I remember the first time I saw an NHL hockey game by EA Sports. It was a Sunday in 1992, I walked by a closed Compucenter store, nestled in a dark corner of the concourse level at Yonge & Bloor. The store, which I frequented, had a brand new display showcasing NHLPA for Super Nintendo. I stood there, 11 years old, with my face pressed against the window as the game’s demo mode replayed the Kings vs. Canadiens 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. Gretzsky, or what looked like a small digital #99 (on the Kings), had the puck in the corner, and placed a perfect pass to Luc Robataille for the finish… This was mind-blowing. The screen happily announced to me that the goal had been scored by “L. Robataille, Assisted by W. Gretszky”. It shattered my comprehension; that they had added the complete current NHL rosters to a video game, and that the counterparts performed reasonably like the players did in real life. Prior to that moment – Ice hockey in video games was relinquished to the choice of “Skinny, Medium, and Fat” on original Nintendo, or the fight-centric “Blades of Steel”, both of which did not have official licenses.
Needless to say, time has passed since then. Sports video games have gotten to the point, where they look so much like the real thing, that visitors to my apartment sometimes do not realize that the basketball (or soccer) game we are so involved in, is not real…
With all that said, I am not new to the NHL franchise. In fact I have bought every single version of NHL since 1993, last year (NHL16) being the first exception… After changes to the HUT system (which I will explain later) I had decided to NOT buy NHL17 (because I refuse to buy a roster update for a game that has less features than it did 10 years ago) Along came the Toronto Guardian, asking me to review NHL17 for their new video-game column, they even had a free review copy for me to dissect and criticize! EA (and the Guardian!) might regret asking me – because the bottom line is this: Anyone who loves sports games as much as me – has a love/hate relationship with EA Sports… and honestly in the last 10 years, it is more hate. Without further adieu, let’s dive into the review.
NHL by EA sports is a part of Canadian culture. As far as fun, and excitement goes in video games, there are not too many games that can compare. Much like its counterpart, the National Hockey League, hockey (in general) is just an incredibly fun, fast, and exciting sport, and it translates really well into a video game. However after 25 years, of the same basic fun and intensity that hockey brings (in any form), EA’s annual hockey game has seen fewer and fewer changes to its gameplay – and honestly it has become rather stale as far as I am concerned.
New this year are “front-of-the-net” battles, and the new “impossible to pick up the puck in the corner” feature… Seriously these new puck physics are incredibly agitating. I am extremely happy that EA decided to give us a new button to push on defense (∆/Y), but honestly I used to tie up people in front of the net in the old game, with the right analog, so calling this a “new feature” is kind of a stretch. Back from previous years are the horrible goalies that let in every floaty, pulled-back, “hadouken” wrist-shot from the hash marks. Oh, and NHL 93 wrap-arounds are also a thing again…
One bonus is that there are NEW GOALIE ANIMATIONS… the goalies aren’t smarter, or faster, or anything like that – but they have a few new animations – and will come out of nowhere sometimes to rob you of a goal that would have worked in previous editions, so there is a little progress there… However, when going online and playing in the EASHL, the goalies instantly receive a lobotomy, courtesy of EA, and perform like Jonathan Bernier’s drunk-uncle, getting undressed and scored on by Nelson Mandela…
This brings me to my main point – there is a serious LACK OF ANIMATIONS for the players themselves. It’s almost as if the developers have never even played NBA2K 😉 I hate to compare games, but I will! Every player in NBA2K has a personality along with 100s of unique animations to go with their particular play style. Not only gameplay animations, but small little animations which highly add to the realism. It is not uncommon to see a player in NBA 2K stop and tie his shoes mid-play, or adjust a part of his uniform or equipment, or become upset with a call, or even just react to in general to what is going on.
The “canned dekes” and animations that NHL has used for the last 7 years (for every player, regardless of position or skill) have gotten extremely old. Yes the left and right deke was changed slightly 2 years ago – but still – there are about 5 dekes in the game if you really think about it – and a few of them are totally useless when it comes to gameplay (ie. L1+up “puckflip”). I would like to see the addition of “player-specific” dekes, even if it is just for the different styles, or ratings, of players. I know EA does not want to make the game extremely complicated, by adding hundreds of controls, but to that, I would use their own game of FIFA as an example and counter argument. A game that can easily be played by the beginner with only 3 buttons – but an experienced user has somewhere around 50-100 dribble moves available to use at their disposal… I would also like to see ALL of the buttons used (inc. the touchpad) for useful things and new gameplay controls – especially defense controls. Bring back a cross-check/roughing button! Give me something else to push on defense to try and get the puck – think about FIFA’s defensive mechanic – I want different levels of checking!! (hard medium soft…)
– Its an NHL hockey video game.
– NEW BUTTON ON DEFENCE!! (Press ∆/Y to tie up opponents)
– NEW Goalie animations
– Goalies are terrible online.
– Picking up loose/bouncing pucks is impossible.
– No new dekes, 1000s of player animations needed. (Please invite Sid for mocap EA!)
– More defense controls needed.
New this year is an NBC logo in the corner, which as a Canadian kind of bothers me… I’m honestly not too impressed with the presentation. It is almost 1/10th as good as NFL 2K5, which came out over 10 years ago. There are no intermission presentations and only a small post-game presentation with no interviews and little-to-no analysis done by the commentators. There is no presentation of the 3 stars (I don’t want to have to push r1 to see them). The commentators are mostly recycled from previous years. I am also not really a fan of the video presentations by Eddie Olczyk and that other old dude, or the video footage of the cities in between intermissions. It seems like a cop-out that EA would spend all this time designing the insides of every stadium – but not the outside…
I’d like to see a complete overhaul of the pre-game presentation – complete with players coming off the bus, or walking through the hallways of the stadium with their bags, etc. in game graphics. Maybe some highlights from shoot-around, or a more detailed spotlight on a particular player if there is a unique in-game story attached to the star (trade, injury, hot-streak, etc.)
To some degree EA has added a few of these so I should give them credit, where it is due, in Mitch Marners home debut, in franchise mode, they showed a clip of him getting a lap around the rink from before the game. We need more small things like this!
Intermission should be COACHES CORNER in the first – with a breakdown of 3-4 highlights from the period, and highlights from around the league (in franchise mode). NFL2K5 had the technology 10 years ago to create simulated highlights of key plays from other games (that you did not control or play) that you could watch in a sports show compiled each week. If I’m Toronto, and Ovechkin is on a hot streak playing Buffalo – I want to see the highlight goal he scored in the second intermission. Heck, if I score a really nice breakaway goal – I’d like to make “sports center” myself… I’m done with scrolling through fake twitter feeds, and reading dialogue boxes to figure out what is going on in my season, but I guess adding a fully functioning “Sports Recap” show, that you can watch each week, during your franchise, complete with highlights from around the league, results, trades, signings, injuries, rumors, scandals, suspensions, etc. is too much to ask?
Its not like NFL2K did that 10 years ago with less technology and resources at their disposal….
– New cut-scenes for some player events (career milestones, etc.)
– Very little intermission/post-game presentation.
– Recycled commentators.
– NBC logo.
– No fully featured sports broadcast with highlights from around the league..
– No coaches corner.
Franchise mode has been “revamped”. In that it has brought back most of the features from previous versions of the game. I feel like I might be older than the average staff member at EA – so maybe it’s not their fault for repetitively adding and taking away the same features and calling them “new”. Returning this year is the ability to set prices of way too much stuff (honestly I don’t want to set the price of 4 different styles of Auston Matthews jersey…). The ability to re-locate a team to Markham is nice, or even create a new expansion team but Madden has been doing that for years. Gone is line chemistry – I’m sure it will pop back up next year as a “new” feature – along with “new skating physics” that look exactly the same… ;-/
Player ratings are also pretty bad – with the top 10 players of any given team getting unique ratings – and the rest being a crappy cut-and-paste job. There are identically rated players (mostly role-players) that are the same on all the teams – with minor adjustments – and I mean minor (one or two points to face-offs…). With only one roster update in October, after all teams had played about 3 regular season games, it seemed rosters were not on the top of EA’s agenda – meanwhile other sports games update their rosters hourly. This is not a case of not having the programmers or skilled workers, this is straight-up spreadsheet, low level, data-entry, and shows laziness in the developers of this game. Because the rosters are so terrible – you find the trade values in franchise mode are way off. Roman Polak is worth about the same as Mitch Marner…. Ugh. This could all easily be solved, by letting users not only create and modify, their own rosters but share them online. Trust me when I say that there are a lot of diligent people over at the Operation Sports forum (with arguably too much time on their hands) that would gladly create in-depth rosters for not only the current NHL and AHL, but also the Historic NHL and other leagues. EA sports REALLY dropped the ball on this one by not implementing any form of roster-sharing. I understand not wanting to hire a bunch of excel users to input player ratings for minimum wage, EA, but not allowing users to upload rosters they have created is one of the worst things any sports game developer can do. Also give us the ability to create a draft class to import… I’d also like to see all the presentation suggestions, from earlier, applied to franchise mode.
My last point I’d like to make is I AM DONE WITH DIALOG BOXES. This is 2016. If I talk to my player in a meeting – I want to see him – and I want him to actually talk to me. I’m sick of reading and deciphering spreadsheets of stats while playing my sports games. If I wanted to read, I’d grab a book. Start a Franchise in NHL17 and you get a grey picture of a dude, with no face, at a desk – and a dialog box saying “We’d like to welcome you as the new GM of the… yada yada”. Really EA? A dialog box? Please just dress this game mode up a bit. It really needs it. Take a week and play NBA2K franchise mode… please for all of us. Before 2K decides to steal hockey, like they did basketball (and almost football) from you guys too…
– Ability to re-locate a team or create a new expansion team.
– Lots of dialogue boxes and fake twitter feeds.
– When you score the game tells you how many goals that player has in the season.
– Rosters are horrible and not updated frequently enough.
– No ability to share rosters or upload rosters/draft classes
– Lots of dialogue boxes.
– No fully functioning sports recap show with highlights…
– No line chemistry.
– Trade values are totally out-of-whack, new algorithms and rosters needed.
– Players need more uniqueness, a “badge system” is needed to give skilled players special abilities.
Nothing has changed in Hockey Ultimate Team. It is devoid of much to do. Unless you are a great online player, and don’t get frustrated from constant garbage goals, it is pretty hard to have fun with HUT anymore. There is little incentive to build your team – and definitely not enough to do. After playing Madden’s ultimate team I can’t really take NHLs HUT seriously. Madden ships with about 200+ offline challenges, and adds more than that with updates, throughout the season with special MUT events, challenges, etc. In prior editions of HUT – there were tournaments you could enter only with specific teams made up of specific players, this was removed, and never returned. Also the ability to play “Couch Co-op” in HUT was removed, a few years back, which effectively broke the mode for me personally.
I have a roommate – and we used to have fun building our HUT team together by playing, and winning, offline tournaments co-operatively and collecting pucks/packs etc. For the last few years HUT has become a “single player experience” – basically EA wants everyone to buy their own console, and play videogames in the dark, by themselves, with all the windows boarded up – I will not comply. NHL is a social experience, and I feel EA has forgotten that in recent years. Another interesting removal from the game is the “Challenge Mode” where you could earn pucks by replaying moments from the last NHL season (and the current one). I’m sure this is another feature to come back as “new” next year. Since I refuse to play HUT anymore until there is more to do – I cannot really review it too in-depth.
– Lots of new cards, legend cards, new cards released throughout the season.
– Lots of new sets designed to give value to any card in the game.
– Some sort of new fangled chemistry mechanic I barely understand, I guess it’s a pro?
– Not much to do, only Online/offline seasons, TOTW, and one-off meaningless games.
– No couch co-op
– No Tournaments or Challenges, or reason to create different teams/lineups
EASHL was possibly the greatest innovation to the NHL Franchise in recent years. I cried a silent tear when it was omitted from the game for the first ps4 version. EASHL is back. It’s great fun – and works amazingly well. You take control of your created player – go online – team up with (up to 11) other real players online, and play a game of shinny. The goalies are terrible – especially the human controlled ones – but it makes for a ton of fun, and online excitement. It works well this year – but I still have a few major complaints. Once again EA is the king of removing features instead of just fixing the problems those features created… In previous years your player would start out terrible, and as you leveled your character up (like an RPG) he would get better/stronger/faster. This mechanic is gone, and really removes incentive to play this mode after a while. The only benefits to playing a lot, and leveling up your character/team, are cosmetic. I understand what EA is trying to do, and it involves balance. In the past one could “hack” the builds of players, by not spending attribute points in certain categories, in order to max out other attribute categories. By giving the user zero control EA can create cookie cutter builds, and balance all of the player classes accordingly. This is lazy developing again. I would like to see this re-vamped in the future – I enjoy watching my player grow and become more skilled – give me some more manipulation and customization of my players’ skills but still keep it balanced, it’s a tough task, and probably impossible – but NBA2K does a pretty good job and so does FIFA. At the very least let me adjust his height and weight. Removing that is pretty weak in my opinion… Also what happened to face scanning?
– Connection is pretty stable and finding a match with your preferred position is much easier this year.
– Arena and skater cosmetic customization is pretty good.
– No customization of your players’ skills, or height/weight.
– No face scanning
– Needs more tournaments.
BE A PRO
Be A Pro mode is by far the most un-finished part of NHL17. Since it is pretty much unfinished – I won’t finish the review of it. This mode is horrendous when compared to what 2K is doing over at their NBA studios. Dear EA sports, please play NBA2K’s story mode. Earth to EA! It’s not just “Player-Lock-with-Dialogue-Boxes-Mode” anymore! This mode has the potential for you to tell a story, a different story every year. It single-handedly gives you the opportunity to sell us the same game over and over, dressed up a little different, with a new story, each year. Once again NHL drops the ball. You are bombarded by greyed out photos of faceless people holding phones with dialogue boxes explaining everything. It really great that they included the ability to sim-to…
– Laughing at EA’s pathetic attempt at a Myplayer mode.
– Sim to next shift? More like “Sim to Close Application and start NBA2K “
WORLD CUP OF HOCKEY
Somehow this is “new” (or something), and is the “Toronto connection” for this article. It is a welcome feature, that has been part of the game for about 20 years – without the official branding, I guess… The ability to play an international tournament has kind of been a staple of NHL since the mid-90s. It is well done – and when the game shipped it was the only way to play with Auston Matthews or Nikita Zaitsev (The NHL needs to rework its CBA so that NHL18 can have its rookies added when they sign a contract/before they play a game).
If you were an alien (or from England) and you had never seen or played a hockey video game in your life, NHL17 might be the best thing ever made in history. If you are Canadian, and hockey is somewhat of a religion, this game is just a roster update. In fact – I wouldn’t mind if some sports games decided to go to “bi-annual releases” – and released a major downloadable update each “off-year”. The changes that they make now are hardly worth another download of the Frostbite Engine, or a new disk. The increasing connectivity of consoles these days, could actually make that a legitimate possibility. I would gladly pay a full “expansion-pack” price to upgrade my copy of NHL17 to NHL18.
All they really would have to do is upload a new roster, put a new splash loading screen of their cover athlete they care so much about, and maybe take away a bunch of features, so they can have something “new” for next year… #EA #IMissNFL2K