In some ways, EA will always be chasing the ghosts of the 1990s when it comes to recapturing the days when its NHL games were the most beloved of all sports titles — not only dorm room staples but guest-starring in movies such as Swingers and Chasing Amy. Those games had terrible graphics and barely respected the rules of the game, but they managed to translate the joy and spirit of the game. In NHL 17, developers strive to simplify gameplay as much as possible, removing obstacles that stand in the way from casual fans from being able to play like pros. Some may complain that the action is dumbed down, but it’s tough to deny this is the most exuberant rendition of pro hockey in decades.
Game: NHL 17
Consoles: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 13
If you haven’t picked up a hockey game since you were a kid, the new semi-pro difficulty, combined with the classic control setup, will be the way you want to start NHL 17. Eschewing the analog stick-driven controls for checks, passes and angling, just a few face buttons handle your entire arsenal of needs. Forgiving AI allows you to pull off one-timers and deep slap shots with reliable ease, and you can take out frustrations by easily starting fights at will. What’s onscreen barely resembles an actual hockey match, but you’ll have more heedless fun here — especially against real-life opponents — than you’d have if you ratcheted up the difficulty and opted for precision controls.
For serious gamers who spend hours refining their technique and spend their nights bashing skulls in online leagues, the bones of the sim they thrive on are not only still here, but juiced up with a greater sense of realism and precision. There are also plenty of new game modes to check out. The most popular will undoubtedly be World Cup of Hockey, which lets you take control of a national team of your choice to battle for bragging rights on a global stage — rejiggering the rosters and lineups at your whim. Going the extra mile when it comes to licensing, EA managed to snag the likenesses of retired players who still compete for their national teams, such as Russia’s Pavel Datsyuk.
EA Canada took a step beyond in fan service by also adding a sizable roster of legendary players, which you can draft, cut and trade for in another new mode — Draft Champions. The answer to barstool debates, you gather up a group of competitors and take turns in a 12-round draft filling out your roster with a mix of current players and greats from the past. You may find yourself so fascinated with tinkering with your dream roster that you’ll forget to guide your lowly real-life team through an unlikely Stanley Cup run. Another indulgence for control freak dreamers is franchise mode, which lets you micromanage all financial aspects of your team, including uprooting it and moving the entire team. If you want to bring back the Quebec Nordiques or plop yet another team in SoCal, here is your mode.
NHL 17 may not be a revolution for EA’s annual hockey effort, but it’s a breakaway in a fresh direction. The nods to newer players will only expand the audience, adding to the raging online community that’s gathered around the MMO-style online leagues, and the rock solid presentation and barely-noticeable tinkering to the on-ice action that has been close to perfection for years incrementally strengthens the lifelike aspects of the game. Developers at EA Canada managed to pull off the unlikely hat trick of appealing to lapsed players, appeasing veterans and pushing the technology and performance forward in meaningful ways. Real-life NHL preseason is still a couple weeks away, but this game’s release demands that it’s time to play hockey right now.
NHL 17 Reviews Around The Web:
“There are some new features and improvements, but nothing mind-blowingly innovative. That’s perfectly fine.” –Destructoid
“The new additions don’t add anything crucial to the experience. It’s still a lot of fun to trade players in Franchise, build a formidable roster in Hockey Ultimate Team, and actually play matches.” –GameSpot
“The actual affair of playing hockey is more exciting than it’s been in years.” –CGMagazine
NHL 17 Screenshots
The publisher provided a review copy.
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