Well, it's finally mid-September! That means training camps open, pre-season is only a couple weeks away, and as of right now the start of the opening season is in 20 days:6 hours:30 minutes
What this time of year also means is that one of the most successful video game franchises releases its latest edition. EA Sports' NHL franchise is one of the best selling and most successful franchises in all of video games. It seemed as though this year there wasn't quite as much hype surrounding NHL 14. Has NHL run into the same dilemma that Madden ran into a few years back? Is it just too good of a game to keep improving?
The issue is that what the NHL franchise is improving isn't really that exciting. Skating engines, physics engines, enforcer engines...it's all just kind of reinventing the wheel. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with this year's rendition, but after having it for about 24 hours I am HIGHLY impressed with every aspect of the game.
True Performance Skating: Last year EA Sports introduced a new skating engine called True Performance Skating. It was a bear to get used to at first and made the gameplay seem much slower, but after a while it was enjoyable. It made the skating much more realistic and difficult. No more turning on a dime at full speed. No more instantaneous change of direction. However, there were a few flaws with it. Turning at high speeds, especially with skilled skaters, seemed too difficult. This year they revamped the system and it's MUCH better. Turning and agility moves are somewhere in between where they were last year and NHL 12. Backwards skating has improved, and they have also added defensive strafing while skating backwards. The strafing is a huge addition to the backwards skating and allows for better angles when defending on the fly. The only issue I have with the new skating engine is that they changed to a one-stick hit system. Before, you would skate with the left stick and hit with the right stick. It was difficult to time it up perfectly, but with practice it was fine. Instead, they have switched to using just the right stick for hitting as well. Essentially, all you have to do is skate into somebody to check them. While it is efficient, it's difficult to skate around players and avoid interference penalties for accidentally skating into players and knocking them around. The only way to avoid it is to let off the left joystick and glide, or press poke-check. Maybe it's just going to take some time to get used to, but as of right now I'm not a fan.
One-Touch Dekes: By far one of the biggest improvements in the game are the new One-Touch Dekes. In previous years the deking was great if you were Pavel Datsyuk, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, or Claude Giroux. However, to make a quick move to avoid a check or split the D it was near impossible. Not to mention to perform a deke it involved 3 different actions at once, and if you didn't get it right it was a complete failure. This year EA Sports introduces One-Touch Dekes. You simply press the LB button to perform the deke in the direction you're skating. You can also press into one of the four quadrants with the left joystick while skating to perform quick dekes. Top-left and top-right are quick moves, while bottom-left and bottom-right are toe-drag, cutback moves. The other dekes are still at your disposal via use of the right joystick as well. I absolutely love this feature.
Enforcer Engine: This is a pretty cool innovation to the franchise. A few years back fighting was revamped and made first-person. However, all you really had to do was dodge one punch from the opponent and then smash the joystick forward as fast as possible in order to win a fight. There wasn't really strategy involved with fighting. This year fighting takes on a new look. Instead of behind first person the view is now third person. Also, drama is added to the fight as player now throw off their gloves, take off their helmets, and circle in preparation for the fight. Another cool change was the fact that the rest of the team stays on the ice during the fight, and other scuffles and fights can break out. Before the ice would be empty with just you and the other fighter. Also, grappling is now a choice, and fighting is much more strategic with improved dodging, blocking, jabs, and uppercuts. Fatigue also plays a huge factor during fighting. Overall the fighting itself has improved majorly, but the biggest overhaul to fighting is the new Enforcer Engine. Let's say I'm playing as the Flyers against the Penguins. I'm controlling Scott Hartnell and absolutely level Sidney Crosby as he's skating through the neutral zone. From across the ice comes Chris Kunitz to back up his star teammate and engages Hartnell in a fight. This is a pretty sweet new feature of the game, but it can get a bit overboard. Some games I'll find that every time I lay out a big hit it results in a fight. It's cool, but it can be annoying sometimes. I suggest turning down the frequency of fights, espcially if you're playing a rival team.
Live the Life: This is the new rendition of Be-A-Pro. I started as a center in the CHL playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Be-A-Pro was always one of my favorite modes to play in and this year is no exception. My only gripe is that the question and answer portion of the game mode is a little...corny and redundant. It's a cool idea, and the 2K series of sports games does it very in the My Player game modes, but with NHL 14 it's the same questions and answers after every game. Down the road there may be some different questions, or at least I hope so, but to this point I'm not too impressed by that aspect. The gameplay is also a ton easier. My biggest complaint in the past with Be-A-Pro was that All-Star was slightly to easy, while superstar was pretty much impossible. I started with the difficulty at All-Star and in 14 games I have over 30 points and a few hat-tricks. I haven't yet switched to superstar but once I do I'll report back.
Other than that I haven't had a chance to check out other features like Goalie Mode, the Dynamic Rating System, and how the Hockey Ultimate Team is this year. I have yet to play online and have only played one Quick Game as the Flyers against the Penguins. I played on All-Star difficulty and was up 4-0 at the end of the second. It seemed like a breeze playing on All-Star, but it could have been a fluke. I started a GM-Mode as well and made it through to resigning and free-agent phase. It's a lot more difficult to make ridiculous trades now, even with the trade difficulty set one Easy. I usually like to acquire Datsyuk and it took me quite a bit to do it this time around, haha. I'll get a better feel for the gameplay difficulty comparison once I play 10-15 games or so on the GM mode.
Overall I am actually very impressed so far. The skating and fighting is so much better and Live the Life is much improved over Be-A-Pro.
Anyone else have any input?