Review: NHL 18

It’s tough to explain how a game which is probably the best NHL game ever made is still a bit of a disappointment. And yet that’s the situation I find myself in with NHL 18; it’s undoubtedly an excellent sports game, and loses nothing that has made the last couple of versions such fantastic titles, but the big issue is that it also doesn’t really do much to build on it either. There are new things to enjoy, but ultimately whether or not they’re enough for an update from NHL 17 is questionable.

We can start with the obvious though: NHL 18 still looks very impressive, with its usual TV style presentation and commentary still giving an excellent feeling of occasion. The difficulty here though is how much other games in the EA Sports catalogue have moved on in this regard, notably by shifting over to the Frostbite engine. As such while NHL still looks great in isolation, it also goes to show just how much better the likes of Madden and FIFA have started to look as a result of the new visuals on offer, and playing them back to back does give a pretty stark reminder of how NHL is starting to lag a little in terms of year-on-year improvements. I’d go as far as to say that placing NHL 17 and 18 next to each other would make for a tricky game of “spot the difference”, something that can’t be said for the other “18” updates from EA.

Game modes are largely untouched too, with the “What’s New” section of the menu showing just how little there is to pay attention to. There’s a pretty handy tutorial mode from the Hockey Canada Training Camp which teaches you the basics of how to control the players using the always-awesome analogue stick control method, as well as vital moments like face offs which have the potential to turn a game on its head if you get it wrong, but while this is a nice touch it’s easily missed and most people will still probably dive into a couple of games and make almost as much progress without touching the training.

But the other main addition is probably NHL 18’s saving grace: Threes. As you’d probably imagine from the name, this cuts down the number of players to three per team, shrinks the rink a bit and changes the presentation from commentary based announcements to a stadium PA which yells out various things to pump the crowd up and keep the excitement high. It’s a fast, open and incredibly fun mode, also giving you the chance to pursue a proper career in Threes as well as play online and enjoy some frantic action with some randoms without worrying about excessive penalties, face offs or low score lines. You’ll probably want to switch to the more basic 2-button control scheme unless your brain can move quicker than a Jedi’s, but this just emphasises the arcade-style nature of this new mode and allows the action to flow at a more frantic pace.

The other area which will keep you interested is the Be a Pro mode, letting you work your player up through the ranks and give your matches a different focus, trying to nail certain objectives and make yourself seem as impressive as possible. It’s quite a shame that with Madden following FIFA’s lead with a more personal career-style mode this year that NHL hasn’t followed suit, again something that looks a little lightweight next to EA’s other big hitters, but Be a Pro is still worthwhile and is, other than Threes, probably the main reason to play this.

Other than that though, new additions are harder to spot. Ultimate Team is, to my admittedly undertrained eye, incredibly similar to last year and won’t really spark anything new in the eyes of seasoned UT players, and aside from the usual roster and kit changes it’s tricky to find more reasons to cast aside your copy of NHL 17 and leap into this just yet. If you’re still playing an older NHL game your decision might be a bit easier, and if you’re new to the NHL series then the various difficulty and control options give you more accessibility options than ever before, but as an upgrade from last year this is very difficult to recommend.

So, as mentioned earlier, this is probably the best NHL game we’ve had so far. But is a Threes mode worth the update cost if you’ve already got NHL 17? Doubtful. It still feels odd, even after writing all of my thoughts down in this review, but while this is the best NHL game money can buy, it’s still a bit disappointing.

Reviewed on PS4

1 Comment

  1. This is one of the issues with annual updates. Not a lot changes except the team players and maybe one new game play option. It sometimes seems it would be better to release a game which you can pay for an upgrade to the team roasters etc, and leave the developer to creating a better game for release 2 years later. I realise this causes conflicts with people playing online, but then again if the updates cost £10/€15/$15 then I assume most people would pay to upgrade.

    I know one there will be some people that think yearly additions to FIFA, NHL etc are a good thing, but it annoys me when new games are released and it is just really a remapped game.

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