EA is offering their first look and details on NHL 14, slated for release September 10th in North America, and September 13th in Europe. I will break down my thoughts on what they showed, what they didn’t and what I expect.
NHL® Collision Physics – Developed from the same core technology that powers EA SPORTS FIFA’s critically-acclaimed Player Impact Engine, NHL® Collision Physics introduces bigger, more thrilling hits, and truer-to-life collisions. A new left-stick control scheme makes delivering a game-changing hit simpler and more rewarding than ever.
EA has been touting their “real physics” engine for a number of years now for the NHL series. Sadly it’s been a disappointment in my opinion. NHL 11 had enormous, over the top hits that gave it that arcade-like feeling. NHL 12 did manage to bring in some realism by lowering the arcade style hits, but overall made hitting ineffective as you’d fall on your ass or bounce off Martin St Louis sized players when you’re the size of Mike Komisarek, and finally with NHL 13 they’ve came really close but they’re still off the mark with their physics. The only player in the NHL I could see players skating into with the puck and falling over while the player maintains momentum is Chara, but in NHL 13 you can hit players of any size and you arbitrarily can fall down for no reason.
If this collision physics engine can make body checks feel more genuine, then this is the most exciting change in my opinion. However given their past of failing to meet my expectations, I feel EA will mess this up somehow.
Enforcer Engine – There is a code in hockey, when it’s broken you have to respond. A first for the NHL franchise, Fight Night technology delivers a new 3rd person experience, physics-based punch targeting and player size differentiation to every fight, creating the most authentic and electrifying experience yet.
Fighting plays such a minor role in the game that this is probably the least notable change. While it’s true the fighting engine needed to be updated at some point, it’ll end up being a novelty feature after the first few months. “This is the greatest fighting experience ever in an NHL game” said no one ever.
One-Touch Dekes – Experience what it feels like to be a superstar through a new, more responsive deking system controlled only with the left stick and one-button. From beginner to advanced gamers, the system allows for quicker reactive dekes and intuitive combination dekes, creating more moves than ever before.
While I can perform every single deke there is with the current system, some of the more advanced ones require a certain level of dexterity and timing, so if this makes some of those dekes easier to do or gives more flexibility to the “danglers” great! Just be on the lookout for players with QC or lots of Xs in their usernames, you’ll get burned.
True Performance Skating – Built on the breakthrough innovation that introduced physics-based skating and over 1,000 new skating animations to the EA SPORTS NHL franchise. The second year of the True Performance Skating features improved acceleration, explosive first-strides, quicker pivots and enhanced lateral skating, resulting in greater player responsiveness and unprecedented control.
I hated the skating engine when it first came out, but I knew that it would take EA at least two years to get the skating engine to a more enjoyable state. The current system has mobility issues and it’s not as intuitive for turns as I’d like. EA did fix a lot of my major issues with their patch, but the engine still needs a lot of fine-tuning.
Live the Life – The new incarnation of the Be a Pro Career Mode, now you can truly Live the Life of an NHL player. On or off the ice, every decision you make shapes your legacy as an athlete. Interact with teammates outside of the rink. Take part in media interviews. Each choice you make will affect your relationship with fans, teammates and management, influencing your skills and progression.
So when I hook up with some puck bunnies and I knock one of them up, don’t step up as a father and become a dead-beat does that mean my team won’t sign me for 8m long-term? Better make sure I hit the pharmacy for some condoms, or maybe I can book a vasectomy at my local hospital. Who needs that drama?
While I kid, if I wanted to play an RPG, I’d play an RPG. This will be another novelty feature that will wear thin after a month when you keep getting the same interviews, interactions, and fan support/hatred.
EA SPORTS NHL Online Seasons – NHL 14 adds the best-in-class promotion and relegation system in the sports category to the Hockey Ultimate Team & EA SPORTS Hockey League modes. Win games and advance to the next division to face tougher competition, fall short and see your team bumped down. Teams will be able to track their progress across multiple seasons.
This is a great addition to EASHL and HUT. This type of progression system has been needed for a long time, especially when in playoffs you’re getting matched up against teams outside of your division, usually in my case against Top 100 teams, so I’d get dumped. Any type of tracking system will encourage most teams to try and stick it out to improve their progression, but there wil lbe a few that recreate if their record is bad. (40-4-1 is such a bad record right?)
What isn’t mentioned are any improvements to the AI. The AI in NHL 13 is absolutely terrible, especially with the skating engine. There are some games where you have the greatest AI you have ever seen in your life and you’d have their virtual babies in the Live the Life mode, and other games where you either rage-quit or you want to hang yourself because of how atrocious their defense or goaltending is. I played a 2s game (I know, play 6s, shut up) where the user skater would come in the zone, LEAVE the zone putting his AI team-mates offside sit at center ice and just as my teams defense would move up towards him he’d turn around, go full speed and skate around the defense. Every. Single. Time. I have never in my life seen a breakaway start from center ice, as the furthest man back, with an entire team being cones.
The trailer below is a mix of real footage with in-game footage and it’s more of a teaser than a trailer. It briefly shows off some of the above additions, nothing on Live the Life, none of the skating improvements. Instead they focus on the fighting and the creativity with passes and one touch dekes. Expect more detailed information at E3 in June.