(Played on PS4)
NHL 15 and WWE 2K15 were both games that were mixed bags on the PS4/XBOX One. Both games had sensational graphics and played well enough, but due to the move to a new generation of gaming, both games found themselves scaled down in terms of features offered. It led to a schizophrenic gaming experience and caused some reviewers to dish out relatively low review scores as consequence. I’ll be looking at the 2016 versions of both franchises in the coming months, starting today with NHL 16
This was an area which I immediately struggled to come to a fair assessment and I’ll explain why. I’m afraid that people who have read a bit of my work over the past month or so are going to be rather tired of me going to this well continually, but I can assure you that it’s merely coincidence that I visit it again on this occasion. Yes, I’m afraid I’m going to talk about the games difficulty. For those sick to the back teeth of me talking about difficulty levels in video games, you might want to skip the next paragraph and go and have a cup of tea/nice cake/both. It’s okay, I’ll meet up with you afterward, have a nice cake on me! (Only figuratively of course, I ain’t buying you no cake)
So here we go. NHL 16 has four levels of difficulty, starting with “Rookie” level moving all the way up to “Superstar” level. As is now customary with EA titles, the very first time you switch the game on it takes you to a pre prepared match, in this case Chicago Blackhawks Vs Tampa Lighting, where you can dive straight in and start playing right away. When the game first opens up it gives you the choice of what difficulty you’d like to play this opening game on. Seeing as I hadn’t played an NHL game since the 2014 edition, I decided to choose Rookie just to get a feel of where I was at. One easy 8-0 win later and I decided to move up to the next level, which was Pro. The difficulty curve was outrageous. Suddenly I was losing every face off, the computer players were barging past me at will and I went something like 4-0 down in a matter of minutes. I have no idea why the game takes such a humongous leap in difficulty like this and it’s certainly something others have picked up on. I enjoyed a particularly hearty rant from an Indian gentlemen about how cheap the game was whilst I was playing online last night. I switched on my PS4 this morning and saw that an update for NHL was downloading. It could very well be a patch to fix the difficulty. As it currently is, the difficulty makes playing the game either unsatisfyingly easy or frustratingly difficult.
For those of you who skipped that paragraph, welcome back! Would you mind wiping away those cake crumbs before we go on with the review though? Thank you. So rant about the difficulty aside, the game plays fluidly and can be a lot of fun to play when against a human player. The most fun I’ve been having with it has been 6 Vs 6 online play, where each squad member is controlled by a human player. The only problem is when people drop out mid game and get replaced with CPU controlled bots, as the team in question have an immediate advantage and it hurts the experience.
The right analogue controls the hockey stick itself while the left analogue controls your players movement. Pressing R1 allows you to poke your stick towards the puck while on defence and R2 allows you to change which player you control. While on offence, pulling back the right stick and moving it forward will let you fire off an almighty “Slap Shot” while just pushing it forward will let you carry out a slightly more conservative wrist shot. It’s incredibly satisfying to wind up and unleash a powerful slap shot and it’s equally satisfying to plough into an opposing player just as he’s about to unleash one of his own and see him crumple onto the ice, a quivering broken mess. As this is a hockey game, you can also indulge in a good old fashioned punch up with an opposing player by pressing the Triangle button. However, the fights are clunky and not really fun to do. It’s also especially annoying when you play online and it takes up to 5 minutes to wind down 5 seconds of clock time as everyone decides to start throwing haymakers at each other instead.
Plenty on offer here, with GM Mode for your Offline play and a plethora of Online modes for you to get your teeth sunk into, including Ultimate Team and Penalty Shootouts. GM Mode can be fun but it feels most of the time like a hopeless slog with no end in sight. This owes both to the nature of a real life hockey season as well as the game settings.
On a game like FIFA, you might end up playing 50-60 games in one year of career mode, but you can shorten the games down to 2 minute half’s should you desire and that allows you to get through the game with slightly more speed. The shortest amount of time allowed for a period in NHL 16 is 3 minutes. Add to that all the stoppages and, admittedly excellent, match presentation and it takes a while to get through even one match.
Then add to THAT the 84 games your NHL Franchise will have to play before even reaching the post-season (And the 76 your AHL team will have to play if you want to control them) and GM Mode is something that only people with a lot of free time will be able to get to the end of. You can play GM Mode for up to 25 in-game years should you desire. Considering the fact that if you decide to play every game your NHL and AHL teams have to play, and this is only if you don’t make the Play Offs and decide to skip the pre-season games, it will take you at least 1440 minutes hours to complete just the one year, you’re going to need A LOT of free time to get to all the way to that 25th year. Saying that, someone out there has probably already done this and has the wrist injury to prove it.
Would it have killed EA to add the option for 2 minute periods as opposed to stopping at 3? It would have really shaved off some time for people like me who wanted to get to the end of a season but just didn’t have the time. GM Mode is an interesting mode to play and having to balance player morale while also bringing in results is both challenging and well imagined. Sadly the mode is extremely elongated when put alongside the FIFA and Madden Series. This is partly owing to the fact that an NHL season is a very long process, but the game could have included ways of making the mode go by quicker. You can simulate matches, but that strikes me as missing the point. For those who think I’m just nitpicking, 2 minute periods would mean a minimum 6 minutes a game which would come to 960 minutes. That’s a huge difference and would make the mode imminently nippier for those who haven’t the time to invest such a huge amount of hours.
The game wins big points here. It looks fantastic and the match day presentation is recreated excellently. You get an authentic NHL experience and that is massively to the games credit. The game itself has clearly been worked on by people with a passion for the sport and the presentation is a dedicated and elegant homage to the sport. I have literally no complaints here whatsoever. The commentary is excellent, the graphics are delicious and the crowd noise is authentic. Big thumbs up!
There’s no way I could say this is a bad game, because it certainly isn’t. It has definite strengths and has clearly been made with respect for its subject matter. However, the game is not without its flaws and they stop it just short of being a great game. As it is, it’s a strong attempt from EA that is let down by its unreasonable difficulty curve and its artificial prolongation in certain modes. If you’re a Hockey Fan, I think you’ll still find lots here that you will like. If you’re not a hockey fan the difficulty and labyrinth GM Mode might put you off.