As the current season of NHL Hockey ticks into the quarter mark of the regular season, it is clear that some teams have exceeded expectations while others destined for greatness have fallen flat. NHL 20 allows a chance to right
Anything from playing shift by shift to managing a franchise over years is at the fingertips of hockey fans everywhere in the NHL game franchise. This years' iteration has expanded on the success of its predecessors in many important ways and has been unable to meet expectations in some crucial spots.
10 Things We Loved: The Soundtrack
It is common for sports games to have a lot of high energy tracks that quickly wear out their welcome in the menu screens. Inevitably, the typical sport's soundtrack will have a few likable songs that get played more often than the others until a private playlist seems preferable during long sessions in franchise mode that primarily consist of sitting in menus.
However, NHL 20 has a thoughtful collection of tracks that is varied and interesting enough to keep the sound on. It simply doesn't feel like it is trying just grab attention in the short term, but give the player a soundtrack to keep on this background.
9 Things We Didn't: Appearance Customization
While there are great depth and variety to the customization of a character, the appearance screen is a frustration at best. There are far too many minute choices that seem to make no difference to the overall appearance of a player. It is not an entirely intuitive system, either. Just try to give a player a long beard and watch it vanish the second the beard type screen is exited.
There is another separate screen for beard length, making the default clean-shaven. This is consistent with equipment choices, where the player is forced to move through multiple screens to achieve the desired appearance. It seems clunky and unnecessary to separate many of the menus that could flow together.
8 Things We Loved: Be A Pro Mode
A standby mode for the NHL series, Be a Pro has delivered on the thing it is meant to: let the player have an NHL career. The success of each shift and training session is entirely in the hands of the player, and the focus challenges encourage the development of a well-rounded game.
The skill trees provide a depth of customization that allows unique and interesting play styles, especially in the context of controlling one skater on the ice. The feeling of scoring a game-winning goal during clutch time in the postseason is one of the highest highs in sports video games.
7 Things We Didn't: Franchise Mode
Another mainstay of the NHL series has been franchise mode. Allowing the player to act as a GM any team they choose has been great, but it seems like the player is pretty far removed from any real decisions. Sure, it is possible to play every game as your favorite NHL team and beat out the computer, but that can be done in Season mode.
All the GM can do is work on line chemistry and hope it works out in the simulation. Being more involved in the coaching would be a welcome addition to the game. That being said, running an NHL franchise for years is still a really fun experience when keeping your team successful.
6 Things We Loved: World Of Chel
Combing the vast, uncharted universes of hockey fantasy and fantasy hockey has seemingly been the goal in World of Chel in the NHL series. There is no combination of players unavailable in Chel, given the time (and money/luck). The variety of modes provides a game type for everyone, while the depth of customization lets the player be anyone they can imagine on the ice.
While not every game mode is great (we will get to Ones), the Threes Eliminator is a fun way to jump in and scratch that competitive itch that NHL delivers for hockey fans. Not to mention getting to see the mascots out on the ice, dangling past an entire team of human players is rewarding in itself, especially when the mascot is a computer and wearing a cowboy hat.
5 Things We Didn't: Hockey Ultimate Team
There are two kinds of NHL players: Those who despise HUT and those who pretend not to. Yes, it is fun to collect an array of talent of both former and active players. It truly is exciting to see how a Datsyuk in his prime would fare with Brad Marchand in the office as linemates. But chances are that will never happen unless you get lucky on auctions or spend the money.
Playing the actual game is almost immediately inhibited by contract lengths and ridiculous online antics, making this mode a frustration rather than an engaging experience where your wildest hockey dreams could come true.
4 Things We Loved: The Commentary
Featuring the new addition of James Cybulski and the familiar Ray Ferraro in the box, the commentary in NHL 20 is a welcome change. The long-time commentary of "Doc" Emerick had served the NHL series well for 5 years, but Cybulski has just as much to offer for the newest NHL game.
The banter with Ferraro is fun and his play by play commentary brings all the familiar excitement of watching an NHL game with the added twist of being part of the plotline. The World of Chel also features a guest commentator for its outdoor rink that does not appreciate it when the player skips the replay action. Definitely try making them mad.
3 Things We Didn't: Signature Shots
Kudos to EA for putting in signature shots to try to personalize the game for fans. BUT, every shot in the NHL from a superstar does not look the same. The differentiation in animation is so small or unnoticeable that even the trademark shots of Ovechkin or Subban just seem like wind up slap shots that have been in the game all along.
It is incredibly hard to capture the essence of an individual in a system meant to create images from a generator, so it is not surprising that the first crack at it fell flat. That being said, it is a step in the right direction in making the players in-game look and feel different.
2 Things We Loved: The Goaltenders
It is no secret that trying to animate professional athletes performing incredible feats of strength and finesse is one of the hardest things to do in a video game. This is especially true when the thing they are doing is transitioning from a half-standing crouch to a contorted pretzel on the ice in less than a second.
However, NHL 20 brings new animations and physics to the goalies that flesh out the rigid and unforgiving style that previous games have had. The new approach to goaltending has allowed for a much better feel and visual, giving solace to one of the most frustrating areas of the NHL series up to this point.
1 Things We Didn't: Ones Eliminator
The worldwide phenomenon of battle royale video games has dug its clutches into NHL 20. There was no reason to include this mode and no way that it could have been implemented in a meaningful way. In Ones, the player is either getting checked into the corner by an opponent trying to chase down the puck, or getting blocked in front of the net by the third player who is just waiting to steal and turn for a quick point.
To say it is frustrating would be an understatement even on a winning round. Players will stop being competitive with a minute left on the clock, even in a close game. Having a one against the world mode in this game just doesn't make sense. This is one of the cases where only asking "why" would have been enough.