In my opinion, one of the hardest sports to translate to a console has always been hockey. The sheer fact regarding how quickly you can change directions from offense to defense, puck handling, fighting, checking and defending your goal requires a significant amount of precision. Unfortunately, very few games have ever been able to capture the full excitement that is hockey. That is until NHL 14.
NHL 14 is everything you could ever possibly want in a hockey game. You have solid graphics, great sound and announcing, and the wonderful ability to pick a fight at almost any time. EA sports promised us better player mechanics, fight system and improved online and GM modes. And for the most part they fulfilled their promises.
NHL 14 is, by far, the single most beautiful hockey game ever created. The fluidity in which the players move up and down the ice is a work of art. There is never a lag or a sense that your player is dropping out of position due to poor AI. The cut scenes and introductions are surprisingly detailed. The fight scenes are so well done that you actually change the way you are sitting to ensure you can throw the perfect uppercut at the right time to knock your opponent down.
The graphics in online mode show no decrease in quality when I played. My beloved Blackhawks looked every bit as amazing in online as they did during single player. This is something that has to be complimented by the developers over at EA for putting the extra effort in creating and maintaining a server that is on par with the Madden ones.
The biggest selling point this year to hockey fans was the acknowledgment of NHL ’94 with a new variation of the classic 1994 game. If there is any complaint I can find with this game it is 100% in the NHL 94 mode. Before I go any further let me say that I was really expecting just a “cleaned up” version of the 1994 game (much like the recent Duck Tales game). Instead, we are given the same game as the NHL 14 that is simply stripped of cut scenes and the close up fighting. Mix this with a simplified control scheme and the original blue ice and we have our “revisited” NHL 14. While many will appreciate the attempt that the folks down at EA make in being nostalgic, I felt let down.
Aside from the letdown on the “94” version of the game, there is really very little for hockey fans to complain about. The GM mode is cleaned up and if you are in to the whole gathering cards to create your team then Hockey Ultimate Team is your happy place. If not, you will sample it and move on like I did.
For me personally, the most enjoyable change in NHL 14 is the decision to include the fight mechanics from the Fight Night series. This allows the game to actually force you to utilize different fighting strategies, from overhead hooks to uppercuts as you pull or push your opponent in order to win. The success of your fight awards bonuses to your fighter as well as your team. Some will complain that the AI chooses to fight with you a little too often, however, I loved flying around checking and fighting anyone I could get near. Sometimes you have to embrace that hockey is more than skating and a puck.
In the end, NHL 14 has claimed its place at the pinnacle of hockey games. I have a hard time trying to figure out how any hockey game on the current gen systems could be made any better but I am 110% sure that the true hockey fans down at EA are already working on showing us the ultimate hockey experience in our living rooms. Until they do, all I can do is play “14” and say “Go Blackhawks!”
Final Score: 4 out of 5