NHL 16 Review
NHL 15 was a lackluster effort from EA, and everybody knew it. The excuses were many – new hardware to deal with for example – but they were all the same excuses other sports titles could have used, but didn’t. NHL 16 had a lot of rectifying to do, not only with the sport it was trying to accurately recreate, but also the fan base who ‘went home’ disappointed after a night at the rink in NHL 15. So, does NHL 16 fix all the problems present in last years premier hockey title?
After your first or second game in NHL 16, you will think things are pretty much the same this years as they were last year. This is true, especially if you strictly play on Rookie or Pro difficulty settings. However, once you start moving into Allstar or Superstar, the new skating mechanics began to show their potential. Yes, the new more realistic skating is available in all difficulty levels, but you never really feel the flow unless you are playing against more intelligent AI, who will most definitely limit your space in the offensive zone.
The new skating ability is less apparent on defense, an already fairly accurate replication of the real thing – and made more realistic with slightly toned down hitting. However, the mechanic has completely changed my approach to playing in the offensive zone. In past NHL titles, I felt that the offensive cycle game prominently seen in the NHL was poorly recreated in the video games. Sure, board play (added a few years ago) improved things, but trying to cycle the puck around never felt real. That has changed. The first time you ‘walk the blue line’ with your defenseman, you will know exactly how much.
The game gives you multiple game styles to choose from. I tend to play a more realistic simulation version then the last realistic arcade version. Across all the different modes, however, the game basically feels the same, except in two scenarios: Be a GM and Be a Pro.
Be a GM
Be a GM (General Manager) mode has been revamped for NHL 2016. This mode allows players to approach the game from a more analytical and business minded point of view. You will have to manage player contracts, manage players expectations, and create a lineup that will mesh well and lead you to the Stanley Cup. All of this must be done under a strict salary cap.
A new added feature this year is having to contend with player personalities. Certain players may become disgruntled with their playing time, might not mesh well with other players in the locker room, or many other odd situations. As the GM, it is your job to evealuate these more ‘difficult’ players and determine their value to your club. It is an added layer over last year that keeps the Be a GM mode fresh and exciting.
Be a Pro
Be a Pro mode tasks you with, well, being a professional hockey player. You can begin in either the CHL, AHL, or NHL, and it is your job to be a part of your teams championship run. Depending on where you begin your career, you will work towards promotions to higher level leagues, bigger salaries, more playing time, and potentially captaincy. Last years entry saw numerous overhauls to the system, including a more realistic post game interview scenario where your answers to reporter questions could have a positive or negative affect on your teammates and coaches.
One thing lacking from last years title was the ability to skip to your next shift. If you took a line change, you were required to sit on the bench and wait until it was your turn again. Even more frustrating is sitting in the penalty box after you’ve received a five minute major. This change has been received very well by critics and fans alike.
The Most Realistic Game Yet
I’ve yet to decide whether this is a positive for EA’s NHL brand or a negative. For the hockey aficionado such as myself, the more realistic the better. However, I’ve noticed people complain about a number of things, complaints I will quickly debunk below:
1. Scoring goals in certain areas is still “too easy” and “cheap”: This is obviously going to happen, and these players are probably playing on an easier difficulty. The thing about hockey is that even when a team defends well, there are still high percentage shot areas on the ice, or more simply, areas where shots have a higher percentage of going in. On Rookie, you generally have free reign of the offensive zone, and getting to these areas is very easy. In a 15 minute game, I can rack up 20 goals on Rookie, no problem. Is 20 goals unrealistic? Yes, but its a nature of the difficulty level, not EA’s inability to create a realistic experience. A good rule of thumb: the more difficult the settings, the more realistic the game. If these goals are going in too frequently on Rookie and Pro, try out Allstar. Trust me, getting to those areas with the puck in the first place will be very hard.
2. Line stamina regeneration takes too long: again, we are dealing with a complaint from someone who doesn’t enjoy a realistic hockey experience. In previous years, even if I had 4 lines of forwards, my forth line would often NEVER get on the ice, and my third line rarely did. This is because with automatic line changes, the second the stamina bar on line one was full, they were back on the ice. This isn’t realistic as cycling 4 lines during a hockey game is incredibly important. Fans of the Be a GM mode will definitely like this addition; in previous titles, who you put on your fourth line rarely matter because they would never play anyways. NHL 16 changes all of that, for the better in my opinion.
Hockey Ultimate Team
I didn’t plan on running down every mode because there isn’t a lot of variation in many of them, except perhaps your ‘end goal.’ However, Hockey Ultimate Team deserves special mention. I find this to be the best mode NHL 16 – and NHL 15 and 14 for that matter – has to offer. Perhaps it brings back fond memories of collecting hockey cards as a kid. What I do know for certain, however, is that there is something exciting about spending coins you’ve earned playing Hockey Ultimate Team on new hockey card packs. Seeing what players you get inside is half the excitement, and dealing with your doubles on the HUT marketplace – via auctions and trades – keeps the game fresh day after day. Even people who prefer the buying and selling of players over actually playing the game will enjoy hunting for good bargains. Afterall, in life you always want to buy low and sell high, right?
It is for this reason that I wish HUT had a real world component to it, with player stats rising and falling with how they play in the real NHL games. This could potentially change the price of players on the market, and those who are looking to ‘win now’ will have to pay to get the best players.
The best addition to HUT is the inclusion of single player seasons, something available in other EA Sports titles, such as FIFA. This allows players who don’t often play online to have a goal and reason to build their team with better players.
NHL 16 is the best hockey game EA has ever made, hands down. While there still are a number of things that need to be looked into and upgraded – hopefully as free updates instead of just adding them to next years game – the overall quality and polish of this title should be applauded. EA Sports have made up for disastrous that was NHL 15, and hopefully fans who were scared away after last seasons game will give NHL 16 a fair look.
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