In a year where all we can talk about are new consoles it’s refreshing to know that if you want hockey, its only coming to current-gen platforms. Outside of Tiger Woods PGA Tour & Grand Slam Tennis, the NHL franchise is the only EA Sports franchise not making the quick transition to new platforms this November. So don't worry about which version of the game you’re going to get, there is only one, and the good news is its pretty good.
The NHL franchise made some gigantic strides right as 2K Sports stopped producing their own hockey franchise – and in those years we have seen major improvements in all facets of hockey. Well, with some slight improvements, that remains the case in NHL 14. The biggest on ice improvement this year is in the physics department. My first exhibition game was with the Ducks and Kings and within seconds of the opening face-off I noticed a huge difference in feel of players. As you may recall before you could start from a dead stop and knock a player on their feet, but now it’s all about timing and speed; and depending on your speed this will directly influence the force of a collision. For both hardcore players and casual fans of the series this is a big change. This weight is also true in skating which feels even tighter then past years giving you more control without taking away any of the feel.
The on ice hockey is still downright amazing. I had a few instances where I sat back in awe of how well EA has translated the real life sport. In a lot of ways the NHL franchise for EA has begun to feel more and more like its FIFA franchise. You have so much control of the puck and what's happening around you that it’s hard to remember what it used to be like. When played on the two higher difficulties the action on the ice matches very well to what we all watch on TV.
Another noticeable change is the fighting system. First thing is the frequency of fights has increased greatly from past games. The fighting system itself is still bare bones and lackluster. You have a little more control over the fight using the analog sticks but this is still a super light version of Fight Night. EA has a track record of great boxing games, even if they took the fighting systems from the first Fight Night game it would feel more polished then what is in NHL 14. For me personally it feels like it pulls away from an extremely polished experience to a very un-interesting side show.
I was most excited to check out the new Live the Life mode which sounded like EA's answer to their competitors career modes in other sports (MLB: The Show and NBA 2K). Unfortunately it’s not even close. This is a watered down and poorly conceived mode that needed at least another year to fully bake. Create a player, join the minor leagues, perform well and get drafted high in the NHL. There are text boxes that pop up after each game taking the place of a press conference that ask you about your performance. Really text boxes? Unlike its competitors Live the Life does everything but let you live the life of an NHL player. I would have loved to have had deeper interactions with my player both on the ice and off. Instead this turns out to be a tough grind of playing game after game with little incentive to keep pushing forward.
The other new mode is the NHL 94 Anniversary Mode which lets you play a game of NHL 94 with NHL 14 graphics. I played this mode with someone who I had also played NHL 94 with twenty years ago and although it’s a little less nostalgic then playing the old SNES cartridge it’s the next best thing. But it does do a great job of highlighting how far the series has come in that timeframe.
NHL 14 is a great game of hockey, and technically speaking its one of the best playing sports games on the market today. Sadly its foray into the new career mode, Live the Life, was extremely disappointing, and left me wanting more out of this year’s game. So if you’re looking for some great hockey this is a good choice, but there is still work to be done to improve the modes within it.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.