When NHL 16 came out last year, we spoke about how it was a major improvement over the extremely poor NHL 15. A year later, and EA is back at it again with the release of NHL 17, the only hockey simulator on the market and one that thankfully continues the trend of solid releases after the horror show that was 15. For fans that might have found themselves worried about yearly changes potentially ruining the progress made, fear not and get ready to hit the ice.
One of the minor problems with last year’s release was the player feedback system being a bit broken. EA has fixed this issue and the game trainer functionality has been altered and improved vastly. Not only is the feedback provided more accurate, but the trainer will even try and teach you how to play by reminding the player on certain aspects of the game. For those who might be unaware, players will get reminded how to crash the net or how to capitalize your chances on a breakaway play. This comes as a handy tool once you enter the improved Be a Pro mode, as your player isn’t the best yet and can definitely use any tools provided. Not only that but your coaches in the mode will reward you based on what you do according to the trainer. Gone are the days of simply being able to get by on scoring 4 goals a game. Instead, you must be a complete player, make sure to monitor your time on the ice and remember to play defense or else you’ll find yourself benched to the second line just like that.
In terms of gameplay, certain aspects of hockey have been incorporated into the game in order to give it a more realistic feel. While you won’t exactly see it unless you’re on defense, battles in front of the net now take place. Bigger players might fight for control in front of the goalie in order to deflect a puck, or players will shove each other out of the way in order to avoid that from happening. Your AI teammates have also been given a bit of a makeover, with goaltenders getting the most work. Not only do they get new animations, but they also have been given an increased brain so to speak. Due to the increased intelligence on the AI goalies, scoring goals have become a bit tougher this year, making some of the battles between your player and the goaltender a true battle of wits.
Additions like these may not seem like much, but to a franchise like the NHL one, it’s much needed. In many ways, NHL 17 is a game (and franchise) that is still in its infancy stages. The damage done to it via the game released two years ago is still being fixed, and while other sports series such as Madden or FIFA that have already had years of updates added to it, NHL 17 is in a rebuilding phase.
Thanks to the extreme boom in popularity for the “Ultimate Team” game modes, NHL 17’s own HUT (Hockey Ultimate Team) gets a bit of an improvement this year as well. Much to the player’s joy, a new Draft Champions mode has been added which lets players draft a team through 12 rounds and take them into matches against other players online. Players will receive HUT rewards based on how well they do. The game mode could stand to be a bit deeper but still is a welcome addition nonetheless. Other than that, the ultimate team mode didn’t get much of a huge upgrade, although this might be a case of not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
Something that has been revamped, however, is the new Franchise mode. Replacing the somewhat stale “Be a GM” mode, the mode still has remnants of it left behind. Players can still manage prices of items in their stadium, or even move a team to a new city if necessary. For players who love the deep simulations that a Franchise mode often provides, they won’t be left wanting for much when it comes to this. It’s nice to see EA taking a step forward and getting rid of a stale game mode but still finding ways to incorporate what may have been good.
While NHL 17 may not be a perfect game, it didn’t exactly have to be. Thanks to a truly bad game two years ago, the developers behind the on ice series are playing catch up when it comes to content. While other sports series have found their groove and can include new features, NHL needed to get things right at a foundational level first. Some things could still be improved upon (commentary got a bit stale, and some of the menus, while snazzy looking, could use some more flair when it comes to navigating), there is still a clear improvement over last year’s game and there is now a great foundation built for what could become a solid hockey series.
This review was based on a digital review code of NHL 17 for the PlayStation 4 provided by EA.