NHL 17


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Complete Review & Description

After the total waste of time that was NHL 15 and the solid comeback of last year’s NHL 16, 2017 isn’t a season of significant change for this year’s NHL game. It’s more a season of consolidation and playing it safe. Although there are the minor changes typical of an annual sports franchise, the big ticket changes are sparse. Sparse, but not entirely without merit. In the end NHL 17 is a solid game. It has plenty of modes, a nod to the history of the game, and an excess of heavy hitting, fast action, and skillful teamwork.

Borrowing from the Madden franchise, NHL 17 now has Draft Champions mode. A single-player team building option where you choose from four random themes – like world stars, rookies, Stanley Cup winners, or even bearded players. Starting with those you build a team and compete in short tournaments. After your players are assigned you can choose twelve athletes, both current and historic, to add to your line-up. It leads to some interesting choices. You may have to decide if having Patrick Roy in goal is more important than picking Sidney Crosby at center, or if Brett Hull on the right wing is a bigger asset than his father Bobby would be on the left. It’s a fun build option that works well, and gives you control of some of the game’s old-time greats.

Be A GM mode has also borrowed a few ideas from other sports sims. Now called Franchise Mode, you don’t just control the coach and team, you also get to make calls about marketing, stadium maintenance, as well as scouting and trades. Although, you can get different departments to automatically make decisions if you don’t want to obsess over the small details.

You report directly to the team owner, meeting broad KPIs like upgrading the parking lot or hosting six play-off games. Ultimately, you also get to decide if you want to move the team to a new city. Although there are plenty of options, the impact of choices you make is difficult to quantify: you auto-scout players and hire them (or not), or you fix the bathrooms (or don’t). In the end you can always simply stop simulating games and take control of the team to get a couple of late season wins, if you need them to make it to the playoffs.

Returning is the card based Hockey Ultimate Team mode, as well as the online EASHL. EA Sports Hockey League lets you customise a player, as well as build a team, complete with options for uniforms and a stadium. You can then invite friends to play on your team, or drop into other players’ teams for 6v6 matches and competitions. As you level up you unlock items for your player, team, and stadium. Although match-making can occasionally take a minute or two, usually you can drop straight into HUT, EASHL, and quick matches. Like all online sports sims there is a slight delay to get used to, but after a couple of games you’ll be scoring, winning, and earning rewards across a varied range of online modes.

Rounding out the game modes are the functionary Be A Pro single player career and a new World Cup of Hockey eight team tournament – although both are fairly light on options. Be A Pro doesn’t do any of the cut-scene/story stuff of other sports sims. If that’s a good or bad thing, it’s a matter of taste. Thankfully you can sim through all your time on the bench, and auto-upgrade all your range of stats after every game. This lets you concentrate all you effort on winning games, scoring goals, and completing your assignments like a professional. Just don’t fight. You tend to lose, you get marked down by your coach. The last time I got in a fight I ended up with a broken jaw and sat out the last couple of weeks of the season (and I was in the race for the scoring title).

Along with the additional game modes, there are a number of modifications to general gameplay. Goalies have received an upgrade to their AI as well as some mo-cap work and new animations. Battles in front of the net have also been enhanced with more ways to tie up opponents and clear space with your stick. Although, how much of this you use, and notice, relies on your familiarity with previous NHL games.

It all comes together in a professional product with all the game’s current stars accurately depicted. The game also uses a system of suggesting moves. These act as hints of what moves will earn you experience points, but it’s also a good method of learning them. This comes in handy because there isn’t much of a conventional training mode.

The game can be tricky, with a wide range of controls to master. There are also some noticeable difficulty spikes, as you move through all the different modes. But, the game remains intuitive, despite my personal tendency to sometimes miss simple outlet passes (which I personally blame on a passing assist option, buried deep in the menus, somehow getting automatically disabled – or it might just be me). Also, while it looks great when the players use their skates to control the puck, sometimes they have trouble locating it when it’s lying at their feet. Opponents can also become impervious to checks, and their reach seems to extend beyond that of their sticks when shutting down passing lanes.

But, it all lends itself to the challenge of the game. EA’s NHL has always been my favourite sports sim. It is a beautiful game (with apologies to that other beautiful game). Speed, power, finesse, toughness, and teamwork. I am just glad it’s time to drop the puck on a brand new season of hockey.



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