In the arena of annual sports video games, you always get the criticism of the Madden series, the praise for the NBA 2K and FIFA series’, and a bunch of other solid games in between that don’t usually make as big a splash, but are still loved by fans of that sport.
EA’s NHL series has always been one of my “under the radar” sports games. I’m not as big a hockey fan as I am a football fan, yet every year I look forward to the new iteration of the NHL series, knowing I’m going to get a fantastically well made game. Partially this is due to the fact that I don’t really have much of a choice when it comes to hockey games these days, but unlike the criticisms that have been made against the Madden series after 2K dropped out of the competition, NHL always felt like they were still putting out a quality product year after year.
This year’s NHL 14 has one goal in mind; it wants you to FEEL the action on screen. Sure there are your requisite year to year improvements and tweaks, but this year EA wants you to feel the true violence of the sport. This is none more evident than in the Enforcer Engine from Fight Night and the Player Impact Engine brought over from FIFA.
The Enforcer Engine is a complete overhaul to the old first-person fighting mechanic. Using the same system that the Fight Night series used, fights are now a completely different beast, pulling back to a third-person perspective and allowing you to see more of what going on around you. Honestly it took a little while to get used to the new mechanic, but overall it seemed simpler to use and less “punch punch punch, block, punch punch punch.” You can now push and pull and bob and weave; much more natural, and much more Fight Night-esque.
Last year’s NHL 13 introduced a new physics engine that I loved, as it made weight and momentum more of a centerpiece and gave players more of a realistic feel to skating. This year refines that experience by using many of the aspects of the Player Impact Engine from the FIFA series, which made collision physics more “noticeable.” I don’t necessarily want to say the collision physics are “better” because there are still some glitchy instances scattered about here and there where something that should have happened didn’t, but overall, popping an opponent into the boards feels a lot nicer. Also with this year’s game, you can simply skate into the puck carrier with enough speed to trigger a collision rather than mashing hip-check over and over. Yes it oversimplifies things a bit, but at the same time, it makes the overall game more violent and action packed. Just the way I like it.
As with any sports game, I spent the bulk of my time in the career modes, Live the Life and GM Mode. Like most of EA Sports’ franchise modes, GM Mode gives you all the power of controlling your own team season after season, both offline by yourself or online with your friends. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try out the online GM Mode with any friends (none of my XBL friends play NHL, and I don’t like playing with strangers), so my experience with GM Mode is mostly single player offline.

Live the Life is NHL 14’s version of the “Be a Pro” mode we’ve seen in basically every modern sports game known to man. Create a player, get drafted, and live out your created player’s entire career. The difference this year to Live the Life (Be a Pro) lies in all the off-ice stuff you can do. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the NBA 2K series’ My Player career mode.
Unlike something like Madden’s former Be a Superstar mode, Live the Life gives you a host of off-field tasks as well, such as a pre-draft questionairre, picking up sponsors, and interacting with the fans, media, and your own team. It functions just like any similar mode; get too cocky and treat your teammates badly and you your own team may end up trading you. While I like the added RPG elements to Live the Life, it basically end up like every other created player mode, and more of a tease since I love NBA’s My Player so much. Perhaps in another few years?
Perhaps my favorite feature of NHL 14 is NHL 94 Anniversary Mode, which is a huge blast of nostalgia. I remember going to my friend’s house after school to play NHL 94 on his SNES, and damn, it was cool to see it reimagined for NHL 14. NHL 94 Mode features the old school top down view, the blue tinted ice, the stars underneath the player, and the simplified control scheme that we all remember so well. However, NHL 94 Mode uses the current graphics engine and roster, so one could almost look at it as an NHL 94 HD remake.
Hockey game purists may balk at NHL 14’s attempt to cater to a wider audience, and truthfully, it does seem the focus this year is on action, and less on simulation. Even with the first time you boot up the game, you will be asked to set your Hospitality Settings (High Impact, Simulation, Hardcore Simulation) which will adjust the gameplay settings to cater the experience to your skill level.
However, like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t mind options…I never will. As long as hardcore fans can play the game however they want to and casual fans can play however they want to, then by all means, the more options the better. NHL 14 is still a very solid game. An evolution of the physics, a new fighting mechanic, Live the Life, and NHL 94 Anniversary mode makes this year’s game a hockey fan’s must buy.