At one point, EA Sports' NHL franchise couldn't figure out what it wanted to be, running a distant second to 2K Sports' brilliant NHL 2K series. But then, something strange happened.
The developers began devoting themselves to new ideas that clicked with hockey players, including right stick analog controls and features to involve fans online and off.
The result? NHL 2K is officially out of business, and EA's NHL brand thrives.
Still, I doubt fans could be as startled as they'll be when they get their hands on NHL 14. This is easily one of the better games in the series, not only loaded with the great online and career recreation features they've come to expect, but also a smoother flowing Infinity Engine that makes everything look and feel just right when it comes to hockey action. Let's not forget the loving tribute to the classic NHL '94 either.
First, the career modes definitely will keep you busy. Be a Pro/Live the Life enables you to build your hockey player how you feel, starting through the minors and eventually making key decisions that will decide how your playing career ends up. It's really something, even if you're just answering simple questions to the media. It all plays out into a provocative feature that will keep you busy.
In addition, the GM Connected mode is superb, helping you manage your team to greatness while occasionally making tough decisions that are going to be difficult to come back on, such as key trades and putting all your chips into a player who isn't the hottest prospect. The menus in this mode are easy to use, and the ability to battle against others for key trade folks — and through Online Seasons — is awesome.
If you prefer to just play, though, NHL 14 has you covered. The gameplay feels as natural as ever, thanks to great implementation of the Infinity Engine tech. Checks now come across much better than before, shots work like a charm, and the fighting engine is the best it's ever been, avoiding the awkward first-person view in favor of a more distant third-person approach.
There are some great control schemes here as well, whether you go all out with the Skill Stick or keep it simple with the two-button NHL 94 approach.
Speaking of NHL 94, the Anniversary Mode is a tribute to the classic Genesis/SNES games, doing away with huge changes to the game in favor of simple, fun-to-play hockey. Shame you can't do it online or against players in GM Connected, though. It would've really made a difference.
The graphics for NHL 14 couldn't be better. There are times that the game slows down a bit or runs into a player model who looks less realistic than usual, but the overall ebb and flow of the game remains intact, and the replays are a knockout to watch. Likewise, the in-game arena music has its moments — there are some good EA Trax choices this time around — and the sound effects couldn't be any more hockeylike if the team tried. I just wish they would do something about the commentary. It's not really annoying, just repetitive and in need of refreshing.
EA Sports has yet to make the "ultimate" hockey game for its fans, but NHL 14 is a step in the right direction, thanks to strong gameplay, a multitude of extras for sim and arcade fans alike, and a mostly decent presentation. If you're a fan of the sport, you shouldn't be without this. Besides, what else are you going to play, NHL 2K5?
VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts