The Greatest Game On Ice

After last year’s atrocity of a game, EA had nowhere to go but up with its newest installment of its long running NHL series. NHL 16, while not a perfect hockey game, brings the NHL series back to relevance. Many fans were upset at last years release and rightfully so; NHL 15 was a bare bones game with many of the features fans loved ultimately cut from the game. NHL 16 brings many features back, though not all of them, which was slightly disappointing, but enough to make the game worth buying and worth your time if you’re a fan.

From the moment the game loads up and you play through a simulation of last season’s Stanley Cup Final (between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning), you can tell the difference from last year’s installment. Smoother and slicker skating make the players feel more fluid than they have in years. Passing the puck feels more crisp with players now being much more receptive to receiving a pass than they have been in the past. Taking a shot at the net never felt so good and the game has never visually looked better.

The visuals in this game are second to none. From the arenas, to the mascots, to the players and fans, NHL 16 delivers the best visuals to date. The arenas of teams now feature teams actual goal horns and in some cases, the actual goal song, When you score a goal with the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, you’ll hear the famous “Goooooooooooooooal, Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” song. If you play as the Islanders and score a goal at the Barclays Center you’ll hear their now traditional “Yes! Yes! Yes!” chant after a goal is scored. Little things like that add to the realism of the NHL experience and help make the game that much better. Mascots are now in the series and during games you’ll see them jumping around in the crowd and after a team win. Some of them even run out and celebrate with their team. The arenas have never looked better and most of them are licensed now, meaning that instead of seeing “Chicago Blackhawks Arena” painted at center ice, you’ll see United Center. Almost all of the arenas look like their real life counterparts and include things their real life counterparts have such as the giant flamethrowers in the Scotiabank Saddledome (home of the Calgary Flames).

One of the biggest improvements to the game is the new On-Ice Trainer feature. It can be turned on or off but for newcomers to the series, it is essential. The Trainer, using colorful indicators, shows you the angle and direction your passes will go, how open or blocked your shooting lane is and will provide you control tips for your current situation including which button to press for either a stick check or to lift someone’s stick. Beginning players will find this feature irreplaceable and I honestly think the Trainer feature was one of the best things to happen for the series. For those like myself, who have been playing for years, the tracker feature isn’t the most necessary but in certain game situations (such as during Be A Pro mode) it can be helpful in its own way.

Speaking of Be A Pro mode, in NHL 16 its best it’s been. Last years installment was absolutely horrible and many long time EA NHL players didn’t touch NHL 15’s Be A Pro mode. For those that don’t know, in Be A Pro mode, you create your own NHL player. You choose what he or she looks like, decide what kind of player you want to be (whether it be a sniper who scores goals or a two way player who plays a more defensive game) and can choose to start in the minors, or put yourself immediately on an NHL team. You play as your character and work your way up to becoming a hockey legend.

This year’s game brought back the ability to skip to the parts of the game where your character plays. In last year’s installment, you couldn’t simulate shifts and you were stuck watching a game for over an hour, where you played for less than a third of the time. It was infuriating and it was one of the things that made NHL 15 so bad. The coaching aspect of the game is very good as well. Your head coach will tell you exactly what you need to do to improve based on the type of player you are. If you’re a sniper, he’ll give you more offensive oriented goals. If you’re a defensive forward or a defenseman he’ll give you more defensive oriented goals. Depending on how well you play during a game, or how well you complete certain assigned tasks, you will earn experience points (XP) and your player will grow and get better as the games and seasons go on. The coaching system is quite intuitive and it’s better than it has been in earlier installments.

Be A GM (General Manager) mode is back and includes some minor improvement including the fact that you can call team meetings and speak with certain players at different points during the season. The shootout mode makes its return to the franchise as it was left out of last year’s installment. I really liked that they brought the shootout mode back to the series because sometimes it’s just fun playing that mini-game with friends as opposed to an entire game.

Hockey Ultimate Team returns as well and although much has remained the same about it, it is still the ultimate fantasy sports mode.

EASHL (EA Sports Hockey League) was brought back this year and with minor improvements which include seeing what types of matchup your opponent will present you with in the coming game. In its last installment, you could use microtransactions to level up your players and have the edge over people who didn’t spend actual money. Player class has replaced this and it’s better since everyone is now on a level playing field. This change makes the EASHL the best it’s been yet.

EA Sports’ NHL 16 brings the franchise back from the depths of gaming. Last year’s installment seems like it was just a roadbump and EA is beginning to right the ship with this series. Is the game perfect? Not at all, as it is still missing one of my favorite modes (Winter Classic mode) and it seems like the series has completely forgot about Be A Legend, which I thought was a really awesome feature in previous games. Even without those two features, the game plays great, looks great and will bring smiles to hockey fans faces both old and new.