NHL 16 Review: Back to Full Strength
Michael Mays / Oct 19th, 2015 No Comments
The release of NHL 15 brought with it some monumental disappointments. Fans of the franchise were surprised to see that so many aspects of the game they had come to know and love had been sent to the penalty box. After a rough penalty kill, the modes were finally added back into the game with a patch, but the damage had been done.
EA wisely learned from their mistakes for NHL 16. While not completely back to previous-gen form, the franchise has taken such a leap forward with the latest installment that it’s difficult not to get excited about the future of the series.
Last year’s installment of the EA NHL franchise can be likened to a shallow Beverly Hills model: pretty to look at but not a whole lot of substance. This year the game hasn’t really advanced too much graphically, but now we get the substance with the style.
The game is undeniably gorgeous. The replay of that one-timer you nailed that caught the goalie with his pants down could be confused with an actual NHL broadcast. In addition to the authenticity involved in replays, it’s difficult not to notice just how true to life each individual arena looks. This makes taking your team into hostile territory and beating the bricks off your chief rival all the more satisfying. I’m looking at you, Philadelphia Flyers (I happen to be a Pittsburgh sports fan).
Fortunately, NHL 16 sounds as pretty as it looks. I have taken plenty of swipes at NHL 15 so far, and here is yet another. Last year, the commentary left quite a bit to be desired. It was the first year for NBC’s commentating team of Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk, so they were given a bit of a pass. This year improvements had to be made lest their lack of enthusiasm might have been infectious. The hockey gods have spoken, and thus the commentary is much more palatable in NHL 16.
Doc and Eddie show much more emotion when the situation calls for it and also do a fine job of announcing the technical aspects of deking someone out of their jock strap. In addition to the commentary, checks sound like bones being crushed and slapshots sound like gunshots. Ahh, it’s hockey season again, kids.
Offline Game Modes
Every kid (in Canada) dreams of becoming an NHL star and leading their favorite team to the Stanley Cup Finals. In NHL 16’s Be A Pro mode, you can do exactly that. You can watch your player grow from a sparky little minor leaguer into a full-fledged NHL superstar.
The player progression this time around is extremely well done. Instead of allocating points into various attribute categories yourself, you simply gain experience in an area the more you play well in that particular area. For example, if you continuously knock the puck away from other players, your poke check skill will increase. If you baptize players into the boards with earth-shattering checks consistently, your check stats will go through the roof. While this may seemingly take some of the power out of the hands of the player, it actually helps build your character in a way that more accurately reflects your playing style.
For those of us who are so far away from being athletically inclined that we can’t even fantasize about it in good conscience, there is Be A GM mode. In Be A GM mode, you take control of the day-to-day operations of an entire franchise instead of one superstar.
If you’re a control freak that likes to play God (and hockey games), this is the mode for you. Is your left winger getting a little long in the tooth to be making the kind of money he’s making against the NHL salary cap? It’s time to send him packing and wish him the best in his future endeavors. The only problem is if he was a locker room leader, it could affect player morale. Yes, the players in Be A GM mode each have their own personalities. You either have to learn to appease your players or rule by fear Machiavellian style by placing dissident players’ heads on spikes outside of your arena (UPDATE: Upon further review, you actually CANNOT place players’ heads on spikes outside your arena).
Online Game Modes
In addition to the normal online versus mode, NHL 16 has included online team play from the beginning this time. This was one of the huge omissions from NHL 15 when it was released, especially for me because I find this game mode to be the most enjoyable (and frustrating) aspect of the franchise. In this six-on-six online mode, each player controls a different position on the ice. When you get matched up with a team that you can work well with, complete with regular passing and team chemistry, there is nothing more enjoyable in sports gaming. Much too often, though, the teams are plagued with narcissists who think they can deke their way to glory by themselves.
One of the ways to counteract that kind of pucking madness is to create your own team for the EA Sports Hockey League and fill the roster with people you know. This will ensure (or at least increase the chances of) team chemistry. You can customize your team’s look and name (EA will censor your dirtiest ideas, by the way) and then pit yourselves against other players online and their own teams with clean-ish names. There’s potential for a boatload of fun here, so make sure you have some friends who are hockey fans. Short of that, just play so well that you’re worth millions on the free agent market.
As for other online options, have you ever wanted to see Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin on the same team? If so, first of all, shame on you. Second of all, in Hockey Ultimate Team mode, like in the Ultimate Team modes in all of the EA Sports games, you collect the cards of your favorite players, use those cards to build your own fantasy team, and then take that team into battle against both CPU teams and online against other human players. This mode can be wildly entertaining if you like card collecting and overpowered teams.
I could come up with a bunch of corny hockey metaphors to explain how NHL 16 is a slapshot to the back of the net or how it achieved a hat trick of satisfaction, but I would never do that (ignore the penalty box comments at the beginning of the article). I will just say that if NHL 15 caused you to lose faith in the series, allow NHL 16 to renew that faith. It’s a quality sports game in just about every way.
NHL 16 was reviewed on PS4 using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.
tags: ea sports , hockey , NHL 16 , NHL 16 Review , review