EA announced the next instalment to one of their annual sport-sim franchises on Friday, NHL 14, and the iterations that it’s expected to include are a big deal.
Along with a new screenshot (that looks exactly like every other NHL screenshot released in the last 16 months), EA also recounted the “innovation” they’ve infused into hockey games throughout the years. Then, on Monday they revealed some of the new features we can expect to see on September 10, when NHL 14 is expected to hit North American stores.
Dione Phaneuf delivers a hit to Thomas Plekanec
in this new NHL 14 screenshot
As a gigantic hockey fan, and as a gamer who has put over 4,000 cumulative hours into the popular line of hockey games throughout my life, every minute change that’s made to the core gameplay experience usually means that I’ll have to make some alterations to the way I compete on the digital ice.
I’m one of those gamers that agonizes over every Tuner Set update that’s released during the life of an NHL game. That tweak to “pokechecking effectiveness range” back in October? Yeah, that critically changed the way I use and build my defensive players in the game.
While many people unfamiliar with sport games will criticize each release for being exactly the same as the ones before it, in my experience this is often only a slightly accurate assessment when it comes to the visual presentation of the games. The gameplay changes that are made often take experienced players several hours to adjust to before they can return to their previous proficiency. And this year, it looks like the adjustment curve is going to be even steeper.
Some of the new features don’t really carry enough weight to analyze too deeply at this point. For example, while the Enforcer Engine is an interesting introduction of EA’s Fight Night fighting game technology into the equation, and it heralds a return to the third-person fighting system that the NHL franchise used prior to NHL 10, it’s not that big of a deal.
While I do find the current fighting system floaty and inaccurate, the benefits of winning the digital hockey fights have rarely had any bearing on my ability to win games against other human players or the computer-controlled teams. As a result, taking the time to master the inconsistent system has been little more than an afterthought for the last three years.
The proposed updates to the True Performance Skating, Be a Pro, and Online Seasons all strike me as natural improvements to the systems that are already in place. Although, whether the developers’ vision of “greater player responsiveness and unprecedented control” thanks to “quicker pivots and enhanced lateral skating” is fully realized, is something I won’t hold my breath for.
Those are some strong words that show they are aware of some of the current and occasionally infuriating problems with their skating engine, but I’ve seen EA announce features that didn’t make it into the final product before. In 2010, NHL Producer, Sean Ramjagsingh championed the arrival of “double-team hits” for NHL 11 in a Youtube video that has since been removed. Three years later, the feature still isn’t in the game. I’ve learned to metre my expectations.
I see no sense in changing – what I view as –
exceptionally functional elements of the franchise
The two announced features that really surprised me are the NHL Collision Physics, and the One-Touch Dekes. Both of these features describe a drastic departure from the established control schemes in use today.
Since NHL 09, if you wanted your player to throw a body check, you did so with the right analogue stick and various combinations of the left. If you wanted to perform a deke with the puck, you did so with the left bumper and the right analogue stick alone. These are button combinations that I’ve spent hundreds of hours practicing and perfecting. When I’m competing with some of the best players in the world, I execute the dekes from muscle memory, and I angle opponents off the puck with practiced flicks of my right thumb, all without glancing at the controller
Yet with the new Collision Physics, they propose “a new left-stick control scheme [that] makes delivering a game-changing hit simpler”, and One-Touch Dekes that are “a new, more responsive deking system controlled only with the left stick and one-button” (emphasis mine).
The game may be months away from release, and I haven’t seen any gameplay videos explaining precisely how these new systems will be executed, but for EA to change two extremely vital elements of their game in a significant way such as this, I really hope that it’s necessary and that they nail it.
Unless it truly makes the game better, I see no sense in changing – what I view as – exceptionally functional elements of the franchise.