EA Sports has been in the sports game business for a long time. Since 1988 with the first release of John Madden Football they have been putting out sports games yearly. I hear people complain that there are no significant changes, just roster switches, sometimes updated graphics, and a few control tweaks.
I am a huge hockey fan, specifically of the Detroit Red Wings. I have been playing the NHL games since 2010. I feel that what EA Sports has been doing with this series is anything but just roster changes and tweaks. With NHL 16 they have almost reinvented how people can play the game.
Control Your Destiny:
We can start with character customization, which is the first thing I check out when I play a sports game. The exciting change this year with your personal characters are the beards. Beards are a huge hockey tradition and your player’s beard will actually grow during the playoffs. The longer the playoff run, the longer the beard. Along with beards, they have added more equipment choices, colors, names, and the return of female characters.
After you create your character, you can go into Be A Pro Mode, which lets you play through your final days of your minor league career before you get drafted to an NHL team.
When I hopped in, the first thing I noticed was a bunch of new UI cues that I had never seen before. EA Sports has added helpers such as passing arrows, which allows you to see exactly where your pass will land. This is a nice addition because you can now receive a pass while in stride, which makes the game feel so much smoother. There is also an aiming assistant that will place a blue grid over the opponent’s net. Using your left stick to aim, a target is placed on the net showing you where your shot will be fired, making you more accurate. These additions make it so much easier for players, especially those new to the game, to have confidence in how they are playing.
The next thing I noticed was whenever I did something right, my skater would gain experience. Make a good pass? Gain some XP. Score a slick backhand goal, gain a lot more XP. But on the flip side you can attempt a pass that is intercepted and lose some experience. Call for a pass at a bad time? Lose more experience. This gives great balance to how your player develops as well as how you develop as a player. How you play actually affects the role your skater takes on the team, and that is awesome.
At this point I thought it couldn’t get better. Stelio, who is my rookie in the league, took a seat on the bench and there it was–the holy grail of sports buttons that caused outrage with its removal from NHL 15– the SIM to next shift button. I was so happy I’m pretty sure a single tear slowly rolled down my cheek. You no longer have to wait until it is your turn to get back on the ice! You can jump right to where you make an impact, which is actually playing the game.
Feel the Arena:
Let’s get down to the major takeaways that I have gathered from NHL 16.
The intensity is much higher and I think that comes from the new pace of the game. Plays develop and skaters move faster and it is buttery smooth. There is no jerky stopping action; you can strafe side to side and pass and receive without any break in the game flow. Now people have told me this had made the game feel harder for them, but I think it is just more challenging, which is a good thing because it makes you a better player.
The lighting seems to have been improved and there are new arena quirks that have been highly touted, but they haven’t really stood out as much as I thought they would, considering that they were a big mention from the day the game was announced. The Cannon fires in Columbus, the ever so annoying Chelsea Dagger plays in Chicago, but everything else almost blends into the scenery.
A big return for the franchise, EASHL makes a huge comeback in NHL 16, allowing you and 5 of your friends to control an entire team and compete against others online in the ultimate experience. But if online isn’t your thing, for the first time ever you can also play 6 player couch co-op. Just make sure your friends can play defense–I have found that a computer defense can sometimes do the best job.
The announcers, Eddie Olczyk and Doc Emerick providing live commentary, while nice, sometimes get calls wrong. Three-on-two plays don’t quite develop that often, Doc, and though the gesture is appreciated, sometimes you should just keep quiet.
Another semi let down that carried over from NHL 15 was the drop of focus on music. Popular songs used to play at the title screen, in the menus, and during breaks in play. This year has a great soundtrack, but I just wish I could hear it. Artist tracks now only play between breaks in play, and when they do, the songs are muffled and barely noticeable, not like a real hockey game at all.
Minus the few qualms I have, NHL 16 steps up the game enough from the previous year to make it a solid buy, even more so if you are new to the series. But hey, who am I kidding, you have been buying them since ‘94 right? Why stop now?!
Dashing Nerds gives NHL 16 an 8/10.
- New assist system
- Smoother, faster skating
- EASHL and "Couch" Co-op
- Inconsistent announcing
- Passing arrows sometimes off