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Most of this review will focus on the EASHL asepct of the game with online club play because that is 95% of how I play the game. The impressions left by last year's installment of the franchise...
Physics engine fixed, smoother gameplay, smarter CPU AI
Too many fights, not enough WOW factor with new features, dekes dekes dekes, too easy?
Most of this review will focus on the EASHL asepct of the game with online club play because that is 95% of how I play the game. The impressions left by last year's installment of the franchise left a very sour taste in my mouth or a very sore spot on my wallet after feeling I threw away my money on a worse version of NHL 12. How could they possibly add a real time physics engine and the game get worse? Well it did and all year long we were treated to incredible feats of acrobatics on ice that would have made the Cirque du Soleil envious. Triple barrel rolling spins while breakdancing through the net on a hit, nets flying up into the crowd, and a host of other oddities were par for the course during gameplay thanks to a very confused game engine.
Not this year however! After 60 game played thus far, I can say the majority of the craziness is gone and in it's place remains a quality hockey simulation with just the right amount of physics for realism balanced with a fun game that lets you deke, shoot and score a wide variety of goals while actually enjoying your non-human teammates for once rather than shunning them like traitors to your cause. The cpu will still have it's share of brain farts, but overall they are worth using this year and actually seem to understand the game and not be the mindless bots they usually were.
Customization took a big boost this year - literally. Instead of +1 +3 and +5 boosts to your player, this year introduces supsersized +3 +5 +7 boosts that can take you up to real Legend status in quick order.
Online Team Play (OTP) also got a MAJOR upgrade for lobby and drop-in games with the ability to now select your position before you ready up to play. The team captain also has the ability ready up the entire team rather than wait for the guy who joined a game and then decided to go take a phone call and make a sandwich without readying up his slot. This is a small tweak, but a much needed one.
Slapshots also got a nice bump in effectiveness this year with the ability take a booming slapper from way out and actually have the goalie not auto-save them at every attempt even if he isn't screened or the shot tipped. The result however is that scoring is noticeably easier and I would even say too easy for some. I can appreciate the bore factor of a 0-0 tie in the 3rd and can attest to far too many double or triple overtime games in last year's game but hopefully the new boost to goal scoring won't make the game lose appeal for the folks who pride themselves in playing defense.
Finally, I noticed the one button deke is very effective and helps level the field where some full-time players were able to really out deke the casual player with an almost figure-skating ability to dipsy doodle nonstop around the ice and end up twisting the CPU into the ice before scoring at will. Will this stay that effective the entire year or will it get a major tuner adjustment as I suspect fighting will in a few weeks? Only time will tell.
Overall if you are new to the NHL franchise, NHL 14 will deliver glorious fun with lots of scoring, smooth gameplay and some big hits. If you happen to be a franchise veteran like me (having played every year's edition since NHLPA in '93 on the Sega Genesis) you will probably enjoy this year's improvements compared to what I felt was the weakest iteration in the last decade with glitches and physics engine fails galore.
4 solid stars out of 5 because it's simply what it should have been last year. 5 stars is reserved for something truly groundbreaking in my book and this just feels too familiar to be that.