It is hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since EA Sports released NHL 94. NHL 94 is considered by many to be the best the best hockey video game of all-time. And to celebrate the greatness of NHL 94, NHL 14 features the NHL 94 Anniversary Mode. This allows you to play with the current NHL rosters but with classic controls and sounds. After playing Anniversary Mode a few times, the nostalgia wears off pretty quickly. I’m so used to the new style of NHL controls, I find it awkward going back and playing 94 style. But the nod to NHL 94 is a nice touch.
The back of the box on NHL 14 says “The Thrill of the Hit” and they brought the hitting back in a big way. When I played my first game with the Blackhawks, the ease of checking was the first thing I noticed. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. I’m sure that thought would make the hardcore hockey fan/gamer cringe, but I enjoy the increased hitting. It helps you vs. the computer, but if you play a skilled player online, you will get burned with reckless checking attempts.
In addition to the increased checking in this year’s game, NHL 14 has emphasized fighting. With the new Enforcer Engine, which uses technology from the Fight Night franchise, the fights come fast and furious – even if you don’t want them to. When I was playing a game in my season, I laid out a player with Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. Then out of nowhere one of the opposing players swoops in and starts a fight. I wasn’t given a choice to decline and avoid a trip to the box for one of my top players. I’m not too crazy about that. The fighting mechanic itself is very good. You can dodge punches and time your shots. Not every fight ends with a knockout, either. Sometimes both players will just collapse on the ice while grappling. Overall, I’m a fan of the new fighting engine. I just don’t like the way the AI can come in and start a fight automatically. But, I suppose, that’s the price you pay if you are an over-aggressive checker; which I am.
I’ve also found it easier to score this year vs. the AI – which is a good thing. One of my biggest issues with NHL the last few years is how hard it is to score. I always play on all-star level and I refuse to go lower, even when I can’t score. Even when you played against the worst teams, their goalie would play like Dominik Hasek in his prime – amazing glove saves, the splits, diving across the goal for a save – you name it. I can’t tell you how many games I played where I outshot the AI 25-12 but lost 2-1. Last year if I had three goals in one game, that was an offensive explosion (with one being an empty-net goal). This year I’ve already had a few 5-goal games. I’m not lighting it up every game, but scoring is not the chore that it used to be.
NHL 14 has revamped its Be a Pro Mode and renamed it Live the Life. In Live the Life Mode you will give interviews and the answers to you questions will impact your standing with fans, teammates, and even your family. Live the Life is similar to NBA 2K’s My Career Mode. If individual game modes are your thing, you’ll enjoy Live the Life. Those game modes have never really interested me. I always have preferred the team game.
NHL brings back all the other popular game modes from last season: Connected GM, Hockey Ultimate Team, the EASHL, and NHL Moments Live, making this another solid NHL title. But this franchise has hit the peak for this generation. I’m looking forward to the next.
Score: 8 out of 10