Summer may just be coming to a close and the temperatures are still relatively warm, even up in areas of Canada, but that doesn’t mean it is too early for some action on the ice. The 2015 NHL season is about three weeks away and naturally, EA Sports has now released NHL 16, which manages to feel much more like a complete game than the bare bones experience of last year.
While the first outing of the new generation for the NHL series was rather lackluster, one aspect it did manage to capture very well was the gameplay, which is even better this year. The in-game physics are still as good as they get, which are further improved by a few new gameplay additions, though nothing is too drastic.
Designing player movement for NHL 16 was evidently one of the biggest focuses for the development team and they really came through with the new Precision Skating mechanic. While EA Canada has done a fantastic job in the past with accurate player control, the ability to make more refined movements on both offense and defense makes all the difference in the world. Thus, NHL 16 provides players with the most true to life skating mechanics to date.
The goalies are without much doubt one of the most important positions on the ice, especially in a close game. As a result, there is a major focus on the position this year, by improving their movement and control of the crease at the most realistic level yet. This works very much in tandem with the Precision Skating mechanic, with momentum and movement playing a big part.
After the incredibly mediocre launch product of NHL 15 last year, EA Canada did manage to add back some fan-favorite game modes as free DLC. The good news is that rather than making gamers wait this year, those features are already included on disc from the start.
One of the game modes that was actually included last year was Be A Pro Mode, which lets you take control of a single player as they play through their career. However, there was no choice of which team you wanted or anything, but that has been drastically changed this year. Instead, after creating a player with the merely okay character creator, you can choose to either be drafted by a random team, manually pick a team, or play through a CHL season and then be drafted into the NHL depending on how well you played.
Having the ability to shape your future is a fantastic feature that is great to see back again, with you having the option between teams from any of the three leagues that make up the CHL. This isn’t just a game or two to test your skills either, but a full season for you to try out. It would have been neat to have some nuances included to show somewhat of a difference between the two, but it is still a really cool addition.
The game’s Season Mode also includes the ability to choose from a number of teams around the world, from a total of 10 different leagues. This includes the NHL and CHL of course, but also others like Liiga and the Swiss Ice Hockey National League. While these are available in Season Mode, sadly they cannot be used in Be A GM mode, though that is somewhat understandable.
Similar to Madden over the last few years, Season Mode has almost begun to feel like the red headed stepchild of the game modes, as it rarely changes much. It provides the basic experience that fans will want to play through the upcoming season, but there is little more than that.
Be A GM mode kind of suffers in the same way, though the dynamic Player and Team Morale does help it to stand out a little more. Whether you’re playing games or simulating, the outcome of your games will lead to changes in the morale of players and meetings with them can really help shape your future success, especially if simulating. Be A GM Mode also sees the return of preseason games, which was left out entirely last year, though for some reason they are not included in Season Mode at all.
Ultimate Team is a major part of most EA Sports properties and the feature has returned in NHL 16 with something quite useful. The mode as a whole pretty much works the same as it has for years, but the inclusion of single player seasons is very useful for those that either, do not want to play it online or feel they are not ready. Across 10 games, you can climb the ladder in the division season, which is not only a lot of fun, but a way to better your roster.
EASHL may have been added later, but it was easily one of the glaring omissions in last year’s game, as it has been one of the best features for years. Luckily, the game mode is back from the start this year and captures the team based aspect that last year’s game was just missing. At the beginning, you not only create your player, but also choose a class from 12 different options, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses. With a very strong return, this is easily the game mode that may get people to jump into current-gen hockey for the first time with NHL 16.
NHL 16 provides players with the most true to life skating mechanics to date
Outside of the missing EASHL and Team Play in NHL 15, the lack of any sort of true practice or training mode was a big problem. While there is nothing anywhere near the equivalent of the Madden Skills Trainer in NHL 16, there has been a big upgrade in that department. Thanks to a day one patch, not only can you do one on one training, but you can also do full team based training. This is very helpful for setting up scenarios that otherwise would be impossible to get good practice on, outside of an actual game.
Even more useful is the brand new Visual On-Ice Trainer, which shows up from your very first game and stays on until it is turned off. This gives you hints on what to do in various situations, such as face-offs, slap shots, and body checks. This isn’t all, as it actually will respond to how effective you are in the game with instant feedback. With every break in the action, your overall offense, defense, and team play will also be graded, with the coach giving you more detailed feedback based upon your gameplay. This is an excellent teaching tool and is a great help for not only newcomers, but also those looking to refine their skills.
The gameplay and game modes are obviously the most important aspects of any sports game, but presentation can also play a big part. Arenas have been updated to be as accurate to life as possible in NHL 16, with the team of Doc Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, and Ray Ferraro leading the commentary yet again. The NBC Sports presentation is quite phenomenal, with the commentary itself being more story driven, based on the game itself, which helps to avoid repetition in the play-by-play.
The game has also added something superficial that many have asked for, playoff beards. This is something that has been around sports, particularly the NHL, for ages now and while the character creator itself is merely okay, the ability to design your beard and even the growth rates is rather impressive and a much welcome addition.
After almost a trial year in its debut on current-gen consoles last year, EA Canada has provided gamers with a much more polished and complete product in NHL 16. The gameplay improvements, albeit far from dramatic, do help to enhance the in-game experience quite a bit. While some game modes still feel like they are living in the past, the return of fan-favorites like EASHL and the improved Be A Pro make NHL 16 a power play that hockey fans are bound to love.
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One
- Published By: EA Sports
- Developed By: EA Canada
- Genre: Sports
- US Release Date: September 15th, 2015
- Reviewed On: Xbox One
- Quote: "While some game modes still feel like they are living in the past, the return of fan-favorites like EASHL and the improved Be A Pro make NHL 16 a power play that hockey fans are bound to love."
- Return of fan-favorite game modes
- Enhanced skating physics
- Be A Pro improvements
- Visual On-Ice Trainer
- Very little change in Season or Be A GM modes