As fun as NHL 15 was a couple of years ago, it was a painful example of what happens when you try to rush a game to the finish line. While the core game had its moments, a number of features that made the series strong over the past few years were notably absent for some time, before being added via patch.
However, EA Sports learned its lesson since then, and last year’s NHL 16 was a hell of an example of how to bounce back from a catastrophic mistake – and in fine fashion. And, fortunately, the series momentum continues with NHL 17, a game that could still use a slight bit of polish here and there, but overall recreates the sport of hockey with utmost accuracy and, better yet, a great deal of entertainment.
The gameplay sees the biggest amount of improvements, as the game as a whole feels a bit more balanced this time around, between puck play around the net (where players actually fight for it in heated situations, before the goalie gets involved) to the smoothness on the ice. On occasion, a pass can get away, and sometimes a shot just has to hit the crossbar instead of smoothly going into the net, but, hey, that’s hockey sometimes for you.
Better still, the NHL trainer program doesn’t go overboard this time around. Last year was flooded with information that never really gave players the chance to shine on their own, but NHL 17 goes a little easier this time around, with just the right number of prompts for newcomers that want to learn the basics of the game. Of course, you can turn it off entirely if you NHL veterans think “you’ve got this,” so to speak.
I love the new additions to the goalie front as well, as it really feels like you’re in better control of your defensive-man with the Recovery Save Intelligence system. This allows you to nail down angles and make some great plays, if you prefer, or watch as the AI does it for you.
Of course, if you prefer, you can take control of a linesman, set up some sweet steals, or watch as you send players careening to the ground with a well-timed check. Of course, fights could take place as a result, but, again, that’s hockey. No matter what position you want to play, though, EA Sports has balanced the gameplay rather well, with very few slip-ups. Still, if you want to refine the gameplay, there are plenty of sliders to adjust, so you can make your hits count more or increase your shot accuracy, in case you need it.
Along with the various returning gameplay modes – including online competitions and the always-enjoyable Franchise – you’ll also find two new additions. The first is the World Cup of Hockey, which is an outstanding mode that lets you choose from hockey leagues all over the world, pitting players against one another to see how they fare. For an NHL-sponsored game, this is a nice touch, as it gives you a chance to try out new teams you never thought existed.
Then there’s Draft Champs, and, like Ultimate Team mode, this is sheer addiction on a card-collecting level, as you’ll put together an ideal draft team and then take them to the ice. It also gives you access to Ultimate cards and skills a lot quicker than the usual mode, which will no doubt get more collectors involved – and that means more players online. We’re all for that.
Franchise has some minor improvements, including the ability to take control of all aspects of management (like ticket prices and creating an arena to make your home team proud). Just make sure you’re aware that investing in all the right moves can take a good deal of time, as can creating your own arena. Still, it’s worth it when you have a worthy home to put your squad in.
The presentation is very good for NHL 17. While there are minor player hiccups here and there with animations, the overall presentation is solid, with a speedy frame rate, articulately recreated arenas that resemble the real thing (give Pepsi Center a look, will ya), and smooth play up and down the ice. The audio is top notch as well, between some decent music choices, on-ice effects that make you feel like you’re actually at the game (especially board checks), and a commentary by Mike “Doc” Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Ray Ferraro that really nails down the sport. Barely any repeating stuff here either, which is a bit shocking.
Like Madden before it, EA’s hockey team has done a great job with NHL 17. It doesn’t quite have all the innovative features that the football game does, but it has more than enough to recommend to hockey fans. World Cup of Hockey and Draft Champions will keep you busy enough as it is (especially online), and the presentation, for the most part, can’t be beat. Slap that puck and go crazy.