NHL 16 Review (Xbox One)
So we’re midway through the EA SPORTS release schedule, and with a bit of a mixed start from PGA TOUR and Madden, there’s a bit of pressure on NHL 16 to come up with the goods, especially after last years dire performance. Thankfully it seems as if EA SPORTS may have learned from those mistakes.
Jumping straight into NHL 16 and the familiar game modes are once again all there. Season mode (playing as a team), Be a Pro (playing as a single player in the team), Be a GM (running the team) and Ultimate Team are largely unchanged. EA Sports Hockey league is back, allowing you to create an online team with a group of friends for you to then take on other teams around the world, working your way up through the ranks. Not got enough friends to create a team? You can jump into a game with other random players for a 6 v 6. One thing they have done is taken away the mad rush for positions before a game starts, and the inevitable mass exodus when people don’t get the position they want, by making everyone pick their position before confirming they want to play, and then allowing them to choose the style of player they want for said position. Each style of player has a number of milestones to reach which unlock badges and add XP to your online pro. You can also customise your pro’s equipment in the menus, if you like to flash those pads.
Also returning in NHL 16 is the Online Team play mode. Similar to the drop in and EASHL games these are 6 v 6 games, but using default teams and players rather than custom pros. This mode is nowhere near as popular, with about a 20/1 ratio of players preferring drop in games. I did attempt to find a game a few times, with no success.
Across all game modes in NHL 16 there is coaching available. In team based gameplay this will be general pointers on how the team can better perform, but it really shines for the Be a Pro and EASHL game modes. Here you get individual feedback on what you are doing wrong and suggestions to what you should be doing to improve your match rating. In Be a Pro you earn XP in every match, and meeting your in-game goals are key to maximising your earning. Be a Pro has always been my favourite mode in NHL games, and despite not being very good at it I love to play as the goalie. The coach feedback has been extremely helpful for me to improve my game. During the match your player will have situational coach suggestions appear above his head, as well as little notifications of when you meet one of your match objectives. That may sound a little intrusive at first, and you can turn the feature off, but I’ve found it really helpful.
Sticking with Be a Pro and goalies, the control scheme for goalies has completely changed this year. You can revert to a control scheme similar to previous games, but gone are the save anticipation controls where you used the right stick to predict where you were going to need to make the save, and instead the right stick now can be used to get quickly from post to post (left/right), as well as the “vertical horizontal” butterfly position and the ever useful poke check(down/up). I had to dig into the menus to find the stack pads and other dramatic saves that used to be mapped to RB are now available through the X button + LS direction. Such changes certainly take a while to get to grips with, but I do think they have improved the goalie control overall. However, you will find that the goalie can get stuck in positions sometimes. I’ve seen my pro get into the VH butterfly and just start shuffling off to the side, miles away from net. I also managed to get into the stack pads position without knowing the controls and couldn’t get back out of it. These glitches are rare, but when they happen they can ruin your game, leaving your net wide open for an easy poke in.
The presentation style is again spot on, with Mike “Doc” Emrick and his NBC Sports team returning as commentators. However, he has one line that gets repeated all too often, and it’s not his fault, but the AI. Far too often, when the AI winger brings the puck into the offensive zone they go for the cross ice pass and it’s just picked off by the defense. Again back to playing as the goalie, this AI flaw becomes far too apparent and rather disheartening as you pray for an easy shot. Perhaps the AI just needs to run a few more odd man rush drills?
Bad AI pass decisions aside, the overall on-ice gameplay is completely solid. Player movement is really natural and, unlike in PGA TOUR, even the cloth physics are spot on, just check out the deformation in the gif here (or the full res YouTube version on this link).
NHL 16 is a much improved product over last year’s version, so much so that we can almost forget the NHL 15 ever existed. However, NHL 16 could have gone further still in my opinion. The new Draft Mode that features in Madden and the upcoming FIFA makes no appearance in NHL 16, which is a shame as it was one of my highlights in Madden, and I predict it to be the new most popular game mode for FIFA this year. NHL 16 does make up for this slightly by offering a complete fantasy draft available in Seasons mode, allowing you to create a complete roster from scratch, much like you would do if you have ever played a live fantasy hockey league on the likes of Yahoo. There is also no soundtrack to accompany the menu system. Instead the game uses the background audio that you expect to hear around the commercial times during a NBC Sports Network live hockey game coverage. I can understand the aim at authenticity, or maybe it’s even part of the agreement with NBC, but soundtracks have always been a big part of EA SPORTS games. You do get the authentic stadium sounds, with all the NHL teams having their relevant entrance/goal/penalty tunes playing at the appropriate times. For that extra bit of authenticity, team mascots can also be seen in the crowds and on the ice post match.
It’s great to see that EA SPORTS have listened to the complaints of last year, and hopefully they see now how bad NHL 15 was. NHL 16 has mended the wounds, hopefully they can build on it and NHL 17 will be even better. Adding a bit more to Ultimate team and giving us something new to listen to would be the icing on the cake.
8 shots blocked out of 10