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NHL 24 Review (PS5) – Finding A Balance

NHL 24 Review (PS5) – Every fan of annualized sports titles really just hopes that this new release, improves the game in a significant way. That this is the one that’ll step it up, because then that means we can expect a better standard for another couple years.

An extra dream I’d add on is that it’ll return to feeling as good as it felt back when you were a kid, and there was that one year you still think about, because it was just so fun.

While NHL 24 doesn’t exactly hit that dream mark, it is definitely an improvement on last year’s series entry, and it also brings a lot of new changes to the ice this time.

The new Exhaust Engine, the new physics based combat, and vision passing all work to find a new balance between an excellent hockey simulator and the arcade-feeling gameplay that keeps it enjoyable for newcomers and veterans alike.

All wrapped in possibly the best looking NHL game ever, fans have a lot of reasons to be happy this year.

NHL 24 Review (PS5) – Finding A Balance


Exhaustingly Cool

While some years with the NHL series have felt closer to a hockey simulation and others feel closer to an arcade version of hockey, the Exhaust Engine looks to strike a balance between those.

Players now all have meters which show how tired they are, and when their energy is at its lowest on a long shift, that’s when the chance to see some incredible animations kicks in, as players will make last-ditch effort plays you previously wouldn’t see in NHL.

The same goes for goalies, who have their own meter that depletes faster if you’re able to sustain offensive pressure. Keeping the puck in the offensive zone for an extended period will even get the crowd chanting your team’s name, and with the goalie’s meter depleted, you’ve a better chance for a goal.

Or an unbelievable save, which can at times be just as satisfying to see. The Exhaust Engine is the best improvement I’ve seen to the simulation side of the NHL series in a while.

It’s also, in its own way, a little arcade-y, as some last ditch effort plays or saves sometime seem so unbelievable they really are. I won’t lie that I felt robbed more than a couple of times on plays that I was sure would’ve been goals.

But even that just shows how well done this new exhaust engine has been implemented. This new engine, on top of the improved physics system, makes for the best on-ice action I’ve seen in the NHL series yet.

Flashy And Slow

The unfortunate truth for annualized games is that some things just stay unfixed, year after year, and one point that’s been a sore spot for me has been the menus. Honestly, I don’t understand why they’re as flashy as they are, when that seems to result in them failing at the one thing they need to do.

Be quick, and easy to use. The menus are difficult, though not in the normal way you’d use that word when talking about video games. They lag, constantly – you’ll see more technical issues in the menus than you will in actual gameplay.

I understand that a huge part of these games has always been the overall presentation, and that’s something that stretches further than on ice. In my years playing NHL games I’ve thought each new menu felt like trying to keep up with what the team thought would look cool to players, with middling success in my eyes.

This years menus are focused on having plenty of flash around them, with different players constantly mid-animation in the background, and transitions that I suppose don’t look awful but the time they take is unacceptable.

I’d much rather have as vanilla as possible a menu that’s very quick and doesn’t seemingly take forever to go from one menu layer to another.

What makes my gripes with the menus feel worse is just how incredible the presentation is when you actually get in-game. This is the best the NHL series has ever looked, goal celebrations look great, how the crowd gets into the game makes it all feel more real, and the moment-to-moment commentating and highlights are better than ever.

Due in part by the inclusion of Cheryl Pounder as a new colour commentator for each game. More than ever NHL 24 is able to recreate the broadcast experience I get when watching NHL games at home, in game form.

So why can’t the menus get some of the tender love and care the in-game presentation gets. For a game with multiple modes that have you spending a lot of time in menus, the fact that they’re as bad as they are is pretty much unacceptable.

Be A Pro-fessional Robot

Last year, ‘Be A Pro-fessional Robot’ was the subheading I used when talking about how disappointed I was that the Be A Pro mode had gotten no update from NHL 22, and was still just a series of boring, lackluster conversations with your coach and press, with a poor character creator that makes the mode an overall bore.

I’m using the same subheading this year, because EA Vancouver also didn’t change anything with the Be A Pro mode. There’s nothing that’s been done to revitalize the mode, and its again a sore spot in NHL.

What should be one of the main focuses, considering that dream of making the NHL, let alone winning the Stanley Cup is almost definitely a dream that anyone who’s going out to buy NHL every year has had.

Living that fantasy in-game has the chance to include all the drama and stakes that it would have in reality, and it is consistently upsetting to see that the mode is just the same boring conversations in-between what I actually feel is a solid way to play NHL.

I’ve always been a fan of sticking to playing just one player, and approaching the game more how I would were I actually lacing up my own skates. I don’t even really mind having to sit on the bench in-between shifts, though that’s kind of a slog with full 20 minute periods.

It’s just disappointing that a mode which could easily be a huge draw each year for players to want to see what’s new be so bland, especially when you can take your created character online with you, which is clearly where most of the attention goes.

Hockey Ultimate Team or HUT is as flashy as ever, and while I appreciate the team I’ve begun creating, and do enjoy participating in Squad Battles, it’s still a grind that tries to squeeze out every dollar from you that it can.

Finding A Balance

For me, what makes NHL 24 even worth a look is the exhaust engine. It’s the actual game-changing addition that brought a new feel to how NHL 24 plays, and it’s better for it.

I still don’t like the menus and how slow everything feels. In an age where Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 can fast travel you across its sprawling NYC space in seconds, and SSD’s power the fastest loading times we’ve ever seen in the history of gaming, why I’m seeing issues just switch game modes or menus in NHL 24 is beyond me.

Not saying I’m any kind of expert, I’m sure there’s an explanation for it, but that doesn’t change that my end experience doesn’t match up with what other games in the industry are looking like. Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is only just the latest example of new, current generation games that don’t have issues like this.

The lack of anything being done to the Be A Pro mode is also extremely disappointing, at the very least I’d like to see a much better character creator next year, especially if the idea is that I could create this player in my own image and then build an online team around them.

Franchise mode and season mode remain a solid time for those, like me, who mainly want to ignore the online scene, and overall I’d say this year’s entry into EA Sports annualized hockey series is a strong package.

NHL 24 is now available on PS5 and PS4.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.

Score

7

The Final Word

NHL 24 hits the ice in a much stronger way than NHL 23 did last year, due in large part to the brand new exhaust engine, which strikes a good balance between NHL 24 feeling like a hockey simulator and a fun, arcade-y video game to play with friends. The lack of any changes to Be A Pro mode is once again disappointing, and HUT is still trying to squeeze out every dollar from you, but it's an overall strong package for hockey fans to pick up.