I liked. Bullet For My Valentine’s Riot is a peculiar choice given what happened in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup finals.

In summary, while NHL 14 is in a lot of ways a duplicate of NHL 13 just dressed up differently, it’s an upgraded experience for every hockey fanatic to immerse themselves in the game that we all love. It’s worth the money. Overall, I would have to say that this game has gotten as close to perfection as the available technology would allow. It’s a challenging game with so much replay value it will keep me occupied all season long. I can’t wait for the next growing development phase. EA Sports will again continue to wow us with yet more dynamic game innovations for the upcoming PS4 next year.

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