EA Sports’ NHL franchise has had a long run of success in its time. This year proves no different with NHL 18, but while it features stellar gameplay, it has begun to look dated in light of changes happening in other sports franchises.
Over the last couple years, NHL has featured a great deal of complex in-game options for puck movement by utilizing the left joystick to execute sophisticated actions on the ice, like dekes and aimed slapshots, but NHL 18 has attempted, to good effect, a means of using the controller’s face buttons to do the same actions. Some players, myself included, work better with the face buttons and don’t have the level of finesse that comes with the joystick controls. Having gameplay options is important, and NHL 18 never compromises results on the ice for ease of access controls.
Presentation is key to any game, and there’s a next level to that when a game does it amicably well. Many sports games, even MLB The Show, include fans in the stands who look like wet noodles or cardboard cutouts, but hockey is known for its riley and on-your-feet fans, and NHL18 honors them with great animations and groups of decently-animated people celebrating their teams.
Unlike the cheering fans, it’s too bad that commentation doesn’t go anywhere this year. Conversation is dated and limited, and we hear the same stuff far too often. Growth here could help see NHL 18 break out of looking up at other sports titles like MLB The Show or NBA 2K. Other sounds on the ice are great. Big hits have a solidarity to them, and skate slicking adds another auditory level of detail that’s hard to ignore. The music itself is great as well, even though a few songs fall short of the mark, which will make more menu-heavy game modes feel less of a grind (more on that in a bit).
Very little has changed with Hockey Ultimate Team, but, like the rest of the game, the menu is the nicest change. Some game genres require well-constructed menus, since a great deal of your time will be spent navigating them through various game modes, and, like all sports games, NHL is one of those games. While menus in games past have been successful, applying techniques found on phones proves to be one of the best ideas around. Acting like an app tray, the base menu has every game mode and submenu at access when you push down the joystick. From there, a quick menu can be customized to feature your three favorite game modes on your front page. That way, you won’t have to regularly sift through options to get to what you want. Other games have included last-played featurettes so it’s easier to jump back into what you were playing last, but this grants a level of accessible freedom in a genre that features many great game modes in one package.
Going back to the grind of the game, the NHL franchise needs some much-needed heart to it. Sure, you can create a player of either gender (an option I will always respect) and make your way through an NHL career, but it doesn’t have something personal or engrossing to latch onto outside of leveling your character and playing hockey. Granted, that’s the point of the mode, but other sports titles now offer that little bit extra in this department, such as an initial story with Madden’s Long Shot or NBA 2K’s MyPlayer, including scenes for key moments in your career. The game this team has put together is refined and accessible for everyone, especially with the extensive training options, but it still needs something that will give it that heart to outlast many of the big-name titles releasing in these early Fall months. The gameplay itself certainly deserves the attention.
NHL 18 is the most recent release in a long line of successful releases, but in the last couple years the sports game genre has begun to delve into more personalized experiences. While NHL 18 still features that pristine, refined gameplay with plenty of game modes to jump into, it still needs that special something to keep itself relevant with the changing times. Despite that, NHL 18 has enough to keep any hockey fan enthused for months.