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OS Roundtable: NHL 14 Demo Impressions

What are your impressions of the NHL 14 demo?

Glenn Wigmore: While the feature set and ancient presentation are definitely an issue for NHL 14, the gameplay has received some noteworthy upgrades that change the feel of the on-ice action in a positive way. I'm enjoying the new hitting, especially since it's not as dominant as it could've been. There's a satisfying impact on blueline hits, and contact along the boards has a bit more variety now.

The simpler left-stick dekes also act as a bit of a foil to the hitting, and it provides an option for players when they are up against human competition. The hits are exaggerated, to be sure, but the EA games have always been about 75 percent simulation and 25 percent arcade. That's the nature of the franchise at this point. A straight simulation game would not achieve even the moderate success that NHL has received, so the product is always going to alienate some who want more of a truly authentic experience.

The fighting is a lot of fun, and I honestly haven't had too many scraps or silly mismatches, but there has been the odd time where Jonathan Toews has ended up in a fight he shouldn't or something to that effect. It seems to be that charging-style hits along the end boards create some of the "strange" fight scenarios. There is some logic to this, as a player winding up to deliver a big hit in open ice or along the end boards is going to create a reaction from the other team. The rub comes from the fact that this is a videogame and hits are going to be more common than the real-life sport. I'm glad to have the fights improved a lot in terms of the fun factor and strategy, but EA may need to tweak their frequency (as well as the non-existent instigator penalty) if users aren't satisfied with how it feels.

The flow of the gameplay is definitely a bit faster, as skaters pivot and move with some additional haste. Also, shots have better velocity, and this is evident from the quicker stick whip when releasing a shot.

I don't think the speed is particularly problematic, and I've enjoyed the flow of the games I've played so far. Playing on all-star created plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, but superstar difficulty provided a nice challenge overall, with limited goals and challenging face-offs. I tried playing the game on "hardcore simulation" settings, and I certainly noticed a big difference in speed, acceleration, shot accuracy and aggression. Looking at the sliders for this setting, it certainly bears out that these areas are tweaked for that feature. This mode seemed to provide a more measured pace to the action, as hits didn't happen quite as often, and it took a bit more effort to get from A to B.

The AI is still a bit of a problem, as they'll only really step into hits along the end boards or occasionally in the middle of the ice. The main weapon of AI defense is either to get a late poke check or to rely on the (thankfully) improved goalie AI, which benefits from better movement and less unrealistic automation. The improved defensive vision is apparent, as the AI does track better, but their eagerness to initiate contact in the neutral zone or at the blue line remains problematic. Also, the AI for puck support along the boards for your own team seemed slightly better, but there are still instances where you do not have an outlet when you should.

To be honest, NHL 14 still feels like an entirely iterative product that's holding the fort until next-gen, but I'm glad there have been some solid gameplay changes. It's a step in the right direction in terms of physicality, especially with a hitting and fighting system that are better than the predecessor, and there have been some decent tweaks to poke checks, puck chops, penalty frequency and the overall feel of the skating.


The Presentation in NHL 14 could be a problematic area of the game for some.

Jayson Young: RoboGoalie has been terminated! Instead of the teleporting superhumans NHL 13 had in net, NHL 14's goalies move with much greater inertia, making them slower and less precise when squaring up to one timers. My only complaints with the revamped goaltending are that weak, low wrist shots still generate too many juicy rebounds, and that goalies still allow too many short side goals off simple dekes.

After just 30 minutes experimenting in the demo's free skate mode, I was able to find an easy, go-to deke that beats Tuukka Rask every time to the short side. Cheap tactics like this have the potential to kill NHL 14's online experience, especially coming off last year's game, where glitch goals were not an issue.

While NHL 14's goalies are much improved, all the other computer-controlled skaters on the ice remain too passive and clueless. AI defenders are as threatening as a traffic cone, harmlessly holding their sticks by the side, refusing to challenge the puck carrier or take away passing/shooting lanes. Gamers can weave and deke their way through the entire computer defense with minimal resistance, even on "superstar" difficulty and "hardcore simulation" game style. Computer skaters are equally dumb when the puck is on their own stick, completely ignoring the deke button, skating through the neutral zone in straight lines and turning the puck over instead of dumping it in or passing it off when an obvious hit is staring them in the visor.

Once again, NHL 14's fun factor will be directly tied to how many computer players are on the ice: the more AI buffoons that are present, the less fun the game becomes. Replacing the bumbling CPU with human players looks to be the only way to get some fun out of NHL 14, as has been the case with every entry in EA's hockey series this generation.

Big changes to hitting and fighting, however, could impact the fun of NHL 14's online modes, as too many hits now animate like they are career-ending, or even life-ending, kill shots. Every skater on the ice seems capable of delivering suspension-worthy blows. In the Ultimate Team mode, smaller defensemen like Kris Letang and Roman Josi are able to send big-bodied forwards like Rick Nash and Bryan Bickell spinning to the ice in a heap. Fights do not account for a player's size or style of play, either. Twice in a single period, I watched Jonathan Toews start a fight with (and knock out!) Zdeno Chara, as if the 6'9", 250-pound Slovak was some helpless peewee player.

The majority of these unavoidable, CPU-initiated fights are triggered by legal hits, and though the game's antiquated announcing crew will verbally identify a fight's instigator, I have never seen an actual instigation penalty handed out in the demo. Penalties, beyond fighting majors, remain a rarity in NHL 14. I've yet to see any charging, boarding or checking from behind calls, though all three infractions were promised to be reworked for NHL 14. As with NHL 13, interference, tripping and slashing are about all that will draw a whistle in this demo, and even then, it's rare to see more than a single non-fighting penalty per period.

Despite all the headhunting and fisticuffs going on, I have not seen any injuries happen in the demo. Combatants often leave fights with visible bruises and cuts, yet their on-ice performance never suffers the next shift. Blocked shot injuries, which were removed in NHL 13, also remain absent from play, allowing gamers to kneel in front of a Zdeno Chara slap shot without fear.

The demo's Rock 'Em Sock 'Em gameplay offers the type of mindless fun that's enjoyable for a game or two, but with such poor AI and so many aspects of hockey being overlooked or mishandled, NHL 14 does not feel like the type of game that can hold up over an 82-game season, much less a multi-year franchise mode. EA Sports' NHL series has always catered more towards the arcade style of play, but it's disappointing that the only option hockey fans have this year is a game that plays more like the 1977 comedy, Slap Shot, than anything you'd see in the 2013 National Hockey League.


The gameplay feels familiar, which is both a good and bad thing.

Kelvin Mak: Is NHL 14 improved from NHL 13? Yes. Is NHL 14 improved enough for me to part with my hard-earned sixty bucks? I'm not sure just yet. Like Glenn, I feel like the game is essentially NHL 13.5.

The good news is that pretty much all of the new features, I found, made gameplay a better experience. The improved hitting--and I say this with the assumption that it will be toned down from the existing level in the demo, which I assume is more of a showcase than anything-- feels organic, as there are more possible outcomes than in previous years depending on your position and momentum (like steering a guy into the boards instead of decking him). The pivoting and skating feels quite a bit more fluid, and the game is certainly smoother as a result.

The new third-person fighting module is so much better than its previous counterpart that I have to slowly rid myself of the phobia of pressing triangle. Not that, it seems, I will have a choice sometimes, as this year big hits to star players will trigger a fight whether I wanted one or not. It's a neat feature that I enjoyed, but again, fingers crossed, here's hoping the rather large amount of these occurrences are there for mostly marketing purposes.

So overall, there were a number of improvements that make NHL 14 a better experience than 13. But here's the thing: even with the positives, I just don't see myself lasting a very long time with the game. My main gripe, like Jayson, lies with the AI. I understand it's far from the easiest thing to make these virtual players have the ability to assess and react to the immediate situation (especially since hockey is such a fast sport).

Still, at the moment it just seems like the players' movements remain too trigger-point based, rather than contextual to what's going on on the ice-- as in they hardly ever stray from their assigned paths. Defensively, the AI is still overly passive and, even on higher difficulty, allowed me to gain entry rather easily. It's this passivity that makes games much more run-and-gun than they should be.

From my time with the demo, I'm just not sure if I will buy NHL 14. I stopped playing 13 (consistently) after about four months or so, and I have a feeling that it will be even shorter this time around, especially if the neutral zone remains as a flyover state, game in and game out thanks to the way the AI plays-- I'm sorry, but that just doesn't scream longevity. Besides, there's still no news on Be A GM, and while I am intrigued by the new Live the Life (contrary to a lot of gamers, I don't mind the text interface and am curious to see how it can play out), the fact is that the on-ice product, hampered by an AI that doesn't really play the game dynamically, might very well hold me back from making the purchase this year.


NHL 14 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 TreyIM2 @ 08/26/13 03:27 PM
This will be my first and only current gen hockey game as a last hurrah purchase. Haven't bought one in forever.
 
# 2 NUH_UHHHHHHHHHHH @ 08/26/13 03:27 PM
i was unimpressed. I only noticed small changes, its basically a patch update, but selling for $60 bucks... no thanks. ill pass
 
# 3 Dolphins88 @ 08/26/13 03:34 PM
I love hockey and football but unfortunately these are the 2 games that r becoming less realistic. The fighting and checking seems to be improving and skating smoother but the organic gameplay is lacking. If they get more puck physics and player differences in a variety of skills I'm there.
 
# 4 Moose Factory @ 08/26/13 04:18 PM
I played NHL 2k10 the other day and the crowd and stadium atmosphere was more immersive, believable and amping than NHL 13/14... and it's 4 YEARS OLD!!! This just bums me out. All I can say is that EA better step it up with NHL 15 or else I'm organizing a boycott petition.
 
# 5 TommyWizard @ 08/26/13 04:26 PM
Call me a fanboy, or whatever you want. But I think EA is putting out a strong title this year.

Yes, people can list 450 things wrong with it. But the way I see it, it plays how I want it to. Big Hits and stand up for your team mates. The skating feels great this year it all seems to have come together nicely in that term. The presentation isn't up to scratch, fine with me. Get me something to tide me over with for a year (or at least until im bored of GTA5...) and then give me an all singing all dancing NHL15 next gen title.

I love the offline modes since I don't have internet access on a long term basis and I expect that to always be a strong presence year to year in this titles. The "Kings of Copy and Paste" may do just that but don't break it if it ain't broke in the world of gaming and what we get I'm more than happy with.

I had my copy pre-ordered long ago, I don't even get the extras for living in UK but it's my fix of hockey between local games. Cant wait
 
# 6 Dazraz @ 08/26/13 05:23 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moose Factory
I played NHL 2k10 the other day and the crowd and stadium atmosphere was more immersive, believable and amping than NHL 13/14... and it's 4 YEARS OLD!!! This just bums me out. All I can say is that EA better step it up with NHL 15 or else I'm organizing a boycott petition.
Every year I find myself wishing that 2K still did Hockey games.
 
# 7 actionhank @ 08/26/13 06:25 PM
I would like it if instead of being forced into the fight, you had to press triangle or Y to accept it still.
It's frustrating to have a star defenseman who wouldn't fight, get stuck having to fight just because you laid a nice hit on someone.
Or if certain players would come and intervene. For example, if i had Pietrangelo on the ice, and he drops someone, i shouldn't have to fight with him, especially not if Ryan Reaves is out there.
 
# 8 Garism @ 08/26/13 06:38 PM
Horizontal hockey by CPU still annoys me.
 
# 9 voodoo_magic @ 08/26/13 11:01 PM
I don't understand how it can be so hard for EA to program the defense to stand up more and attack the puck carrier before they enter the offensive zone.
It's not like the d would have to rush the puck carrier and if they miss it's a breakaway, just close the gap.
I remember last year Rammer talking at length about how they improved the ai and showing vids of how the ai defence would pressure you.
But hey it's a demo so maybe it will be in the retail version.
 
# 10 JezFranco @ 08/27/13 03:08 AM
I don't know if I've been playing the same demo as Jayson.
I've played "Play Now", on Hardcore Simulation, and mostly on Pro, but I have seen loads of checkings from behind, boarding and even charging calls, all called properly.
And yesterday I also got into a fight and whopped one of the Boston players, and then took the game to overtime. And when OT started I heard Thorne announce that the Boston player wasn't coming back on ice due to the injuries he sustained earlier.
 
# 11 geisterhome @ 08/27/13 03:56 AM
ill wait for next gen, i bought nhl 13 which was the first nhl title i played since 2002 or 03 and it didnt really feel like a triple A sports title to me (im not sure if its supposed to be..). If they keep improving the gameplay and add some presentational elements i might purchase nhl 15 for my then new PS4.
 
# 12 milesizdead @ 08/27/13 07:22 AM
Everything is better in 14, there are tons of minor improvements from 13, and a couple of big ones like improved TPS and the new Enforcer Engine.

Really looking forward to the season ticket release

GMC and EASHL will be responsible for hundreds of hours spent online, once again.
 
# 13 hf199 @ 08/27/13 07:52 AM
No way. I'm waiting for the next gen game! Same for Madden on PS4. Same bull**** presentation and boring cut scnes along with the flyover neutral zone and again single referee!
 
# 14 savoie2006 @ 08/27/13 08:54 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by hf199
No way. I'm waiting for the next gen game! Same for Madden on PS4. Same bull**** presentation and boring cut scnes along with the flyover neutral zone and again single referee!
Like next gen is gonna be all that different. It will be just like this gen, within five years people will calling EA lazy and each game a patch with a roster update. Like I said before, people are fooling themselves thinking there is gonna be major changes each year with sports titles. The only reason it felt like the game had evolved this gen is because they had stripped it down. EA has already said that won't happen on the new consoles, so expect the stale factor to kick in much quicker.
 
# 15 ianlast @ 08/27/13 10:39 AM
Goalie animations are looking as ugly and dated as they did towards the end of the PS2/Xbox days of the series. Whatever upgrades they made to the goalies, I'm having a hard time seeing them.
 
# 16 Segagendude @ 08/27/13 10:42 AM
Such minor changes. If I turn off fighting to eliminate the chance of an encounter after a big hit, it's gonna feel just like 13, IMO.

And with no next gen coming this year, this is the only choice we have.

Pass..
 
# 17 peter21 @ 08/27/13 01:15 PM
I have to take issue with Jayson's statement that NHL13 had no online glitch goals. That's ALL 13 is now online.

Nine out of 10 teams we play do the same short side goal every chance they get. It'd be laughable if it weren't so frustrating.

I'd be ok with it if there were actually other ways to score consistently, but in 13, you don't get rewarded for creativity and setting up plays, you get rewarded for doing the same shot or breakway move over and over and over and over...

If 14 evens out the playing field a bit, i might pick it up.
 
# 18 Cletus @ 08/27/13 02:31 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by peter21

If 14 evens out the playing field a bit, i might pick it up.

It will until everyone gets their legend 3 cards. Of course the top teams will do it, but you can spot them pretty easily. If you're in the top 100 and only have 2 players on a club, it's probably glitchers. I wish they would wait until everyone has a chance to get their legend 3's before putting tuners in. Most people didn't get to enjoy 13 in it's first stages because of the choppiness and when they finally fixed that it was a different game.
 
# 19 Fiddy @ 08/27/13 04:36 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cletus
It will until everyone gets their legend 3 cards. Of course the top teams will do it, but you can spot them pretty easily. If you're in the top 100 and only have 2 players on a club, it's probably glitchers. I wish they would wait until everyone has a chance to get their legend 3's before putting tuners in. Most people didn't get to enjoy 13 in it's first stages because of the choppiness and when they finally fixed that it was a different game.
for the record, my buddy and i a few weeks back defaulted our player builds. took all plus 3 5 etc out. used NO attribute points.

guess what? still scored the SAME goals we did with all the points etc. the ONLY thing that was different was our skating. that was it. passed the same and shot the shame.

terrible..
 
# 20 Cletus @ 08/27/13 06:12 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fiddy
for the record, my buddy and i a few weeks back defaulted our player builds. took all plus 3 5 etc out. used NO attribute points.

guess what? still scored the SAME goals we did with all the points etc. the ONLY thing that was different was our skating. that was it. passed the same and shot the shame.

terrible..
Shooting attributes don't mean a lot unless you're outside of the faceoffs circles/at the point. They nerfed those shots in 13 after a tuner anyway. In 12 I played without any shooting attributes and my guy did just fine. Got into the MHL (6 vs. 6 league) playoffs with no shooting attributes as the 3rd leading scorer on my team. That's why I don't understand people clamoring about builds, they're pointless, except for speed, agility, and arguably balance.
 

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