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NHL 14

Score: 95%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Hockey)/ Simulation/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

When I was 12, my godfather won me a copy of NHL 95 by phoning into a radio show. At the time, I was a rolypoly blob of human awkwardness and didn't much care about the sport, though I did love to skate. However, NHL 95 ended up being one of the games I returned to the most. That being said, NHL 94 is the one that revolutionized the sport in video game form; people still cite it as one of the greatest sports games ever. EA Canada is banking on this nostalgia as they release NHL 14, which is bound to be their most polarizing release of the last several years. Before I get any further, let me make it perfectly clear that I am perhaps the most casual sports gamer out there. That's probably why I enjoyed NHL 14 so much.

NHL 14 keeps the standards for visuals in a sports game to a high watermark. Stadiums look great, the ice is polished to a glistening sheen (until it's been carved up), and the animation work is excellent. This is most apparent in the physics engine, which has been tweaked to allow for more violent collisions. One major missed opportunity is in the Anniversary Mode. It would have been better if they added the option to play with the original 16-bit graphics.

Sound design has its highs and lows. The highs are in the action and in the music for NHL 94 Anniversary Mode, which is pulled straight out of the Genesis version. It's amazing to see that the inferiority of the Genesis' sound design, when compared with that of its Super Nintendo counterpart, ultimately made it more memorable. The lows are in the commentary from Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, which rinses, repeats, and recycles at an alarming clip. Also worthy of a dishonorable mention is the lackluster licensed soundtrack.


I've temporarily alienated quite a few gamer buddies by my behavior when playing ice hockey games. My performance incentive is not in the scoreboard, but in the number of players I've injured. I don't play to win. I play to maim. The goaltender can sit and spin; if I miss a full-speed total body check, I totally give up on trying to protect him. If I literally run over someone, that's a victory. And if the gloves come off, well, that's even better. If there's blood on the ice, I've already won.

By that admission alone, you can probably tell whether or not you should trust my opinion on sports games, and if you don't, I absolutely don't blame you. But I refuse to believe that there aren't other idiots out there who are turned completely off by the utter devotion to realism in sports sims. If you are, NHL 14 is the game for you. If you aren't, that's okay, because this is still a fantastic game of hockey.

NHL 14 absolutely delivers on the casual front, but I have a strong feeling that hardcore players will find something to love, even if this release was clearly not made with only them in mind. Live the Life is a lot like Be a Legend, but features more off-the-ice events. Casual sports fan that I am, I usually turn off the television once the game's over. Press conferences and promotion events couldn't possibly interest me less. But this kind of stuff is bound to attract the hardcore players. That being said, I think the EA Sports Hockey League (create a player and grow his career online) and Hockey Ultimate Team will be the main attractions for them. GM Connected could be a big deal, but only if you've got a big group of friends who are willing to go all out and build an online dynasty. Long story short, I don't know anyone who'd be willing to do this with a moron like me. Not unless they want to go down as the most dishonorable, brutal group of amoral thugs on Xbox Live. Any takers?

The A.I. is a bit stupid, but that can be rectified by going online. If you've enjoyed a good game of hockey over Xbox Live at any point over the last four years or so, it's a nice return home. At this point, most of the online community is uncommonly skilled, so be sure you've gotten your practice in before getting thrashed on the ice.


For the last fifteen years or so, I've found the sports genre completely impenetrable. Of course, at this point, I'm simply realizing that they were not made with gamers like me in mind. For me, micromanagement and tactics are best left to actual strategy games. If it's a physical sport, I want to get right into the thick of it and cut everything completely out of the picture. So many sports games have piled on the features, hoping to capitalize on the fantasy craze. NHL 14 certainly gives you the option to partake in some of the less exciting stuff, but it doesn't place them front and center.

On the ice, the game is only as difficult as you make it. When you first boot up the game, it will ask you a few questions about your playstyle and skill. From there, the game will make a judgment on what kinds of settings you might be most comfortable with. These can be changed after the fact, of course. The established difficulty levels cover the two extremes and fill in the middle nicely. Rookie essentially sets you up against a series of bowling pins on skates and gives your opponent's goalie Attention Deficit Disorder. And on the other side...well, you remember the ending of the South Park episode titled "Stanley's Cup?"

Game Mechanics:

Above all, NHL 14 is about choice. If you prefer the dual stick control scheme that boosted the franchise into sports simulation nirvana, you can use it. All of the tricky dekes and total stick control are still available. If you yearn for a simpler time, when you could count the number of inputs on a single hand, you can adopt the retro controls. This makes the game considerably more accessible, and might even act as an entry point for players to learn the more complex nuances of the newer systems.

Let's talk about violence. In past NHL games, most turnovers were generally the result of intercepted passes and poke checks. You know, like in actual hockey. NHL 14 lets you become a psychopath on the ice, a real Happy Gilmore (you know, without the whole "stabbing people with skates" thing). If you've got the momentum and the right angle of attack, you will take someone down. Of course, this kind of playstyle invites trouble; if you lay out an important player or take a shot after the whistle, someone else will probably drop his gloves and come after you.

Is NHL 14 worth buying? To raging trolls like myself, yes. The retooled collision engine is rife with potential for carnage that never, ever gets old. If you're a hardcore simulation kind of gamer, you'll likely be turned off by some of it. What can't be denied is that NHL 14 looks, sounds, and plays well. And it honors its legendary heritage.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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