EA Sports is back with NHL 14, out for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles. Hockey fans will want to pick up this edition as it will not appear on PC nor on the new Gen4 consoles Xbox One and PlayStation 4. In this year’s edition, there is a new Enforcer Engine powered by Fight Night technology, a new collision and physics system, and an NHL 94 anniversary mode. On the whole, the game plays remarkably well and true-to-life for NHL fans.
What’s New in NHL 14
There are three major new features in NHL 14 for players to enjoy.
NHL 94 Nostalgia Mode
With the 20-year anniversary of the NHL series from EA Sports, an NHL 94 mode has been included in this year’s edition. Do not think this is a ROM of the old game. It’s actually a rebuilt version of NHL 94 using the NHL 14 engine, with the modern roster of NHL players. It’s a great retro look at ice hockey video games that allows players to relive the glory years of gaming past.
New Collision Physics
NHL 14 borrows from the FIFA franchise to bring the new Player Impact Engine to the ice for better collisions and body physics. The idea here was to provide bigger hits and truer collisions during the course of a game. The left sick on the controller delivers big hits while right stick hitting remains the same as it has for years. The big change is that players can deliver a huge check exclusively using the left stick by staking into an opponent with speed.
The physics system is definitely noticeable within the game. Speed and momentum have a dramatic impact on how checks play out. Part of the equation will be players properly facing their intended target to land a clean body check or hip check on an opponent. If a player doesn’t have good position and speed, the check will be a lot less effective, or will miss altogether.
Goalies have also received a bit of an upgrade, as they are now “live” and reacting to activities on the ice as opposed to being automatons constantly on the look out for the next shot. There are new ragdoll physics modeled to make for much more realistic saves, especially in breakaway situations. There is also new logic to bring huge collisions in front of a goal and with goalies, with interference calls being made more often than ever before.
Other major collision system features include players on the ice anticipating big hits and being able to brace themselves to a faster recovery. On top of that, the physics system also plays into the penalties called, with interference, hitting from behind, boarding and charging all getting called during the course of a game (ideally both sides) as opposed to the past when it’d be rare to see any penalties when the game was played on default sliders.
The development team behind NHL 14 collaborated with the team behind EA Sports Fight Night to add a new “Enforcer Engine,” which is powered by the popular boxing title. The all-new engine brings a new level of authenticity to the hockey fighting experience and adds to the appropriateness to which fights and scrums will break out during a game. Fights are now shown in third-person mode, a welcome change from the previous first-person perspective that was clunky and awkward. Also added to the mix will be players and refs in the background, who react to the swings during a fight. The aftermath of fights will be seen as players will be left with black eyes and bruises throughout the rest of the game.
Perhaps the greatest change is the aforementioned “situational awareness” that players retain during the course of a game to appropriately start fights. In previous editions of NHL, fighting was a manual activity that would rarely occur. Now, if players decide to break hockey’s unspoken code (such as shoot a puck at the goalie after the whistle blows), there will be repercussions to pay in the form of a fist fight. Not all players will suddenly want to jump into a tilt though, as tough guys and goons will get into the action much more often than superstars.
There is also a new physics-based punch targeting system that allows players of different heights to approach each other in dramatically different ways. Now, bigger guys will hit harder while strength and size playing a major factor into who wins a fight. There are also push and pull techniques that can get your opponent off balance. Along with the size and strength advantage, timing plays a critical role into who wins a fight.
Graphics / Physics
With the new graphics engine, veteran NHL gamers will enjoy the new collisions and how the players line up for checks and react when being checked. This year’s edition is all about the off-puck action as the game flows a solid notch better than last year’s game. The core graphics engine hasn’t changed much from NHL 13 but that’s not a terrible thing since the graphics still look modern for Gen3 consoles.
Sound / Play by Play
As usual, the NHL series delivers the goods and boasts some of the best play-by-play in gaming today. The announcing team is phenomenal and the side stories for teams and players goes to an extremely deep level. The arena sounds are also very realistic as both the PA announcer and the crowd react appropriately, with hilarious heckling coming from the rafters on occasion.
As a whole, NHL 14 is an awesome sports video game and clearly another positive step forward for the franchise. The big problem that NHL 14 has is that the lump sum of the major new features hardly feels innovative or extraordinary. The NHL 94 mode might be played a few times, and players won’t really appreciate the fighting mode because fights only break out (for regulars to the game) once or twice at most during a game, if at all. The new collision system, physics engine and skating dynamics are “powerfully subtle” to take the game forward, giving NHL 14 a great feel. Hockey fans, and specifically those that have actually played the game, will definitely appreciate and enjoy NHL 14.