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BSH reviews EA’s NHL 18

NHL Threes shines as new game mode

It’s time for another yearly installment of the NHL franchise! Each year EA plops out another game for kids and adults to run out to the stores and buy, or probably buy online, because it’s 2017, you know. Congratulations to Brandon Manning’s son Connor for making the cover of the game! He must be a proud papa.

Initial Thoughts

  • The menus are fantastic; they’re clean and easy to navigate. In past installments, the menus have been hard to navigate as well as being insanely slow.
  • A loading bar! It’s a simple thing that has been in video games for years, but being able to see how much the game has loaded is nice.
  • Player ratings have been vastly improved: star players are now actually above and beyond the rest of the players in the game — not 3 overall points away.
  • Wayne Simmonds is still listed as a two-way forward. C’mon guys.
  • The “Hockey Canada Training Camp” is a wonderful idea; also woo we got official Hockey Canada jerseys!
  • A small nitpick, but when a player is along the boards his stick clips through them. Its a small graphic thing, but has been in the game for years.

Game Modes

Let’s jump right into the meat and potatoes of it all, the game modes! Each game mode from NHL 17 returns, with the sole new mode being NHL Threes. NHL Threes is “The all-new arcade-inspired hockey experience features faster ice, bigger hits and high-scoring action that's easy to pick-up-and-play,” according to EA.

Hockey Ultimate Team

Kyle: As more of an EASHL/GM Mode kind of NHL player, this is my first year really making an effort in EA’s favorite game mode, Hockey Ultimate Team. HUT sees little change from last year, save for the addition of solo challenges, which helps the $60 player. The daily bonus also saw an increase which is always good to see for players who don’t have the money to buy packs.

Overall, in my first two weeks of playing HUT, I’ve been impressed. The addition of two synergies to silver tier players and three for bronze is useful since the boost cards were removed from the series. Does that mean you’ll be touting an all silver/bronze lineup? Not unless you’re willing to die by speed every game. But putting in a silver player with average stats and the right synergies could do wonders for your lineup

My main complaint with HUT is how the contracts system and lineup managing works. In Madden, you can generate best lineup and automatically it’ll make your team the highest overall it could be. In HUT, you have to manually sub in a new player you just pulled, or won from the auction house. And as for the contracts, all it takes is one click in Madden to refill player contracts, this is something needed in HUT.

Franchise Mode

Kyle: Be a GM/Franchise/Owner mode, or whatever EA wants to call it now, has been essentially my favorite game mode since I got into the NHL series. I love taking our Flyers and seeing if I can make them a championship contender year in and year out.

While there is little difference from last year, two key changes brings some added life into the mode. You can now give contract extensions during the season, not just after the draft as in the previous games. This is something the community has been asking for seemingly since NHL 14 and it’s good to see EA listen to its users.

The change to the ratings system in NHL breathes new air into Franchise mode. Gone are the days of seemingly endless 84-86 overall players. There is a much larger gap between the stars of the league and the VandeVeldes of the league. It is a bit weird, though, getting used to putting 79 overall players on your 3rd line.

The option to view lines has finally returned after being removed on the switch to next-gen consoles.

Owner mode is still there, so if you’d like to be ultra realistic and make food at the Wells Fargo Center cost over $10 for basically everything, you can do so!

Be sure to check out Broad Street Hockey’s YouTube channel where soon I will be running a GM mode series with our beloved Flyers.

Draft Champions

Joe: Draft Champions was a new addition to the game last year, and it really is a lot of fun. Its very straight forward and the themes are really neat; from grizzled vets, European descent, Canadian heritage and the rest of the rotating cast of themes. You start out with a team of silver players, all in the 70 overall range. There is a 12 round draft where you have a choice of one of three players; once the draft is completed you have 4 games to play. Lose once? You’re eliminated and must start over by drafting a new team. The mode remains widely unchanged but is still a lot of fun.

NHL Threes

Joe: Oh boy, I’m gonna say it. I LOVE this addition. This mode is exactly what EA needed to put into their game this year: its fresh, fun, and highly addicting. First off, the commentary is amazing — after hours of game play you can still hear lines that haven’t been heard before. The banter is hilarious while not feeling forced, and matches the goofy game-play perfectly.

Threes can be played online, with a friend or in a circuit style campaign mode. In the campaign there are three regions to unlock: the Pacific, Central and Atlantic. You must start in the Pacific battling through a wide range of teams, from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kamloops Blazers. Even mascots are unlockable from certain teams! (And yes, you can play as the mascot.) Players from junior clubs are also unlockable; for example if you defeat the Prince George Cougars you can unlock Dan Hamhuis to play for your team. Beating teams also yields other rewards such as jerseys, arenas, and most importantly, stars. Stars are how you advance in the campaign, and each game brings the possibility of earning a maximum of three stars. To unlock the Central you must earn 48 stars, and the Atlantic takes 97 stars.

Now onto the most fun: the gameplay. It is 3v3 hockey and its balls-to-the-wall action. The rink is not a traditional style NHL rink, it is a lot smaller and features no neutral zone. The ice also is a shade of blue, sometimes orange and has various designs on it that change each game. A coin toss is how the game starts out, the winner of the toss gets to determine the rules for the game. The game can either end by score limit or just simply who has the most goals after three periods, and the time limit is also something that can be chosen. The craziest part of this mode? The money puck. You read that right: money puck. The money puck is like throwing a match on a pile of gasoline; the final stroke of a paintbrush on a fine piece of art. When in play, the money puck will appear at random and have such attributes as being worth three points per goal instead of one or taking away a goal from the other team. It’s a lot of fun and really helps the mode feel like an arcade game instead of a traditional NHL game.

Career Mode

Joe: Well, its in the game. There isn’t much to say about career mode other than it takes up space on the disk. It’s broken, tedious and hasn’t been worked on for years. This year they’ve added a request a trade button. Yay? This was a feature from NHL 14 and only took four years to bring back. With many (actually all major) sports games taking a new approach and implementing story modes, the NHL series looks more like a baby toy. Look, the game doesn’t need some cheesy story mode, even though they are a lot fun (looking at you NBA 2K), but just please act like you care EA. This mode has had one feature added in the last millennia and it was interview questions, which is something that can be found in games such as Madden 07, which after checking with our experts game out eleven years ago! Career mode is a mess, and is in dire need of attention.

Game Play

Kyle: A theme with the NHL series in gameplay over the past few editions has been the almost excessive amount of puck bouncing. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing for the most part because it’s true to real life hockey: passes will not always be tape to tape, and there will be some crazy bounces that either give you a goal or give your opponent one.

This season I’ve played more HUT than I ever have before and I gotta say, the AI have become almost too good. At least the AI of the defensemen that is. I played one game where my opponent player locked on the center - otherwise known as playing the “skillzone,” as referenced by NHL YouTubers such as Bacon Country. It was relatively impossible to get anything going offensively because the AI just seemed to know what I was going to do each time.

“Well don’t you want the AI to be good?” Of course I do but in a mode such as HUT, I like skill to prevail, not reliance on the computer. Man...never thought I’d say that about an NHL game.

Otherwise, gameplay this year has been far improved for the most part. The AI seem to recognize plays a lot better and where to go on the ice to get open. For the first time since I started playing the NHL games I actually feel like I can trust the computer to make the smart play and find the open area of the ice.

Some issues I do have are mostly with loose pucks in your own zone, sometimes your defenseman will just stand there as the puck lays still on the ice, allowing your opponent to scoop in for a scoring chance. The issue of players not staying on the boards which has plagued the series for years, seems to be a lot better minus defensemen seemingly being unaware they’re in position to receive a pass at the point.

Something that I believe could greatly benefit gameplay is an addition similar to what Madden did this season. Create an Arcade, Competitive, and Simulation mode. It will clearly distinguish what we can expect in terms of the feel of gameplay.

Closing Thoughts

Joe: All in all, this is a solid edition to the EA NHL series and by far the best of this console generation. However, the game is no where near perfect and is still levels behind the rest of the sports game genre. With talk about the series switching over to the frostbite engine, this might be the best game we get for a long while. The last time the series had a shift in game engine we got the ‘game’ that was NHL 15. It would not be in EA’s worst interest to take a page from NBA Live’s book and skip a year to put out a largely better product. Why continue to pump out the same game with minor changes just to scrape by? Take some time off, take a step back and re-evaluate the entire situation. Yes, there will be a lot of upset fans, but in the long run the company is putting out a better product and those fans will long forget about that when they’re neck deep into an NHL game chock-full of bells and whistles.

Final Rating

Joe - 7/10

Kyle - 8/10

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