The demo version of EA Sports' NHL 14 was available on Xbox Live on Tuesday, so instead of working I spent the entire day testing out the latest installment of the only hockey game available on the market. The demo offered a single period sample of this year's gameplay, a single period of the NHL 94 Anniversary Mode and a 'free skate' mode, which is essentially a single-player practice.
I've been playing the NHL franchise consistently since NHL 09 and believe the production team has sufficiently upgraded the game each year. Some think that buying a sports game annually is essentially paying $60 for a roster update, and to an extent, that's correct. NHL 14 is not dramatically different from NHL 13 if you're just looking for a hockey game to play.
But I have noticed adjustments in the series from year-to-year that have made the experience of simulating professional hockey that much more authentic. The same is true of NHL 14.
Physicality was a dynamic to the game that stood out from the moment I started playing. EA publicized this component quite extensively, and the amount of work they put into it is apparent. Last year's game focused on building momentum and simulating 'real skating,' and this is built upon in NHL 14 and utilized in the hitting system. Players need to line up checks properly or they will be put out of position. In addition, players can engage contact with the left stick, which allows defenders to slow down attacking forwards without taking an interference penalty. It's a nice touch that I felt was lacking in previous games.
The enforcer engine is another dynamic that is prominently on display in the demo. If you execute a questionable hit, there's a good chance that an opposing player is going to engage you in a fight. While you could ignore a fight in past years, NHL 14 forces you to fight dependent upon the situation. It's a really nice touch. The fighting engine is by-far the best it's been in the history of the franchise. It seamlessly fits into the action and is actually pretty entertaining. More to that point, fights happen organically if a player takes a shot on goal after the whistle or pushes an opposing player around too vigorously.
An interesting component I previously wasn't aware of was the ability to adjust a setting that they label as 'game style,' which allows the player to choose from four-settings: simulation, hardcore simulation, high impact or custom. Hardcore simulation is defined as the "most realistic" playing experience, while high impact is basically ice hockey on speed, shot through a cannon (meaning, it's really, really, really fast). In a general sense, the game seems to be faster than previous years, especially in comparison to NHL 12 and 13.
NHL 94 mode is a lot of fun. While I doubt anyone will be buying the game for this mode alone, it's a nice side-kick to the game. It's hectic, silly and seemingly great for groups of friends looking for something to do.
The soundtrack is also pretty cool, especially if you like alternative rock music.
All-in-all, the demo has me excited about NHL 14's potential. Sure, people will voice dissenting opinions because they view it as a high-priced roster update, but I think fans of the franchise will appreciate the changes to this year's gameplay. The NHL franchise has been providing a more authentic experience year-after-year and NHL 14 appears primed to continue that trend.
Hopefully, the full-version will live up to what the demo has hinted at.