Let’s forget about NHL 15. The idea of a sports game not having all its game modes—no, let’s move on. NHL 16 has a lot to make up for from last year, but the nice thing is that it doesn’t have to do too much in order to accommodate that. Luckily, a lot of heart and soul is in this year’s outing, and the best addition will be for those who really haven’t played much hockey to begin with.
The overall look and feel of NHL 16is vivacious and immersive. It’s hard not to enjoy every hit, shot, and save play out with such smooth animation. Joystick shooting is much more forgiving this year, but it’s far from a gimme. The joystick range is a bit bigger, so making decent shots on goal with average joystick usage still results in a pretty good shot. Commentary, on the other hand, is much less engaging. On-ice dialogue is forgettable and even negligible, which is quite honestly fine for any sports game, but it’s still repetitive. Even the live-action opening dialogue between Mike Emrick and Eddie Olczyk is rinse-repeat with the only variation occurring in the playoffs. On that note, it’s a bit frustrating to play as a created female player and have the commentators speak of her with male pronouns and possessives.
The small hangups revolving around gameplay are somewhat particular, but they keep cropping up on you. The first is the player’s ability to conceive the puck when it’s next to him or her. This one is more random than the other issue, but when it’s crunch time and your player will not stick the puck that’s right there, it’s hard to forget. The other issue is having the button for passing be the same as changing players. Oftentimes, the CPU would intercept the puck for me and then pass it right away, because I wanted to switch control to the player intercepting the puck, forcing me to either pass it to someone moving the wrong direction on the ice or just giving it back to the other team in my zone.
The On-Ice Trainer is unique in the sense that it constantly indicates what you should be doing at any given time, which makes progression for newcomers much faster. In almost every scenario, the above-player prompt will fade from highlighted to transparent, indicating the best action at that time with the necessary button prompt to execute it. Accompanying On-Ice Trainer is a directional aid which helps show where you should be on the ice at any given time. With these two in-game tutorials, jumping into NHL has never been easier.
Be A Pro and Be A GM are beyond immersive. Developing a player and a team always have a sense of satisfaction, but NHL does something special with that development: something I call relative XP. What’s special about relative XP is that you will earn XP based on how you play. Instead of an all-encompassing pool of XP to spend on attributes, you must earn XP by playing . For instance, XP for shooting can only be earned by shooting, and the XP goes into your player’s stats automatically, bettering your player’s ability to shoot with each successful shot on goal. The same goes for the GM: Play how you want, and your team will develop that way. You can set it so that XP can be spend manually, but the automation makes team development feel much more natural and fluid, even if the sensation of growing your team or player manually is palpable.
Network stability has been a recurring issue in most sports titles, and NHL has suffered a great deal over the years. The servers this time around seem to be more fortified, but like any online mode, everyone must have a good connection in order to experience seamless gameplay. This particularly holds true in game mode EA Sports Hockey League (EASHL), which pits a full team of six gamers against another group of six: If one person has a weak connection, then the game suffers greatly. Again, as long as everyone has good connections, playing online in any mode fares well enough.
Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT) is the standard mode for revenue, issuing player cards in order to develop a team and play through a season against other players while earning coins to buy player cards. While other sports titles, like Madden, have other game mode options within its Ultimate Team, HUT only has the season to play, which can uniquely be done both offline and online. While that’s fine, Madden, for instance, offers a long list of small scenarios to play for bonus coins, making it much easier to develop teams without having to buy cards with real money. This is somewhat compensated with consecutive day rewards, though. With that in mind, it’s easy to get hooked into HUT, as the act of investing time and effort (and possibly money) into a team raises the stakes and significance of the mode itself.
NHL 16 has come a long way from last year. The servers have been fortified, and all the game modes are present and accounted for. The gameplay itself is broadcast worthy, and despite the hiccups and limitations along the way, the progressions and additions this time around are almost impossible to ignore. NHL 16 is a must for anyone even remotely interested in the game of hockey.