NHL 16 Review – Fluid Breakout (PS4)
Before we start off talking about all the features and modes present in this year’s NHL release, let’s first get the biggest news out of the way. NHL 16 is not NHL 15 in every way possible, and that’s such a good thing. If you read my review last year, or you had the misfortune of playing the game, you should feel a sigh of relief knowing that EA Canada has completely redeemed themselves with this latest effort. They are back with a huge statement that, “hey, we can make playable games!” Whew! I feel better that we got this out in the open right away, on to the review now. How about we proceed to the meat of this, then?
The Name of the Game Is Modes
NHL 16 has returned all of the modes that were absent in the release of 15, all of them with huge tweaks and improvements to not only bring them back, but to bring them back with a vengeance. Perhaps the biggest of them all is the return of EASHL. This much requested feature missed out at release of the past game but it is back and better than ever. Players now have the ability to choose specialized classes to control, adding an element of balance to the teams. Sure, you can roll out a three-forward look completely made up of Power Forwards and run over the competition physically, but it helps your team even more to balance it out.
Perhaps pairing a playmaker to move the puck around, with a sniper to get off those sick one-times, and a Power Forward to clear some room for the two. It’s a nice change from past years where everyone played as 5’4 playmakers that just dominated each play with speed. Each class has very specific strengths and weaknesses, and those are very evident when playing. You will be punished physically when you play as a sniper, so keep your head up.
“Be a Pro” is another feature that has seen improvements by leaps and bounds over previous years. To start, you actually have the ability to sim to your next shift, a curious exclusion in last year’s effort. It doesn’t stop there, as on-ice indicators are abundant, letting you know clearly who you should be marking, what d-zone area you need to be covering, and exactly how good or bad your breakout pass or shot were. These on-ice indicators do so much to improve your play and to really show you where you are making strides and what you are struggling with.
This mode really felt stagnant in past years, as it just wasn’t that rewarding to work your pro from the CHL to the NHL. This year however, you feel a true sense of accomplishment as you use experience gained in games to improve various aspects of your skater to your liking. In this mode, you use training hours to specify exactly where you want to see your improvements, putting hours into sprints for better endurance or shot accuracy for a better wrist shot.
The other two big modes to see positive steps in the right direction are the “Be a GM” mode and “Hockey Ultimate Team.” In Be a GM, the big change here is that each player on your team now has a distinct personality and their own morale level. Now you can’t just worry about the team overall, but must also manage individual complaints from the NHL to the AHL. When your fourth line winger is upset over ice time, it’s up to you to address the concern and say the right things to put a positive spin on it. Hockey Ultimate Team, or HUT, returns with improvements in the management aspect of your team and the addition of single-player seasons.
NHL 16 also brings back the practice mode, but now with the ability to either skate 1v1, do team drills like breakouts and offensive zone starts, or hone your goalie skills. You can tweak this mode to make it 5v4, 2v2 — really whatever you want to work on. My biggest beef with this mode though, is two fold. First off, the computer is incredibly repetitive in their actions. For example, when practicing my goalie skills, I had the offensive team start in my zone to try and score. Every single time, Tyler Seguin would start by bringing the puck in, passing over to Alex Goligoski, and then he would shoot on the net. There was absolutely no change from this beginning to each attempt, unless of course I just left the net open, in which Seguin would, of course, shoot. My second gripe is the fact that this mode is only playable offline or with local friends. This would have been the perfect mode for EASHL teams to utilize to work on in-game situations.
Gameplay, Tweaks, and Online Play
You can see in this game that EA Canada put a lot of effort into refining each aspect of the gameplay. There are major tweaks and systems that have been put into place to allow for more mobility and true-to-life play this time around. The big addition of precision skating is probably the greatest improvement. The ways that players start and stop feels just right and the ability to walk the blueline as a defenseman go a long way to creating a better experience for everyone. As someone who plays defense in my EASHL club, the way you are able to not only defend, but join the rush is a great feeling this time around.
Goalies in NHL 16 are also controllable and it’s a bit of a mixed bag honestly. On one hand, it does feel like you have a lot more control in what your goalie does, from pushing hard to one side and stopping a one-timer, to shutting down your five-hole. However, the controls are a bit of a mess at times and thankfully, EA figured that out and put in an alternate control, which is essentially the same controls from NHL 14.
The AI in NHL 16 has seen a big improvement over previous years, but there are still some issues here that need to be addressed. Sure, the computer for the most part moves to the correct parts of the ice, but often times you still find yourself bumping into an AI player because they just didn’t move at all as you carried the puck into the zone. There are also times where the computer will lose the puck behind the net and have trouble getting a handle on it and moving up the ice. This issue is also evident with human players as well but plays out more when an AI teammate decides to take the puck behind the net.
With this gameplay in the beta, there was a true sense of realism as passes missed often if you weren’t precise in your aiming, and there was much less puck retention. However, things have since been tweaked for launch and are already starting to feel a bit more arcade-like, especially when playing online. The puck is often glued to an opponents stick, allowing them to weave through 2-3 defenders with relative ease. Passing also has seen tweaks, with the AI making blind back hand passes through two defenders, right to your stick. It would have been nice to see things stay a little bit more realistic and not shift towards the arcade feel of past years. That’s not saying that this years effort goes full on arcade though, as this is still one of the most realistic hockey experiences to date.
Online play is back this year around, and par for the course, it’s full of incredibly frustrating lag at times. I noticed this lag more and more when playing Online Versus or Online Shootouts, as it was hard to even get through an entire game without feeling its wrath. In one game, I basically played in slow motion for an entire period or two. Online Team Play and the EASHL play also suffer lag during in-game presentation and some during gameplay. However, for some odd reason, the lag was much more noticeable in 1v1 versus play compared to team play. Thankfully, these issues didn’t creep into the match-finding and connection times, which were very solid.
Presentation for the Win?
In NHL 16, one of the big areas that they spent time with was the presentation, both in-game and with the menus. Before the puck drops, you will find yourself watching what feels like a real hockey broadcast. A wide area camera view of the home team’s city, players rushing the ice for warm ups, and a somewhat OK broadcasting duo set things up for you.
Inside the arena, you will notice a great deal of attention has been paid to team arenas, mascots, and overall feel. When playing in Dallas, I genuinely felt like we were at the American Airlines Center. However things aren’t as good with the broadcast though, as the two announcers get a bit repetitive, but that can be easily fixed with a few setting tweaks to lower their volume. Menus have also been given a nice Windows-style look, with panels across the screen giving you the options to play online, as a club, or alone. The menus are crisp looking and function really well, though there is some noticeable lag when exiting a window.
A big area of change with the presentation is the player faces, which have been given a ridiculous amount of options. Seriously, there are over like 50 different faces you can choose from, giving you all sorts of options to make your guy different from others. It’s not just the faces that have been given a lot of options, but also skates, sticks, and visors have been given the ability to tint in any color that you want. It’s a nice option for those who want to skate with orange blades, while holding a blue stick, and sporting a yellow visor. However, it does grow old quickly in online play, when you’re stuck looking at a rainbow of colors on the ice.
NHL 16 is a huge step towards restoring faith in EA Canada and EA Sports. The game saw huge improvements across the board, with Be a Pro, Be a GM, and EASHL all being better entries than in previous years. It’s not without its issue, as menu and online play lag is somewhat frequent and the added practice mode could use so much more attention, but the product is as crisp as they come. NHL is back with a vengeance and NHL 16 is one hockey game that you can’t afford to pass up. So grab your stick, lace up your skates, and get out there for your shift.
Review copy for NHL 16 provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read ourReview Policy here