While a lot of die-hard sports fans usually wrap themselves around Madden and FIFA when it comes to EA Sports, I tend to lean more towards the NHL games. That’s because each year that we get an NHL game, we see some form of evolution for the game, whether it’s minor changes to make the flow of play on the ice smoother, or a neat new figure that keeps you drawn in. Happily, I learned that NHL 18 is no exception, as it continues to show EA’s stride when it comes to all things slap-shot.
First of all, I don’t think the game has felt more balanced in recent years than it does here. NHL 18 just flows smoothly, whether you’re trying to go for a quick one-timer into the goal (which goalies usually watch out for), or using your Defensive Skill Stick to break up a play or set up a well-timed check. The game as a whole just feels more natural than ever before, thanks to strong animation transitions and controls that really keep things simplified. The poke check probably goes through the most changes, if anything, as it works a little more effectively than it has in the past. But, really, the general check is the way to go, mainly because you send some poor fool flying across the ice.
That said, there is a bit of logic involved with this year’s edition, as “quick goals” don’t seem to work as effectively as this time around, thanks to improvement in goalie performance. As a result, you’ll be finding more reliance in strategy, and thinking about where to find that perfect shot. That may infuriate those that are used to just juking the puck into the goal on the first try, but the truth be told, this’ll make you a better player in the long run. Plus, the way you can adjust line changes and even instigate fights to show dominance really brings everything together.
Those of you who still need to learn, though, can do so with the on-ice trainer, which is more in depth than ever before. You’ll learn stuff on the fly, including how to execute shots with your skill stick, as well as finding open players to help get your puck in an open hand. The new coaching drills are also extremely helpful as well, although there are some areas that could still use adjustment, like learning how to get the most from a face-off. Fortunately, it feels like second-nature, so after a few contests, you’ll get into it.
Packed With Modes
On top of regular match-ups, you can also hop online and compete against some of the best hockey players out there. Online play works really well here, and the features are stacked, so you can actually challenge appropriately, and get something for your efforts. This, tied in with your Ultimate Team accomplishments, will keep you coming back for more.
There’s also a new mode with Threes, an arcade style mode with Tim Kitzrow of NBA Jam fame announcing in a deep, gutsy voice as you take on three-on-three hockey with a number of arcade-style options, like scoring Moneypucks (for extra goals) and playing with teams with mascots. It’s not as enjoyable as Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, but it’s definitely an addition that some people will get into. I enjoyed it for awhile, but I think I prefer the straight-up approach to hockey.
There are plenty of other modes as well. The ability to build an NHL franchise from scratch with the new Vegas Golden Knights is awesome, as you really learn the depths of putting something together that works for you. Be a Pro has also returned so that you can master the nuances of hockey, should you feel so compelled. There are challenges, mind you, but if you want to learn what the sport is all about, this is the way to go.
A Good Looking And Playing Game
So there you go – you can be a pro player, build your own franchise, take on an arcade-style mode, and challenge the world. That’s not bad, even though I would’ve liked a few things to change with Threes, like maybe Kitzrow’s growling voice being more like his NBA Jam voice (though I still enjoy his return) and the AI not being so over-the-top. I like difficulty, guys, but not powerhouses. At least the Campaign Mode offers a lot to do.
Presentation-wise, NHL 18 makes the sport look better than ever. The odd facial animation aside, the players look great, the crowd details are amazingly accurate (right down to cheering fans), the arenas appear to be a lot of fun, and the animations are sharp. The replay camera could be a little less hyperactivity, but otherwise, it still looks like a champ. The running commentery featuring Doc Emrick and Eddie Olczyk is fun too, and Ray “Chicken Parm” Ferraro (yes, that’s his name) provides some enjoyable insight as well.
While NHL 18 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it keeps it spinning, and makes this sports ride highly enjoyable. Though some people may think that Madden NFL 18 defines evolution in sports in itself, I’d like to think NHL deserves its own audience as well – hockey fanatics and newcomers alike. So if it’s a rewarding, packed sports experience you want, don’t be afraid to slap the puck around.
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.