NHL 14 Review

NHL 14 Cover Art

Despite innovations that have made it one of the best sports game franchises in history, EA Sports NHL has always played third fiddle to both Madden and FIFA. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that NHL 14, unlike Madden NFL 25 and FIFA 14, isn’t getting a next-gen crossover this year. And while this latest edition in the long-running and successful series makes some great improvements to the franchise as a whole, a lack of improvement or care in both the visual and audio departments compared to its sister franchises actually proves why.

It’s apparent the second anyone starts any type of game, as the first thing that gamer will see is the same exact video intro that the NHL series has been using for years. This also goes for team introductions, between-play scenes, intermissions, and post-game recaps. Same animations, same graphics, same camera angles, same everything.

Deal with moral conflicts via text when considering endorsements in Live the Life.

NHL 14 is just as guilty of this on the commentary side. Though there are a few new lines to be heard from commentators Gary Thorne and Bill Clement, pretty much 90 percent of everything they say can be repeated word-for-word by any seasoned NHL player because they’ve already heard it a thousand times before. As much fun as the series’ gameplay can be, there’s no question that its broadcasts have become the worst in the genre.

Though Thorne and Clement are good announcers, they’re not the nationally televised voices that fans in Canada and the US know and love. It may be time for EA to bring back its old team of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson and see if they can work out a deal with CBC to re-create the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts like Madden did with Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and CBS in Madden 13. If not CBC, then perhaps sign the crew over at NBC with Mike “Doc” Emrick – to me the best announcer in sports, period – and Eddie Olczyk. Bringing in some of those broadcasts’ between-the-benches analysis would also improve quality.

Another issue with NHL 14’s audio is in the music that blasts through the arena. Though the EA Trax are great for menu scrolling, they just don’t come off as authentic during games. Every NHL team plays different songs and organ chimes for certain situations in their own respective arenas. The Madden and NBA2K franchises have already accepted this fact and adapted to create a far more immersive experience; it’s time for NHL to do the same. Its custom music option is too slow, too tedious, and puts too much onus on the player to be the solution.

Yet while solutions are absent in the game’s attempt to re-create an NHL broadcast, they’re plentiful in mechanics thanks to revamped collision and fighting engines. NHL 14’s collision physics have allowed for a more realistic representation of what happens when two players collide with each other on the ice. Instead of a slight nudge and slowing in momentum, players will now fall and flail appropriately. The frequency with which the bigger hits happen may be a bit exaggerated, but that’s a seemingly unavoidable obstacle in pursuit of creating more authenticity in the minute bumps.

NHL 14 features the most realistic hockey fights ever.

Since you can now bump into players by skating into them with the left stick, it’s become easier to not just hit other players, but to draw penalties. Charging, a penalty as rare as the Sasquatch in previous series entries, is now a regular occurrence, comparatively, with this new system. The same goes for interference, which brings up a problem with the collision physics. There were a few times where I went to circle back to play the puck along the boards and corners when the engine decided I was instead trying to hit an opposing player without the puck next to the play. The first time it’s confusing, the second time a tad aggravating, and beyond that it becomes annoying.

Conversely, NHL 14’s revamped and enthralling fighting system never gets old. Thanks to technology borrowed from EA’s Fight Night franchise, gone are the days of simple, dull thumbstick-flicking frenzies. With pulls, pushes, two different punches to throw, dodges, and counters, fighting in a hockey game has never been so strategic. I never even got tired of watching two AI players or other gamers online duking it out as I watched.

Some may argue that the spontaneity of the fights results in forcing those who don’t want to sit in the box for five minutes to miss out on playing, but to them I respond with, “Hey, that’s hockey.” Skaters are going to take exception to a bone-jarring hit, injury, post-whistle cheap shot, or an uncalled-for shot on the goaltender. To me, these heat-of-the-moment scuffles make me feel like I’m playing an actual game of hockey, because real players stand up for their teammates in those situations.

With the game’s revamped Be a Pro mode, now renamed Live the Life, fights and big hits are just some of the varied situations gamers will find themselves in as they take a created skater and try to make a name for him in the NHL. Nabbing endorsements and having to make off-ice decisions regarding fans, teammates, family, and management give a great extra layer to the mode that really made me feel like an NHL competitor. The sliders will make an impact on how everyone views you and reacts to you, which made me strive to avoid being a jerk in pre- and post-game interviews so I wouldn’t get booed, ignored by teammates, traded, or hated by my relatives.

NHL 94 Anniversary mode allows for some nostalgic gameplay for longtime fans.

The only gripe I have with the mode would be its interview segments. Relegated to multiple-choice, text-based questions, there were a few times when answers were out of place and some of the queries quickly became repetitive. One time I could have answered a question about my CHL team’s success by saying we were going to win the Stanley Cup. Another, I was asked after three straight regular games, then five more simmed games following that: “Why are you taking long shifts and turning the puck over so much?” It got repetitive and a tad annoying, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying Live the Life’s complete package.

Most other changes and improvements aren’t as drastic as those that I’ve already mentioned. NHL 94 anniversary mode is a great way to honor the franchise’s history – more so than Madden 25 did – thanks to the blue ice, controls, and goal celebrations that were hallmarks of the classic title. GM Connected now allows player info to be viewed when other GMs place these skaters on waivers instead of forcing gamers to browse through the mode’s menus, which still feature excruciatingly long loading times. Meanwhile, EA Sports Hockey League and Hockey Ultimate Team modes now feature seasons that create a fairer, more competitive ranking system via 10 different divisions and more frequent playoffs. They’re all solid additions that help the already positive changes in the new physics engines and Live the Life.

While a pair of great new engines and an advanced pro mode have brought even further improvement to the NHL franchise’s gameplay, the lack of innovation on the broadcast side in NHL 14 has the series gingerly jogging out of the current console generation and into the next. Perhaps resting on these laurels was the reason why NHL will be making its PlayStation 4 and Xbox One debut next season as opposed to this one alongside Madden and FIFA. Fans of the series and the sport of hockey certainly won’t be disappointed and will get a great amount of satisfaction out of the game as I have, but NHL 14 is not the “Best Sports Game of the Year” competitor or series game-changer that we have come to expect from the franchise since NHL 11.


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Author: Mike Murphy View all posts by
Mike has been playing games for over two decades. His earliest memories are of shooting ducks and stomping goombas on NES, and over the years, the hobby became one of his biggest passions. Mike has worked with GamerNode as a writer and editor since 2009, giving you news, reviews, previews, a voice on the VS Node Podcast, and much more.

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